The Hope of The Rocket Summer
By Alyce Gilligan
March 2, 2010
The Rocket Summer’s Bryce Avary has been producing infectious power-pop since 2003, and now returns with Of Men and Angels [check out our review here], his fourth full-length album (available now). We talked to the musician about his faith, his fans, and why he’s always so darn happy.
The themes of your albums have evolved over the years. Calendar Days and Hello, Good Friend were very internal and soul-searching, Do You Feel was more outward and socially conscious, and now Of Men and Angels is the most spiritually centered of your work. How did this shift occur in your writing process?
I think that the shift is just natural, in growth and in spiritual growth. [On] Calendar Days, I’m writing songs about how I can’t wait to quit working at Starbucks so I can sleep in! That’s like the farthest thing from where I am at as a 27-year-old now. This album especially, it’s a very hopeful album, but it touches on harder times. There’s this common thread about giving yourself up and serving others, and that’s just something that really weighed heavy on my heart during this season of my life and while I was writing this record.
People equate your music and your energetic on-stage personality with that sense of hope. Would you call yourself an eternal optimist?
I think it’s more just a testament of my relationship with God, and what He’s done in my life and knowing that He’s in control. There’s this weird perception of me that I’m this crazy, happy-go-lucky, bubbly person. Those people that really know me, I think they’d say I’m a positive person. But the other day, someone asked me, “Have you ever had a bad day in your entire life?” And I’m just sitting there thinking that 2009 was full of many, many, many bad days. I’m not perfect by any means. I definitely get upset. It’s just a journey, and just when I think that I’m achieving something, God shows me that I’m not there, but in a very loving way, and in a very refining way.
What are some newer elements that people will notice on Of Men and Angels?
Sonically, I went about it in a way that I wanted it to be a big, produced, modern record, but done with a lot of integrity—no auto-tune on the vocals, and very little chopping on the drums, and full guitar takes and just a record that was made the way that records should be made. And I think lyrically it touches on struggles, and having this uncanny faith that things will get better through these times and just remembering supernatural victories from the past. I’m proud of it, I hope people will be into it.
People who are familiar with The Rocket Summer know that you’re a one-man band of sorts when it comes to recording. What is it like going from assuming a lot of the creation and control while recording an album to playing it live with a full band on tour?
I’ve always just really loved playing music, and when I was younger, I fell in love with trying to excel at playing the drums, and then the guitar, and then bass came along, and piano came along. I definitely take that really seriously, being a worthy musician. And I’ve always loved just creating something from scratch. It’s honest, and I think for a fan it’s really fun to connect to because that is “me.” And I love playing the songs with the band. I’m super fortunate to have some really rad guys playing with me now. It’s always fun, you know. We work really hard. It’s fun watching them come alive at the shows, and I think what’s even crazier than that, far crazier, is there’s a group of a bunch of people singing every word back at us, which adds this whole gang vocal vibe. We’re just so freaking thankful to play music, and we’re so thankful for our fans, because if it weren’t for our fans, this wouldn’t exist. I know you hear that a lot, but I feel like something about that just sounds more genuine coming from me.
photograph of The Rocket Summer
You’ve been doing this since you were a teenager, so obviously you’ve changed. But how have you seen the audience or “the scene” change over the years?
Our fans are kind of all over the place. I’ve always just written music from my heart, and I never once set out to be like, “I’m gonna write music for teenagers.” I just play music for everyone and anyone. I got to see Paul McCartney last year, and there were little kids at this show, and there were elderly people at this show. Obviously, that’s quite a crazy thing to even use your name in the same sentence, but hopefully The Rocket Summer, in a much smaller way, could last a long time and be something that people bring their kids to shows and it’s just a big hang.
Having been “the next big thing” yourself just a few years ago, do you ever fear how quickly acts can come and go? What is the key to maintaining success in a changing music scene?
We’ve sort of been “the next big thing” for years. We’ve never actually had a big moment. We’ve never been on the radio, we’ve never been on MTV, and we’ve developed this super awesome, loyal, grassroots following. I just want to do this forever. It’s what I’m supposed to do, I think. I don’t want this to be over one day, and look back and be like, “Man, I just spent so much time focused on trying to get to the next place when I had this amazing thing happening. I was playing music and we had this awesome fan base.” Ultimately, and most importantly, we’re aware that God has worked through this music in a big way, and that is by far the biggest achievement and the thing to be proud of and happy about.