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Artist Spotlight: Bryce Avary of The Rocket Summer returns with ambitious new album; talks revisiting his catalog and summer tour plans

Bryce Avary never intended to be away this long. The mastermind behind The Rocket Summer spent the pandemic years locked away creating his most ambitious album to date and it’s finally available for our listening pleasure. With this new record, Avary takes a step even further into experimental territory and the result is a sonically rich body of music that he’s itching to bring to fans old and new. Atlas spoke with Avary about the new album, how he’s evolved his sound over the years and what he’s looking forward to on this upcoming tour. 

Atlas Artist Group: You’ve picked such a cool lineup for this tour. How did you decide on these artists to tour with?

Bryce Avary: Let’s see, where did it begin? Forrest and I go way back- The Rocket Summer and Hellogoodbye played a thousand shows with each other in the earliest days. I’ve always really admired Forrest as a songwriter. He’s very much a forward thinking artist and songwriter and I feel like I am, too. A lot of artists that came up around the same time at some point maybe changed their names or either stayed the same or stopped and then some maybe changed their names and evolved their sound. But I feel like The Rocket Summer and Hellogoodbye just kept evolving but never did that thing, you know?

Even though I know I certainly went through that multiple times, I always ultimately just landed on that artists evolve. Forrest is a good friend so when we were putting together this tour, I was like, I just want- after this much time away- you really want to make sure the tour is going to just be a really good experience and just a really fun experience. I’ve had fun with a lot of bands on tour but it’s been a long time since Forrest and I played together. And so I asked him and it just worked out.

And then The Juliana Theory- I think my agent brought it up and I thought it was a cool idea. Same deal- that’s another band that may perhaps even have been around even before me, which at this point is pretty rare- to find people that have been doing it since that time. I think they took a pretty long break, but when they came back, they also came back with some really forward thinking music and weren’t really just leaning into remember when or whatever. I just thought it was cool. I was telling somebody the other day, I guess we could call this the Artists That Have Evolved but Didn’t Change Their Names Tour.

Atlas: I like it. We don’t see a lot of that anymore- a lot of bands disappear or change their names or they’re not the same band anymore.

Avary: Yeah, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I myself definitely went through a bit of a mind trip with this album. I went through a mind trip with the Zoetic record. Both of those albums I kind of allowed myself to detach from any sort of preconceived ideas and just see what I would create. During that process, I definitely was like, I think I should put this out under a different moniker, but at the end of the day, it just didn’t make sense both times.

So it’s still just me playing all the instruments and it’s still like alternative rock. Maybe if I made a country record or an instrumental EDM record one day, I would do that, but it just wasn’t so far removed that to me made sense to change the name though. I know there’s a lot of artists that have done that and their music might actually even sound more similar to the band name. So yeah, it’s been an interesting ride for sure. But I just keep going.

Atlas: And you have gone through quite an evolution from when you started to where you are now. It’s amazing because each album gives listeners something different to absorb. Does this feel like a natural progression to you or has it been more of a conscious decision to make such radical changes in your sound? 

Avary: No, I think it just happened. I will say with this record, there was maybe a choice where I was going to allow myself to go even deeper into the wardrobe, if you will, and deeper into whatever kind of magical waters I was kind of swimming deeper down there. So I let myself do that. I think had I known that I was ultimately going to put it out as Rocket Summer, I might have made a couple of different decisions along the way. There were definitely moments where I was like, well, I would maybe do this if it was a Rocket record, but since this maybe isn’t, I’m gonna just go even further. As the record kept going and I started realizing that I was making a Rocket Summer album, I definitely had a moment of, well, I made some of these calls and I’m just sticking with it at this point.

I’m grateful- I feel like if you don’t push yourself to try new things, it can start to…not like what’s the point, but when you have as many albums as I do…I would make records forever. But I do know that if I were to put out something that sounded just like something I’ve done in the past, that might make some people happy, but I feel like a lot of people would be like, well, I might as well just listen to the original one, you know? I just keep going and it’s always a pendulum for me. Even the music I’m making now, I feel like I’m really excited to see where that goes at this moment. It feels like it might be the antithesis of what this album is that’s about to come out, but it’s just classic me to be talking about the next record before this one even comes out.

