The Rocket Summer send you a sonic bouquet—with no card attached
On his new album, ‘Sweet Shivers,’ Bryce Avary delivers a 13-song gift. But just like you never ask about the price tag, he’s not telling you where it came from.August 5, 2019
Bryce Avary, the musical polymath who stirs hearts under the name the Rocket Summer, is having a very Los Angeles kind of day. He’s got his studio located in the heart of it all, but his cellphone service is as reliable as the president’s cabinet. So he’s driving to a different space.
“AT&T’s service isn’t too good, so I’m driving around the neighborhood,” he says. “I’m currently parked outside of Vitello’s, the restaurant where the Robert Blake thing went down.” Blake, a popular actor known for his roles both as a child and as a TV star, was accused of murdering his wife at the eatery back in 2001. “I’m parked in the exact same spot,” Avary says. “But I watched this documentary about this very thing the other day, and I’m not sure he actually did it. This is a really eerie thing to be talking about this right now, but I have service so I am going to take it.”
Celebrities extinguishing their mates isn’t really a subject Avary would be known for dissecting. This is the guy who came to acclaim with a continuously uplifting feel-good body of work from his days recording for the indie-label the Militia Group, as well as a brief tenure in the major-label system with two releases on Island/Def Jam. On the new Sweet Shivers, his melodic sense is still sterling, even if some of the songs feel they were written as a direct response to something in his life, from wishful thinking (“Wannalife”), statements of intent (“Shatter Us”) or abject fear (“Gardens”).
The game-changer? He’s not revealing too much about the subjects behind the songs. Now Avary’s not a jerk, a pretentious artist or wary of the press. At this point in his musical career, he feels some things don’t need to be trumpeted about his life. Regardless if said events germinated a new album he’s promoting.
So if you’re looking to hear about the time he drained a fifth of Absolut while listening to Motörhead’s Ace Of Spades in his studio at top volume after breaking a chair and walking around with a leg of it to see if he could face down the Jonas Brothers’ manager about those My Chem reunion stories—we have failed you. But if you want to know about the time he actually did hide out from the law for a week, well, we’ve got you…
Are you in L.A. to stay, or are you going to head back to Texas?
BRYCE AVARY: I refer to my life as a traveling sound circus because I’ve been in so many places in the last few years. I decided to name my studio Sound Cirque because of that. I’m in L.A. now, but I made the majority of the record in Texas. I took from both of those atmospheres and put them into the music. It’s a pretty broad spectrum of influence there. One of these days, I hope to be officially somewhere.
Is L.A. a necessary evil?
I did the last record [Zoetic] in L.A., and there was so much noise where I was doing it. I had my studio in this house that I was renting, and there was constant chaos, so I was making that record in the middle of the night. I was trying to figure it all [out] for [Sweet Shivers], and then I figured, “You know what? I’m going to go to Texas and get a cabin in the middle of nowhere and see what happens.”
It was a place in Denton, Texas, my band and I used to rehearse at, and I always wanted to make a record there. It allowed me to listen to what the songs were trying to tell me to say. But being out there, if you’re not careful, you can hear all the voices and thoughts in your head too much. After a while, I came back to Los Angeles. I don’t even know where I live. [Laughs.]
You’ve packed a lot of living in both places. What was the major event that you experienced during the period making and touring behind Zoetic that got you to arrive at Sweet Shivers?
Hmm… What are you referring to? [Laughs.]
I’m just asking a question. It’s the age-old axiom: In order for you to create output, you need input. You have to experience things and live life. What were the primary motivations that inspired you to create your new album?
I think for me, as time goes on, I feel like an alien of sorts. [Laughs.] I still think that music and albums are the be-all, end-all for me. When I went to Texas, it was based on how I could be so immersed making something just pure. Along the way, in the last few years, life experiences happened. All these years, I’ve never really learned how to handle this whole thing where I write from such a deeply personal place, and yet I really don’t love explaining everything about my personal life.
Partly because to me, I feel music is part of a two-way road between the song itself and the listener. I want people to make the songs what they want them to be about. Sometimes it’s hard to want to dive in and explain every nook and cranny and every lyric. Certainly some big life events in the last few years led me into a place that made me want to pour my frustrations and hopes and dreams into songs.
After all these years, you’re going to be vague with me?
[Laughs.] It’s all good.
It’s not something you want to share personally? Or is it too incredibly personal or sensitive?
I think you just go through seasons of life where there’s uncertainty and pain, and there’s loss. I’m just trying to figure it out. I think this album is a snapshot of some of those things. There may be elements of hope, and some are what’s going on in life. It might be an emotional roller coaster of a record. At least to me. Everything is totally good. [Laughs.]
Let me ask this then: You came up in a social era where everybody needs authenticity, and everybody needs to be transparent. You’re sounding pretty opaque right now, so is the new LP Bryce Avary realizing that he doesn’t need to tell the world what kind of day he’s having?
