Photo by Braverijah Gregg.
Bryce Avary has been making music for a long time: he joined his first band at age 14 and self-released the EP The Rocket Summer just a few years later. The Rocket Summer broke through with 2005’s Hello, Good Friend, a collection of songs that were personal and introspective, yet the type an entire room could sing along to (and they did, on tours with Goo Goo Dolls, Paramore, and Third Eye Blind, and at festivals like Slam Dunk, Soundwave, Festival, and SXSW).
For more than a decade, Avary has continued to tour and release music regularly. In 2016, he shared Zoetic, which presented a shift in sound and sonic rebirth. Created in Los Angeles, he describes Zoetic as “kind of a city, really aggressive, kind of urban-ish rock record” with industrial elements. But as someone who’s “really inspired and affected by my surroundings,” for the follow-up, he left Los Angeles for a cabin in rural Sunset, Texas. A single, “Gone Too Long,” was released in 2017 as the first effort from his time in Texas; now, Avary has announced The Rocket Summer’s seventh studio album, Sweet Shivers, to be released August 2.
Since the album’s announcement in late May, Avary has had a packed schedule gearing up for the release. The album announcement came along with a single, “Shatter Us”; he’s since shot a music video for the song and announced a fall tour. “We’re kinda in that zone where every day there’s something kind of significant happening,” he says, reflecting on all the current action. Although the tour won’t be kicking off till September, Avary is eager to get on the road. Discussing his excitement to tour, he shares that making music is about something that’s “so much bigger than me… I don’t feel like it’s about me or my songs, I feel like it’s about a thing, it’s about an experience that goes beyond anything that I did, and I love living in that.”
Below, Substream spoke with Avary about Sweet Shivers: heading to Texas to write, making a record that is both intimate and larger-than-life, and more.
SUBSTREAM: You just announced the album Sweet Shivers, and I was going to ask if you were the type where everything was done by the time it was announced, or there’s still a lot that is happening – and it sounds like every day, there’s a lot going on.
BA: Yeah. I mean certainly a lot is done before we pulled the trigger on the announcement of the new album and everything; we’re putting out a music video for “Shatter Us” – that’s the song that we put out on Friday…. We have a tour planned we’re announcing next week… Quite a lot is going on, but it definitely doesn’t change the reality of things still needing to happen pretty much up until everything’s over. Pretty much when we get off the tour in October or whatever, it’ll be like – “okay, were we good on all that?”
SUBSTREAM: When you get off a tour after you put out an album, historically, have you been one to take some time to breathe, take time to relax, do whatever life stuff, or do you tend to launch right into the next thing?
BA: No. I mean normally there’s a human reality of needing to breathe for a second, but no, I actually really love diving into the studio directly after a tour. In the studio, it’s such a drastically different vibe for me. I’m really isolated, and I like being that way a lot of the time, but it’s obviously a black and white different experience from the high electric vibe of a show every night, where everyone in the room is singing along to these songs, and you can feel the collective heartbeat in the room. And so, it’s funny you mention that because the last tour we did was kind of the beginning of what became Sweet Shivers, which was a much longer process than I was anticipating.
BA: I had moved my studio into a cabin in this place called Sunset, Texas, which is a very, very, very rural part of town. I would drive thirty minutes every day to get a Starbucks coffee and a taco from Taco Bell. Taco Bell became a delicacy to me, which I never really ate Taco Bell but I just really fell in love with it at this time. Anyway, so we went on this tour in the summer, and during that time, I had been in the cabin for a little while where a lot of these songs started. I wrote and recorded a song called “Gone Too Long” that we released during that time…. When we had a day off, I was looking around online, and we found this studio in Denton [that] was maybe 45 minutes from where this cabin was, and I just decided I wanted to get back into a little bit more of being around existence of human life. I remember I literally jumped off of the bus and got in my car, which I hadn’t been in for like two months, and I just drove straight to the studio to check it out. I still had my suitcase and everything…. It was this band called Midlake’s old studio, and they had moved out, and so I moved right in, and that was kind of the second beginning of this album. So yeah – long story long, I don’t like to take too many breaks.
SUBSTREAM: And I wanted to ask about that – you headed to rural Texas, you had been living in Los Angeles for a couple of years before that; why did you want to leave Los Angeles in the first place?
BA: It was sort of a mixture of things; it was almost an accident and yet, at the same time, it was also kind of intentional. But I’m really inspired and affected by my surroundings – and not just with nature, but – you know, I write really deeply personal songs, for better or for worse. I had made [Zoetic] in Hollywood, and it was kind of a city, really aggressive, kind of urban-ish rock record, I guess. I don’t know if that’s a good way to put it at all actually; kind of more industrial elements, and I wanted to have the pendulum swing the other way.
There was this cabin that – when I was living in Texas originally, I would go out and rehearse [there], and I used to always be like, “Man, I should make a record here.” And so I took off and went there, and it was crazy. It was really weird – I had to make sure that I would wear house shoes because there were scorpions everywhere. I would be stepping on them, like, “oops, sorry guy” – but they kind of became my friends, and so they’re really not as frightening as they sound.
