“I don’t think there’s a limit to where I’m gonna go” — Bryce Avary talks the rebirth of the Rocket Summer

The Rocket Summer
photo: Braverijah Gregg

It’s been four years since the release of Life Will Write The Words, the fifth studio album from Texas native Bryce Avary, more commonly known as the Rocket Summer. While Avary toured on that album for a while, he’s spent the last few years tucked away in Laurel Canyon, California, playing no shows and dedicating all of his time to writing and recording for his newest release, Zoetic. He’s spent most of his time as somewhat of a recluse, but recently, he’s had a few unwelcome visitors in his house—ones that he believes showed up to finally nudge him out the door and back on the road.

Hey Bryce! How’s it going?
BRYCE AVARY: I’m pretty good! I’m dealing with the weirdest thing right now. This is so nuts. Freaking skunks, like the animal—and not just skunk but skunks, plural—have invaded my house, and they’ve moved underneath my house and it’s freaking horrible. I’ve been trying really hard to get them out of my house. [Laughs.] I’ve had pest people here. [The skunks]  make so much noise and they’re spraying. It’s the worst thing you could think of. It’s so bad. I think it’s my freaking cue that it’s time to get on the road and leave this town.

So the smell is infiltrating your house right now.
Oh my gosh, yes. We thought it was one. In the middle of the night, I thought my house was on fire. I woke up and was like, “What on earth is that smell?” Then I realized it’s a skunk. And then I just assumed it was right outside my window and that’s why it was so potent. The very next night at 2 a.m., I had been asleep for an hour, we starting smelling it and started hearing it whining in our house. And then last night we heard a fight. There are skunks in my house, and it’s freaking horrible. Like I said, I think it’s my cue to get on the road.

Well before you do that, I want to pick your brain a little bit. You wrote a ton of songs for this album over the last couple of years. How did you come down to what made it onto Zoetic? Were those your favorites from the start or just the ones that made the most sense together?
I think they made the most sense together. I think that there were other songs that would have fit just as well and frankly, I think I just got to the point where I didn’t want to finish them. [Laughs.] There were so many songs that I was working on and there was a handful that I’m sure will come out one day and people will be like, “Whoa, why wasn’t that on your record?” Records are never finished; they’re abandoned. At least that’s how I view it, because I could keep writing. It just got to the point where I was happy with what I had and narrowed it down to this really alive, kind of aggressive-leaning album. I’m really proud of it.

With your previous records, a lot of the songs have been very uplifting and inspirational. This time around were you more focused on just getting out what was in your head and being as creative as you could or were you more focused on telling a story through your lyrics?
I think it was truly just an artistic expression of what was going on in my own head. I didn’t set out to make a record that would be different than what I’ve done in the past. I still think it sounds like the Rocket Summer. It just has a different filter that it’s going through. I do think that the record shows a different side of me, lyrically. In a way, it’s probably the most artistic record I’ve ever made in the sense that I was just making art as it was coming out. It’s truly an expression from my heart. There wasn’t a lot of thought about whether or not it would connect or not. In my opinion, those are my favorite records to listen to.

I read that for a little while you thought that this release should maybe be a side project—you didn’t really know where it fit. So what made you realize this needed to be a Rocket Summer album?
There’s a lot that went into that. I just knew I was making a record like I’d made every other record, but I knew that I wanted to not allow there to be any sort of limits on it. I went into it just kind of going, “I’m just making a record. I don’t know what it’s gonna sound like, I don’t know if I’m gonna find out things along the way that could mess up the sound so much that it would be weird to release it as the Rocket Summer.” I just went about it with a ton of freedom. At the end of the day, it’s still me. I did everything on it just like I did on the other Rocket Summer records. I think it’s an evolution of it, and I didn’t see a reason to change anything. I was just merely open to anything. When that quote came out that I was considering doing something else, I was just really open to anything. Not ever was I considering killing the Rocket Summer or stopping it like ever, I was just considering maybe this comes out as something else. But as I went through it, I just realized,  “No, this is Rocket Summer.” And I’m excited that it is. My favorite bands are the ones that have records that don’t sound like one another, and yet [Zoetic] still sounds like the Rocket Summer.