Atlas: You are not alone in that though. Quite a few musicians I’ve spoken to already start talking about the music coming after the upcoming album they’re promoting.

Avary: It’s art and we’re all addicted to the thrill of creating something that could be…you envision a room of people connecting to it and it’s just so exciting. And that’s not why I write music, but sometimes you can get a glimpse when you’re playing some music and you start chasing that and it’s like, dude, get back to this first thing. But I am really excited about this record. I don’t think I’ve ever made an album this ambitious before. I kind of stepped away from it for a minute- it’s been done for a while and so I’ve just been in administrative land getting the record ready. Now I’m starting to relearn how to get the show ready and get back into that and it’s just like, man, I just feel like this record is so awesome.

Atlas: Even with the last two albums, you’ve taken steps into more experimental territory compared to where you started and fans are really going to love hearing the new music live. Are you excited to play these live?

Avary: I think so. I think I’m excited. There’s just so much going on in them that I feel like when I teach my band the songs, I think everybody might be a little bit like, hold on for dear life, but I think it’ll be cool.

Atlas: How do you balance the new with the nostalgia?

Avary: If you had asked me this a year ago when this was all wrapping up I was very much…I don’t really look back. To make a record like this, you don’t look back. But I will say, in this time, I almost feel like it was meant to be because it took a while for this record to come out, it took a while for the vinyl to be made- there was just a lot of T’s to be crossed. This is the longest I think I’ve ever experienced an album before it comes out.

Maybe in the future I’ll think differently of it, but during that time…I don’t know if just because there’s been this massive resurgence of 2000’s stuff, but I feel like it did something to the algorithm. I just feel like I’m seeing more of the old stuff, like I’m forced to look at it more and in that process it’s actually made me just so grateful and I’ve really fallen back in love with all of that. I didn’t ever not like it, I’ve always been very proud of it. As an artist, it’s kind of like you want to just constantly push forward and create new things and just try to make the best thing you’ve ever made.

It’s definitely interesting to be putting out this album in the same year that Calendar Days has a major anniversary. But it’s just like the amount of space there between these two albums, and yet I’m being forced to talk about both of them. It’s been awesome, it’s been interesting, it’s kind of been therapeutic and I don’t know if I really answered this question. I think the only way to balance it is just dive in and I sort of accept all of it now.

When I was making this album, there was no other life that existed than Shadowkasters and I think I needed the time it took to get everything ready to come out to start looking at it again. Like, hey man, I know that you only care about this, but you’ve been doing this for a long time and your fans like all of it. And it made me fall back in love with that. So I can’t wait to play “Brat Pack” on this tour- I’m not even joking. There was a minute where I might not have wanted to do that. But now- especially after the pandemic and everything- this has been so long for me. I never intended to go away for this long.

The pandemic naturally shut everything down touring-wise for the better part of a couple years and then this still took long to get out. I’ve been banging my head up against the door just trying to get back to my fans and to this community that’s become such a massive part of my life. It’s been gone for so long that you do start to almost get used to this. This is what I’ve done for the last 20 years of my life and so I can’t wait to play. I can’t wait to showcase the new stuff, which is my everything right now but I also can’t wait to play the songs that I know what it looks like to see the room of people kind of get lost in a song and share one collective heartbeat and just the smiles and the escaping and the discovering.

I’m all about playing “Do You Feel” and I’m all about playing “Brat Pack”. Luckily I think some of the main fans kind of know what to expect with where I’m going with my music and so our diehards are going to be really excited about the new stuff. I’m sure there’ll be new people coming to the table with this new album that might be very surprised about the old records. But I think the great part about that is if you come to this show only knowing Shadowkasters cuz you heard it on a playlist or something, it’ll just be cool for newcomers to just see just how incredible this fanbase is and the energy in the room and the light in the room. I’m just so excited. I can’t get over how wild this is that I get to do this. I don’t think I’ve ever been entitled or have ever been too used to it, but gracious if it doesn’t feel like the biggest blessing in the world now to get to do this so I can’t wait. I can’t wait.

