“Mike and I have been playing together since we were 12, 13 years old,” said Stephen Dzikowski, lead vocalist and guitarist, noting that the band grew its roots around 2003 when Pelliccio, guitarist, and Dzikowski started high school. Bassist Christian Berrigan and drummer Brian Suhovic complete the current lineup.
Despite the lack of money, time, and sometimes band members, Departures persevered. Soon they will release their fourth EP, a mini-album containing songs influenced by a mixture of melodic instrumental music and punk rock with pop tendencies.
Fretting about misspent youth
Early in their career, the band had several hiccups that would have caused the destruction of weaker-minded groups. Around the time that Departures was pressing its first EP, their drummer announced he was leaving to play and tour with another band. At what could have been their farewell show at Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park, Pelliccio said they had a serious decision to make: “We could just pack it in, or press the album without a drummer.”
Luckily for steady fans of the band then called Mispent Youth, they decided to go ahead and press the album, a process they said is “super expensive.”
The departure of that drummer led to a string of abandonments by two different bassists and another drummer. With the changes taking place that were often beyond their control, there was a sense of panic among the members. Dzikowski said, with a hint of that worry still in his voice, “Oh [crap], have we actually been doing anything all this time?”
Several future-altering moves were made, including the decision to continue pressing EPs, an institution Pelliccio calls “the smartest way for a band to survive.” This, along with the decision to change the name to Departures in late 2009, led to another album pressing months later.
All the albums are available as hard-copy CDs and online as digital downloads.
“I think we play with enough intensity that people like us.” – Stephen Dzikowski
When speaking about their early recordings, Pelliccio said wryly, “That’s not the worst I’ve ever heard.” But there apparently was a significant difference in the music they made as Mispent Youth and the music they’ve made and continue to make as Departures. The four both agreed and disagreed about what kind of music they play.
Dzikowski described their music and the band itself as “not typical of our genre.” All four claimed that they refuse to set limits on what they should and shouldn’t sound like, and that this helped them evolve as musicians.
“Anything before Departures, we were kind of just learning how to be a band,” Dzikowski admits. While there is a consciousness in their tone of voice about their past having been rough, Departures has progressed from just another local band to a mainstay in the New Jersey punk scene.
Their recording process became “far more professional” than their previous experiences with makeshift studios in someone else’s basement. Not only were they able to move more fluidly during the process, they received much more valuable input from industry veterans, such as engineer John Naclerio.
And Naclerio said that this style of working, along with the band being “so much fun to be around,” gave rise to a constantly evolving and better sound. “I just love that they’re bringing the gritty old-school music back,” he said.
The band members also learned that being part of the music industry isn’t just about playing shows or recording; they had to take on other responsibilities. There are shows to be booked, something that Berrigan usually has responsibility over, money to be made and managed, and merchandise to be sold, a job primarily held by Pelliccio. And while they do this because it’s what they love to do, money helps a great deal.
The instant availability of music on the internet is both a blessing and a curse; while the band wants to make its music readily available for fans, they also need money to tour and continue making music.
“Merchandise is more of a reminder of the experience,” said Berrigan, explaining that they would prefer to offer their music as freely as possible, as long as there is some sort of income to help pay their band bills.
Along with money, time is a huge factor in how much effort the band members dedicate to this venture. Not only do they hold practice at least twice a week in Pelliccio’s fully-equipped garage, but Departures is also always continuously writing and composing.
“Someone gets an idea and we all just jam off it,” said Berrigan.
If something sounded good in the garage but not necessarily in the studio, the four worked together to change it and make it better.
Cross-country memories, good and bad
A typical audience for a Departures concert is a mix of young men and women, ranging in age from 15 to around 30.
Dzikowski, a substitute teacher, said with a laugh, “I’ve had kids at work tell me I should listen to Departures.” It’s those sorts of compliments that keep pushing the band to make music, but playing locally isn’t always a benefit.
“You don’t have to be super-tight when you’re playing for your friends,” said Suhovic, explaining why the band only plays around Hudson County and the surrounding areas a few times a year.
Although Berrigan noted that at local shows, “the audience is more forgiving,” stories of their four tours, two cross-country trips, and two miniature week-long ventures demonstrated that sometimes it was better to play to a group of people who had no idea who they were.
“When we played in places like Colorado or Utah, people would hear that you came all the way out to play and they think you’re playing for Utah,” said Pelliccio. Out-of-state crowds were usually much more welcoming, and it paid off in that they stayed better musicians.
But the outside world wasn’t always pleasant or forgiving. At venues like the Meat Locker in Montclair and especially at some places in Philadelphia, Departures was negatively received by some.
“We were told that ‘punk rock is for posers’ and that we were ‘lacking in credibility,’” Pelliccio said.
Another unfortunate aspect of touring was show cancellations, which sometimes occurred two or three in a row, leading to 21-hour drives from places like Denver to Texas.
Sometimes the driving wasn’t the worst part of the tours. Dzikowski admitted that they’ve seen a lot of crime happening in places like Philadelphia and Nevada.
“You stop in Vegas and your drummer gets robbed,” said Berrigan.
Despite scary experiences, the band has several favorite places to play in safer, more friendly areas, such as Maxwell’s in Hoboken and the Space Station in Jersey City, as well as the Shark Tank in Florida.
In store in the future
The band has big plans for the upcoming year. Out-of-Town Records, a small label in the United Kingdom, recently signed them, and their fourth EP, an as-of-yet-untitled five-song album, will be released in either late summer or early fall. Departures plans to host a show for the EP when it gets released.
Their music and merchandise is available on their website, wearedepartures.com. To contact them, email email@example.com. They also have music available for purchase on iTunes and a regularly updated page on Facebook.
And of course, Departures will keep playing shows across the states. Their ultimate goal is to bring together as many people as possible for the experience of watching a unique band like them play.
“I think we play with enough intensity that people like us,” Dzikowski said.