You mentioned that you had a lot of freedom with this album. Do you think you ever limited yourself creatively on past albums? Were there any pressures or expectations you were dealing with that stifled your creative process?
I think only logistically. Part of the reason I did the record this way is that this is the first time I made it in my own studio, and I was just left to my own devices. There were no limits. I think limits can be a good thing because if you’re not careful you can look up and you’ve been making a record for a year [Laughs], which is something that I’d never done before. Normally, I spend no more than a couple of months making a record. Part of that is just due to the fact that I’m in a studio and paying for it every day. I just set out to make a record. Part of being a producer is just knowing what you have to get done so you do all the drums and you do all the bass and you do all the guitars. With this record, I was just figuring it out as I went. I think that would have been the only thing that was limiting me in the past. I don’t think there was ever a time where I was not allowing myself to go further, but I think that as far as the songwriting went, I always try to make cohesive records. I don’t think there was ever something in the past that held me back other than just logistics.

This has been a really long process for you. Was there ever a time that you got a little stir crazy?
Of course. Oh my gosh, it was the best experience and a really hard experience. It wasn’t my plan to go about it this way, but when I was witnessing what was happening, so many songs coming out and being all over the place, I just realized I had to see this through. There were definitely days when it was weird. It was really really difficult just powering through it. At the same time, it was all really exciting, and I kind of fell in love with actual gear. [Laughs.] I got really into gear and new techniques. It’s amazing what you can learn on the internet these days. Anybody can be their own anything now. Like last night I looked up how to put together an animal trap, and I did it in, like, five minutes! There’s a lot of that going on while I was making this record. It was a lot. I’m not sure how I’m going to do the next [album], but never say never. Right now the only thing I can think about making is an acoustic folk record that I record in, like, two weeks and that’s it. I don’t think I’d wanna dive right back into something like this again, but I am really extremely proud of it. We’ll see what the future holds.

It’s a really great record. I’ve been a fan for a while, and I was just blown away by a lot of the songs. I’m excited to see the reception it gets from everyone else.
Thank you! That really means a lot. That was one thing I just didn’t really think about pretty much the whole time, and as we’ve been getting closer to the record, there’s been a few moments of like, “Oh my gosh! What have I done?” [Laughs.] It doesn’t sound anything like “So Much Love,” but that’s why it stands on its own and that’s why Do You Feel stands on its own. I just want to be an artist that makes a whole bunch of different kinds of records. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if within the next 10-12 years, I put out a really organic folk kind of thing, and then I put out a metal record. It wouldn’t surprise me with how much stuff I’ve learned and been through over the past years and what my tastes are. I love all kinds of music, and I really don’t believe in the term “guilty pleasure” especially when it comes to music. I think if you like something, you like it. There’s beauty in everything. I can find beauty in a freaking Slipknot record as much as I can in a Ryan Adams record. I love when people make great art. I’ve never felt like I was one thing. People might think that just because I put out a certain kind of song or have been a certain kind of thing for a while. I don’t say this in an arrogant way, but I don’t think there’s a limit to where I’m gonna go.

And with as long as you’ve been making music, surely people can’t expect you to make the same thing over and over. You’re not the same guy that made Calendar Days. You have evolved and matured. You’re a completely different person than you were back then. It’s only natural that your music evolves with you.
I have to keep going. I would certainly rather make something different and interesting than make the same record over and over and have both outcomes—the fact that you made the same record and lost a lot of fans or the fact that you made a different record and lost fans. [Laughs.] I would certainly rather make the more interesting record. I think ultimately that’s the best thing you can do for longevity and just for making great art. Just attempting to keep pushing.

There’s no way that you’d have the same passion that you do if you were creating something you didn’t love.
Absolutely. We’ll see. I’m so proud of this record. I’m sitting here staring at the vinyl while we’re talking. We finally got it in. I’m standing in the room that I made this album in, which is one bedroom I slept in and the other bedroom I made a record in. [Laughs.] I’m standing in that room looking at this vinyl. It’s so weird. I feel like I’ve been in a time warp or something.

It’s all come full circle.
Yeah, it will be exciting to just get it out. To be totally honest, it’s been such a long journey that all I really want to do is play these songs. I just want to tour, and then I wanna make another record. Some of these songs have been around for a while. “Same Air,” which is the first single, was one of the first songs I wrote and recorded. It was a long time ago. I wrote “Cold War” in 2013. That song is, like, years old; it’s so weird. It’s wild how that works. I think now I just want to make records faster and songs faster. Even just saying that song is a couple years old seems weird. It should have come out a couple years ago. [Laughs.] All in time, I guess. S