Atlas: You also had a chance to connect with people during the pandemic with your Patreon. How did it feel like to revisit some of your older stuff in a different way? Did that also help spark creativity while you were locked down and being able to talk to your community while we were still so isolated?

Avary: That was so wild how that all happened because Patreon actually came to me. I think the guy who was in charge of the music, he was a fan and he came to me about starting a fan club Patreon thing in 2019 before we even did the Sweet Shivers tour. So this was way before any of us knew what was coming around the corner. For me, it was a pretty easy thing to ease into that and it was definitely a lifeline for me during that core 2020 era. There was like only a couple hundred people in there, but it got to a point where there was probably 500 in there at one point.

But I loved it. I’m sort of a perpetual over-deliverer so I was giving two songs a month and a livestream and a show. When I started the Patreon, the livestreaming thing- this is almost weird to even think now- wasn’t even really a thing people did. Then it quickly became this thing where I was putting up lights and all that. But I loved it and it was really, really awesome.

Atlas: The livestream shows were amazing but it’s going to be even better now that we can physically be in the room for this tour.

Avary: It’s gonna be so great. I mean, you’ve been to my shows. I’m a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde kind of character. I sort of keep the energy really low during the day and then it’s like an atomic bomb that goes off during the show. I found that I didn’t really enjoy the livestream shows because I didn’t have that energy- I enjoyed it, but it was not even in the same galaxy of people being in the room singing along and crowd surfing and stuff. I just feel like there’s so much energy, the actual room could explode because there’s just so much energy in my soul at this point that’s been pent up for now three years. I just sort of envision fireworks going off.

Atlas: I’m very curious- how did you come up with the name for this album?

Avary: Originally when I was starting this project, I had been writing fictional stories that I was originally intending to make short films and comic books and stuff. It didn’t have anything to do with the music at first. And then just naturally being a musical person, I wanted to start making these tiny soundtracks to these stories that didn’t have anything to do with actually the music I ended up writing but I just thought the sound was cool. So I ended up writing a ton of music and the project in my mind was called Shadowkasters.

To cast a shadow, one must be stuck inside the light. To me, I just thought that that was really beautiful. Even though this wasn’t Rocket Summer in my mind at first, it was still very Rocket Summer to me to name an album Shadowkasters that has a darker tone to it. To cast a shadow normally [has] almost a negative connotation to it, but if you really think about it, you have to be in the light to do that and I just thought, wow, that’s so beautiful. A lot of this album deals with moving forward and just fighting through the darkness. I know a lot of my songs kind of have that tendency, but it sounded like a community to me and I’m really excited about it.

We’re certainly fighting against all of the darkness together and that is a really powerful thing and that’s why I’m so addicted to it, because in those moments you can really sense that it’s working.

Atlas: We’ve touched on this a little bit already, but your live shows have these moments where certain songs drop in and you already know that the audience is going to scream it in unison. Every album of yours has these moments- is there a song or an instance on this album that feels like that for you that you hope happens in the show?

Avary: Oh wow, that’s a great question. That’s so cool to be interviewed by someone who’s a fan and they would ask a question like that. I think that there’s a lot of moments in the record that I think could have those moments. There’s a song called “Eyes Disguise” where there’s a lyric that says “my happiness is my revenge” and I just screamed it with every ounce of my being. I’m really looking forward to that, I think that’ll be a big moment.

Atlas: We talk a lot about the struggles of the music industry, but what do you find to be the most fun or rewarding parts of the career? What brings you the most joy from being in this business?

Avary: I mean, [with] music, there’s nothing bad about it to me. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever gotten to do in my whole life, ever since I was a kid. Certainly the business aspect of it is challenging. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, but like I said earlier, there’s nothing as magical as playing these songs in a room that you watch people share one collective heartbeat together and it just feels like it can fix the world’s problems for a minute. Even though that’s obviously not the case, if for a moment, it’s just the most addicting thing in the world. I love that and I love making music. I write songs every day and just the journey and the digging for a gem is one of my favorite things. I suppose I could talk about the hard things too, but right now the only thing that’s worth talking about is how awesome it all is.

Stream Shadowkasters, out now and catch The Rocket Summer on tour this summer!

Story and photos by Olivia Khiel