"There's a common theme on this record," says Bryce Avary, the frontman, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist behind The Rocket Summer. "Wanting to do greater things for the world, and not just trying to be a rock'n'roll star. I think we all have that desire but our issues and daily life get in the way. These songs are about trying to overcome that."
Talk with Avary for even five minutes and you'll discover a young man who is the complete opposite of today's rock star. He's confident, but humble. His attitude is undeniably positive in a genre that perpetuates misery and self-loathing. And he sees the bigger picture - who he is now, what it took to get there and where he wants to go.
He's also freakishly talented. Do You Feel, his third full-length record and first major label release, is similar to his previous work in that he wrote and performed the entire album himself . It's rock guitars, sunny pop and a cavalcade of pianos. It is also possibly the most energetic and upbeat album you'll hear all year.
The ambition and drive that's so apparent on the record have always been a part of Avary's personality. The Texas native initially fell in love with music around the age of 12. "Originally, all I listened to was bands like Superchunk and Built To Spill, indie rock. Over time, I found myself just loving anything that's a well-written song, anything that touched my soul. It could be indie, Brit-rock, country, it didn't matter.
"Growing up, I was kind of a nerd, so I had a lot of time on my hands," he says, laughing. "So I got sort of obsessed with different instruments." After performing solo at a few cafes and house parties around Dallas/Ft. Worth, Avary decided to record his first album. There was only one problem.
"I didn't have a band at the time," he says. "So I recorded everything on my own, but it was really out of necessity. Which is fine: I'm kind of a freak in the studio. I get consumed with making music, seeing songs from beginning to end. It's probably best that no one is in there."
So at the tender age of 16, Avary put out a self-titled EP as The Rocket Summer. A local Dallas indie-rock radio show, "The Adventure Club," started playing tracks from the record, which caught the ears of indie stalwarts The Militia Group. Two more records, Calendar Days and Hello, Good Friend followed, along with the fans, who sing along to every word of every song. Soon, Avary found himself headlining mid-size concert halls.
Throughout all of The Rocket Summer records, one thing remains constant: the vision. "Hope is a huge part of this and I want people to feel connected to that."
That attitude remains for Do You Feel, the first album The Rocket Summer recorded for Island Records. Avary recruited producer Jim Wirt (Incubus, Jack's Mannequin) to co-produce the release with him. "I actually didn't know much about him at first," Avary admits. "But then I heard some of the records he did, and I realized how good he was with mixing things like piano and heavy guitars. Plus, he's so positive and gets really excited about music." He laughs. "And he's not a jerk."
As with Avary's past work, Do You Feel is full of guitar-fueled power pop, piano-laced ballads and big, big choruses. The horn-driven "So Much Love," the first single, marks a bit of a departure, and one of the rare times Avary collaborated with other musicians. "We got the horn section from Stevie Wonder's Songs In The Key of Life," he says. "I love that album, so it was an honor to work with those guys."
Although many of the songs are uplifting, Avary doesn't shy away from controversy. On "A Song is Not a Business Plan," Avary calls out the industry and some of his music peers for looking at music as pure commerce. "It is one of the few bitter songs on the record," he admits. "I wrote it the day we had to cancel our whole Canadian tour because my van died - it was one of those days where I felt beat-down, working hard for what we believed in, yet still sitting there, broke down and smoking at the side of the highway! I got over it, but it felt good to get it out. I think the bottom line is to stay true, even if it means I'll stay in the van a little longer. It'll all work out."
In addition to expressing himself with words, Avary is committed to action. He is passionate about the charities Invisible Children (www.invisiblechildren.com) and To Write Love On Her Arms (www.twloha.com).
There's no denying that he's on his way to making a difference in the music world. "I do think there's something special about The Rocket Summer, something people can feel connected to," he says. "I hope, if you come see the band, that you come away from it feeling connected and accepted in a way you haven't before..."