Music / Features
They Made Me Do It -
Talking Influences with department.
Words by James Lynch
Tuesday 8th September, 2020
As they return with their first new music in a few years today, we had the pleasure of catching up with Melbourne faves department. to dig into ‘New Crave’, their latest blast of nervy garage-punk goodness.
As a band who are at their best when they’re invigorated and restless, it’s been strange not hearing new music from department. over the past couple of years. However, it seems like the wait was worth it - with the release of ‘New Crave’ today, which doubles as a hint towards their second full-length album, the trio sound as energised and vital as ever.

After opening with some sinister harmonic scratches, ‘New Crave’ quickly expands open into a wall of thick garage-rock chords as a nervous backbeat thunders underneath. As the track’s eerie intro seemed to suggest, there’s an urgent undercurrent that bubbles beneath ‘New Crave’ from start to finish - the band racing to make their point, as if the song might rocket out from beneath them at any given moment.

department. have always been masters of straight-to-the-point garage-rock, and ‘New Crave’ is no different, balancing out its scrappier tendencies with a gleaming eye for pop sensibility. At the centre of this is frontman Josh Chugg, his endearingly frayed vocals sounding both weary and frantic (often within the same line) as he yelps or groans decidedly alongside the track’s driving stomp.

Speaking about the track, he explains “‘New Crave’ deals with the endless obsessions, addictions and fixations that allow us to escape our immediate reality, for another. Whether it is escapism, coping or entertainment, there is a consensus that there must be more to our living experience than what we soberly absorb through our senses. It is about searching and finding the next thing to give ourselves to, with a monomaniacal devotion, eventually and inevitably realising we were better off without it, once it is too late.” It’s fitting then, as the track crashes unexpectedly to an end with a final thump - thrilling but not exactly as we bargained for, leaving us desperately wanting more.

To tie us over until next time, Josh has talked us through a few of the key influences on 'New Crave'.

Minutemen - 'Corona'
This is so much more than the intro to Jackass and its selection also has nothing to do with the whole global pandemic thing either. This song sums up the greatness of the Minutemen. It almost seems like a Mexican rockabilly piss-take of some sort, upbeat and plaintive at the same time. It highlights (one angle at least) the beat-punk weirdness of D Boon and Minutemen. Double Nickels can be a difficult listen at times but ultimately so very rewarding. Probably the most unique album I’ve ever heard, Van Halen/Steely Dan covers and all - I mean this in the best way possible.

We’ve covered ‘Corona’ a few times. Mostly for laughs at rehearsal, but it has made it onto our set once or twice, hopefully again in the future.

XTC - 'Respectable Street'
Mikas (bass) and myself often talk at length about XTC. He leans a bit more towards the Drums and Wires side of things whereas I obsess over the English Settlement phase. So here I’ve split the difference with the opener from Black Sea, an album where they started to leave the new-wave/punk style behind for a more melodic and progressive pop, with quintessentially English narratives, that eventually influenced Brit-pop and beyond. Catchy and hilarious, this one is a true banger.

Robyn Hitchcock
Another one who we can natter on about for hours. Whether it’s the psychedelic post-punk of the Soft Boys or the wide-ranging solo output, Robyn Hitchcock delivers it all. He wears his influences indelibly on his sleeve, which clearly rooted in the 60’s but he still puts his unique spin on everything he does, which is unfailingly anachronistic. I first came across him playing at Melbourne Uni (with Peter Buck of REM as his guitarist, of course) where he hilariously ranted about George Bush (a sign of the times). He seemed oddly out of place then, older greying guy amongst all these adolescents only after some accompaniment to their free sausage from the Student Union, but that only made him more interesting. His output seems to have something for every mood, whether it’s the ethereal 'I Often Dream of Trains' or the sweet and bizarre 'My Wife And My Dead Wife', there is never a dull moment, especially his live banter, which is always effortlessly amazing.

The icing on the Hitchcock cake came when I spotted him in a Sydney pub while we were touring with Dumb Punts a few years ago. I think we were both a few jars deep, which got me over my stage fright, but I got the snap to prove it! Mikas and I still need to frame our signed posters from the Soft Boys reunion of sorts from a few years ago! Fan boys much?

Wild Gift - X
Not to be confused with the awesome Aussie band ‘X’, (LA)X are probably the best band associated with punk and one of the few bands that are truly deserving of such a word. They embody the power and attitude but also have an infectious charm and charisma, where you can see how much fun they have playing music which is undeniable. The unique interplay of Exene and John Doe’s vocals is incredibly unique and always catchy as hell. Billy Zoom’s rockabilly licks and perennially-smiling goofiness brings it home. 

I think my first exposure to X was through listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers album Mother’s Milk as an impressionable 14 year old or something. There’s a three second excerpt of ‘White Girl’ in the opening song which I always thought sounded super cool but I wasn’t able to track it down until a bit later on, I may not listen to much RHCP these days but I’m grateful they planted the X seed.

I went for the whole Wild Gift album as out of their first 4 amazing albums, this one sums them up best and bangs from start to finish.

Dream Syndicate - 'The Days of Wine and Roses'
This one is just to prove that punk songs don’t have to be under two minutes. This album is the perfect mashup of jangle/noise/punk that we do our best to adopt in our writing and playing.

The Replacements - 'Go'
It’s impossible to nail it down to one song/album for The Replacements, but this will have to do, at their most melodic and beautifully sloppy. Something about Paul’s singing, the way the verse mumbles and meanders along, providing a springboard to the soaring chorus, Bob’s licks everywhere. This never gets old and always sends a shiver. I feel like this song bookends the brash and snotty early.
‘New Crave’ is out now through Sunset Pig Records - follow department. in all the usual places to keep an eye on what’s next.