I think the good thing about being out there was – funny enough, in LA I didn’t have cable TV, but this cabin strangely had satellite, so I’d be up till 2 or 3 in the morning watching old episodes of 120 Minutes and in the middle of the night getting really inspired to make something that sounded like Depeche Mode or something [laughs]. It was a really thrilling way to kick off something new. When you get out there at a place like that, it makes you hear your thoughts a lot louder, which has its pros and its cons, and that’s just the place I wanted to head to with this album. Zoetic was a little bit less of an emotionally-charged record in terms of sentiment and stuff – it was certainly a really high-energy, kick the walls down, kind of record, but I felt like for what certain things in my life looked like, it would be really nice to see where going to a place like that would lead the songs. I started there, and then it went deeper into the city, and it ended back in Los Angeles, so it was kind of a mixture – I made a whole lot of songs, and what’s on Sweet Shivers is just a part of that…. You can’t really put like thirty songs on a record – I guess you can, but it’s not really wise.
SUBSTREAM: Yeah, how do you choose what songs are going to end up on the record?
BA: Generally, it’s a lot of things – how does it all flow sonically is really important to me, even the lyrics, at the end of the day, are what last, I suppose. Sometimes a lot of people don’t actually hear the lyrics for a while, and just hear the music. I remember growing up and listening to records that I had no idea what the words were until much later. I had this Cocteau Twins record in my car that I never really know what she’s saying, but there’s a spirit in it that I love.
But yeah – so trying to hone in on how it flows sonically but towards the end, I definitely start getting a lot of opinions, which can be a double-edged sword, which to me it’s not like [any of the songs are] super obviously bad, and so it’s… really hard to sometimes land on that.
There’s been a lot of cool chatter behind the scenes of, “how do I get this stuff out there?” – I’ve put all this time and effort into it, but it just doesn’t see the light of day at some point. I think it was Of Men And Angels, we put out a B-Sides EP, and I remember a lot of people were like, “dude, half these songs you should’ve put on the record over this and that.” So – you always run into that, but – I suppose – with me it’s always writing music, I’m deep into other music already.
SUBSTREAM: You have a lot of songs that are very intimate and introspective; the word “shiver” to me feels so personal and in my body – but then “Wannalife”, that’s a song that really sticks out to me because this song is you and a guitar, but these lyrics are just completely larger-than-life. Can you talk to me about – both on that song and on the album in general – how do you balance songs like “Shatter Us,” I’m picturing people singing along to and really getting in to it at a show, songs that are really anthemic like that, while also making songs that are really intimate and personal?
BA: That song “Wannalife” is so strange – and I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, and you just brought me back to this place that I hadn’t thought about till now, but this sounds so cliche, but that song, in particular, was so weird. I woke up, and then I heard it in my head, and I went and grabbed a guitar, and I just started singing it. It was really strange. I was barely awake, and I remember I had just recorded it on my voice memos. I didn’t have all of the specific lyrics of the verse but that whole, “I wanna life with the world in it, I wanna see everything – I don’t know, it just happened; that kinda stuff happens a lot, but it’s not generally that good when you’re asleep and you write songs.
I think for me – I don’t know how to say this without it coming off kind of weird [and] pompous or something – but music is quite literally always on my mind. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve played a bunch of different instruments. I don’t really subscribe to a genre or one type of thing, and I think as time goes on that’s [not] really gonna change. Some songs, I want it to sound crazy layered and huge and then some songs like “Wannalife,” it would sound really silly with a bunch of produced-out elements of it. I sometimes wish I wrote more songs like “Wannalife” because they’re considerably easier [laughs] to make- and to be honest, sometimes in the obsession of what that possible sound could do to this song, and you layer and you layer, sometimes you can actually bury a song and almost squeeze the life out of it by putting everything on it, which I learned the hard way a couple times – just because it’s all so exciting to me sometimes.
SUBSTREAM: Like losing the heart of the song by getting too wrapped up in the production?
BA: Yeah, maybe! Sometimes one of the greatest mix techniques is the mute button, because you’re like, “oh my gosh, even though I spent all that time doing that, is that really necessary?”. I tried to hone in on that a little more on this record, but as far as trying to find the balance of it all, I think it goes back to the whole cohesion of what works going in and out, and weaving in and out of an album and feeling good. I generally punish myself over those kinds of decisions – lose sleep over like, “should it be this, or this track listing.” Trying to figure out the track listing is always really hard.
SUBSTREAM: You have the album coming out, you talked about music videos, there’s a tour – is there anything else that people should be on the lookout for or that you would want people to know about you?
BA: As far as stuff to be on the lookout for, there’s a lot coming up, but not much I can say right now. For the first time ever, I feel like there’s a significant amount of stuff on the schedule of releases coming out up until the album, and special things, but I can’t really talk about it….I feel like my future is about my future, and my music, in a sense, is just beginning, and so it’s an interesting thing to navigate through the reality of… the true blessing of a long career, one that started in my teenage years – when you think about it, it’s kind of a bit of a mind screw [laughs].
Sweet Shivers is out on August 2 and available for pre-order here. The Rocket Summer will be touring in support of the album this fall; see the dates below and pick up VIP and general tickets at www.TheRocketSummer.com.