I remember War Party’s inception five years ago as something a couple of dudes I knew were goofing on. Bassist Tyler Moore told me at the time that he and some friends were jamming on some “doo wop, ’60s pop-type stuff.” He made it sound like it was something he, singer/guitarist Cameron Smith, multi-instrumentalist Ricky Williford, and drummer Peter Marsh were doing because their other bands were in various stages of flux or disintegration. We were drunk at Lola’s, so a lot of that sounds kind of specious, but that “doo-wop” tag has stuck with them for a long time –– though the longer they’ve been a band, the farther they’ve drifted from that label.
Smith, War Party’s front man and principal songwriter, agrees.
“I think ‘Happiness is a Warm Dress’ is the only song on the new record with the doo-woppy sound,” he said, referring to the penultimate song on his band’s latest album, To Love and Fear It, a nine-song full-length that’s a distinctive departure from doo wop-inflected party anthems found on WP’s first LP, 2013’s Tomorrow’s a Drag.
Besides the doo-wop tag, the band has been lumped in with the latest wave of 21st century garage-rock revivalism. But in the release of To Love and Fear It, both of those genres seem to only barely apply. In fact, shedding both descriptors was part of the impetus of the new album.
“I just don’t think it really fits us anymore,” Smith said. “The unanimously praised shit, Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall… I like that stuff a lot, but I don’t really want to do what they’re doing. And then on the other end of that, there are all those [L.A. garage-rock label] Burger Records bands that just kinda sound like stoned, fucked up kids.”
In Smith’s mind, that kind of stylistic imprinting comes with a built-in expiration date.
“I think when you force some kind of micro-culture like [Burger Records], you get six years, tops,” Smith said. “…but those people eventually grow up and have to pay rent, and then that scene is gone. I’m 27. I’m not trying to coast into my 30s on a wave of pizza and beer.”
Still, the band is called War Party, and it does have a song called “D.R.U.N.K.,” as well as a rep for being, well, kind of a party. As such, the band built a crowd of fans thirsty for the same, which turned them from recreational bro-down into something a little weightier.
“When we first started, it seemed like we had gotten some local attention that we didn’t expect, and momentum built out of that, so we recorded the songs that we had [at the time], which became Tomorrow’s a Drag,” Smith said. “But when we made this new one, it was more purposeful. We kind of wanted to redefine the band.
To that aim, the band spent several months last year working on demos at Cloudland Recording Studios, eventually narrowing them down to nine songs to record for the album. In July, the band tracked the tunes part by part at Cloudland with engineer Britt Robisheaux (Fou, The Fibs, Slumberbuzz). Previous recordings mostly involved tracking Smith’s songs live with the full band, but the sessions last summer found War Party working as a production unit, composing and arranging ideas on the fly in the studio, and tracking most of the parts individually.
Perhaps most inspiring to Smith are the songs he wrote under the assumption that his bandmates wouldn’t be interested in playing, such as ‘To Be Young Again,’ a tune on the new album Smith describes as a Simon Finn-esque psych-folk-sounding track.
“That song took less time to write than it does to play, but I just figured they wouldn’t be into it,” Smith said. “I guess they liked it.”
Another thing that’s striking about the new material: the comparative absence of Williford’s trumpet and Waldon’s trombone. It’s as significant a departure as choosing to overdub over recording all at once. It’s like if the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles decided to ditch their masks and their signature weapons.
“Even if I write the songs, I’d rather the other guys be able to do what they’re good at,” he said. “[We] figured out how to write well together. So this new record, it’s a new sound that’s kind of a new identity for the band. I almost feel like it’s the first record.”
So far, the reception to the band’s new direction has been entirely positive. They’ve even had a single, “Jellyfish,” added to KXT’s playlist. With War Party’s next chapter, Smith would like to shy away from getting pigeonholed.
“I’m more interested in what the guys I write with want to do with the songs that I have, and what kind of interpretations we can get from that.”
“To answer your question, ‘Classic Rock’,” said Williford.
“Or ‘Dad Rock’,” said Moore.
“It’s ‘Punk Rock, Sorta’,” Smith said.
Fri w/ Sam Lao, Picnictyme, and Quaker City Nighthawks at Club Dada, 2720 Elm Street, Dallas. $4.[/box_info]