I’ve always had a hard time navigating that in recent years. I always wanted my songs to speak for themselves and be the thing that people connect to. I [make music] to get it to come out of me, not necessarily to be seen.
All of my favorite songs and artists, maybe it’s because their songs mean so much to me. I don’t want to know all the things about their lives. It comes from that place. I’m trying to figure it out, because it’s such a different world, for sure.
Coming up through the music community that you did, what trappings are you glad to be free of?
It’s funny: I feel like the Rocket Summer wasn’t necessarily your stereotypical scene thing. I think I got swept up in it a little bit by the nature of touring as much as possible and being on the road as much as possible. I think a lot of those bands are still doing great things. Certainly a lot of the bands that felt more like the boy-bands-with-guitars thing I wasn’t really super-keen on. [Laughs.] I feel with that going away in a sense, maybe it’s allowing me and my music to stand for itself and on its own. Then again, I don’t really know if the Rocket Summer was ever deeply rooted in that scene.
I don’t look back much at all at what I’ve done, but when I do, it’s a mindscrew for me when I get a perception or gauge of me as the Rocket Summer, especially if it’s from a different time. I’m so removed from it because I am constantly creating. It’s like I’m not very self-aware of those things, but I’m trying to get better at it. It’s allowed me to be free and allowed me to do my own thing.
Was Zoetic a palate cleanser in a lot of ways?
It almost started as a totally different project other than the Rocket Summer. I think that certainly planted some seeds that allowed me to move forward in a lot of different ways. I think Sweet Shivers is a little more reined in, look back and looking forward at the same time, I think I was using a guitar like a machine gun. Now I feel like on Sweet Shivers, the pendulum swung a different way, one that’s more emotionally driven. More of a cathartic experience than a kicking-the-door-down, screaming experience. I want Rocket Summer to come from an honest and true place, regardless of the outcomes. Because in the long run, I think that stuff ages well.
I want to hear people’s original thoughts and what’s in them. There’s a lot of different sides, though. I’m always making music, and I feel that it might not always be the Rocket Summer. I don’t think I’d ever “end” the Rocket Summer, because at a certain point I’d feel like what’s the point if you’re making a sound so drastically different. It wouldn’t be reminiscent of what people expected/wanted it to sound like. It’s interesting: It’ll be a journey for the next few years to see what happens. Because the music has been flowing more than it ever has.
Would there be a difference between a Rocket Summer record and a Bryce Avary record?
Yeah, I definitely think so. I think I would just have different names for different moods. And maybe one of these days, officially be me. It’s weird: The Rocket Summer is me. It’s fully me, but it’s only a part of me. That’s why it will be interesting to see what the future holds. I’m interested in exploring the moods within me that might not work as the Rocket Summer. Even though it’s the same guy. I’ll let you know how it goes. [Laughs.] And that’s sort of all I know.
If you make that death-metal record with lots of two-handed guitar tapping, let me know. This leads up to my next question: Do people grow up with the Rocket Summer, or do they grow up alongside it?
Hmm… I think that people at our shows have grown up with it. And that’s sort of all I know. I know I will be making music for the rest of my life. But I have a problem with the narrative of the word “still.” Like, “Man, you’re still killing it!” Or, “It’s awesome that you’re still making music.” What do you mean “still?” This is the beginning for me! At the core of it, I play and write music. I’m looking forward to the days when “still” isn’t being used to describe what I do or the duration of it.
My favorite track on the record is “Gardens.” It’s sonically ambitious and has a lot of twist and turns, sonically and lyrically.
That has a really cool story to it.
I’m all ears.
When I was in that cabin in Texas, I would go on these jogs every day. Through fields, not seeing anybody around. And the people I did see, I’d get pretty peeved looks from. [adopts country tone] “What’s this boy doin’ out here?” One day, I was about to go out on a run, and I got a call saying, “You might not want to go outside. There’s something gnarly happening right now. There’s a guy that got pulled over by the cops and took off on foot. He apparently ran toward the property you are on.”
So I went online, and it was true: There was this guy on the run. And in the comments, I started to see it light up. A few of the comments were like, “The cops are saying it’s a guy with long blond hair.” And I’m like, “Oh, my gosh. What’s happening?” The comments are like, “Shoot first and ask questions later” and “I got pulled over, and the cop told me they’re looking for a guy with long blond hair.” I’m thinking, “OK, somebody is describing me right now.” So I stayed inside for a couple [of] days and wrote that song out of the perspective of what it must be like and sound like to be on the run. And the thrilling aspect of that. I don’t like to get super-deep into the songs, but I think that warrants some explanation. [Laughs.]
Did they find the guy?
They found him a week later. He was twice my size, huge guy with brown hair. Didn’t look remotely like me. It was obvious I was the one being described. Even on the thread, it said, “The cops are saying it’s not the guy with long blond hair.” It’s OK. I’m still alive.
The latest the Rocket Summer album Sweet Shivers is available now here.