Texas native Bryce Avary, the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist mastermind behind The Rocket Summer, has accomplished enough for someone a lot older, as he prepares to release his second Island Records release (and fourth overall), Of Men and Angels, the follow-up his major label debut, 2007's Do You Feel.
Since launching his career as a 16-year-old with the independently released The Rocket Summer EP, a name he took from a Ray Bradbury short story, Bryce has toured around the world, selling out venues not just in the U.S., but Canada, the U.K. and Japan, while playing such noted events as U.K.'s Glastonbury Festival, Scotland's T in the Park, Japan's Summer Sonic Festival, Austin City Limits, SXSW, Bamboozle, Cornerstone and the 2007 Vans Warped Tour.
"With this album, I wanted to strip away some of the expectations and goals even more so that have perhaps held me back in the past," he explains. "I still tried to write songs the whole world would want to sing along to, a beautiful and huge record. But I went into it with the attitude, I want to make an album of genuine and honest songs written from my heart and personal experiences that musically and lyrically would be better than anything I had done yet and above all would be an album that would hopefully, truly move and affect people. The whole pop success is like playing the lottery anyway. Of course it would be amazing, but for me it's all about focusing everything you have on making the greatest music you can without banking on any thing else. I'm grateful to be doing this and I want to do this for the right reasons."
For someone as spiritually motivated as Avary, that means he focuses on the struggles and victories of life's often-challenging journey in Of Men and Angels. There's the fervent post-emo power-pop punk riffs propelling "You Gotta Believe", the autobiographical tale of romance and surviving the bad times in the hint of a hip-hop groove in "Hills and Valleys" and the quiet-to-loud, mud-below-to-ground-above contrast of "Light", while "Nothing Matters" is a paean to altruism and selflessness, "Pull Myself Together" about accepting grace and allowing yourself to move on while learning from your mistakes and the moving, hymnal "Walls", an epic ballad on battling depression. And if his songs often tackle serious topics, Avary isn't above concocting something more tongue-in-cheek, like "Japanese Exchange Student", which compares his social life as an up-and-coming artist to that of a student's experience in a foreign land, and "I Need a Break (But I'd Rather Have a Breakthrough)", his own sly acknowledgement of the role of luck in pop success.
Avary produced the album with CJ Eriksson, who engineered Do You Feel, recording "21 or 22 finished tracks... almost two albums' worth" at Ocean in Los Angeles and in Austin, playing, as he did on his previous albums, all the instruments himself—tackling guitar, keys, bass and drums, which were the first thing he learned as a kid.
"I wanted this to be the best record I've ever made to date, so when people look back on it, they say, 'That's an album which really affected my soul.'"
In fact, The Rocket Summer has a way of getting Bryce Avary's fans to feel just that. His albums and live shows are all about positivity, optimism, seeking a higher power, overcoming our struggles.
"Yes, this is a very spiritually charged album," nods Bryce. "That's the biggest thing in my life and it's what keeps me going. That's the root of everything I do."
Of Men and Angels follows last October's release of the four-song You Gotta Believe EP, which debuted at no. 1 on iTunes® alternative chart and no. 5 overall. Three of the songs, including the title track, "Hills and Valleys" and "Light," were part of a "Complete Your Album" iTunes® promotion, and are all included in the new release.
Musically, Avary is a one-man show—though he tours with several longtime friends—who has been compared to similar wizards and true stars like Brian Wilson, Prince or Todd Rundgren, although in an updated, anthem-like punk-rock style.
"I don't intentionally set out to write radio hits, but I do want my songs to connect with the world," he says, "something that can ignite the airwaves."
"I'm happier than I've ever been about this album. Musically, I wanted it to be a little more organic, very little chopping on the drums, no Auto-Tune on the vocals, longer takes. I wanted the album to be real, but still sound slick. It just doesn't have that sterile feeling you get when things are chopped up and made computer-perfect."
There are a number of candidates for hit singles on Of Men and Angels, but wealth and fame aren't exactly the most important things on Bryce's mind.
"Walls", a song that deals directly with people's depression, shows how he uses his own experiences to comfort others going through similar situations. It helps explain the kind of viral following that turned last year's video for "Do You Feel" into an Internet phenomenon. With guest appearances by Paramore's Jeremy Davis and Josh Farro, Jack's Mannequin's Andrew McMahon, Forever the Sickest Kids' Jonathan Cook, All Time Low's Alex Gaskarth, MxPx's Mike Herrera, Hellogoodbye's Forrest Kline and Relient K's Matt Theissen, the clip led to the album version of the song being played more than 4 million times on The Rocket Summer's MySpace site.
"People start tearing up when they hear 'Walls,'" nods Bryce. "We're definitely aware the kind of connection we have with our fans. I just see that as God working through the music. And I'm just fortunate to be a part of it."
In the end, Avary uses that good fortune to help others. He performed the White House last summer in connection with his support of Invisible Children, an organization dedicated to rescuing youngsters who have been kidnapped and enlisted against their will into the Ugandan army. He has also started a clothing line, "Call It Captivate" which donates 25% of sales to several different charities they have partnered with, from disease research and poverty aid to orphanages, leaving it up to the buyer to decide which one to the "CIC" Charities they would like to donate to.
"I like to support people who do good things," says Bryce. "I'd do this even if I weren't playing music. But I'm fortunate enough to stand in front of a microphone, so I might as well say something that helps."
I need it
And I can't help
But feel desperate
My desires they seem
Are coming to their endings... But I will trust
It's not the end
But a great beginning
"When there's opposition, and you know what you're doing is good, maybe it's because something bigger is actually happening," says Bryce. "You just have to hold on a little tighter, trust that things will get better. But I'm definitely not quitting."
Of Men and Angels is not the sound of someone giving up, but rather The Rocket Summer making one huge step for band-kind.
"I like the term 'young veteran,'" says Avary. "But at the same time, I don't want people to think this album is not fresh. I'd be a liar if I didn't say it would be nice to have the radio and TV thing happening. I'd love to expand this, play bigger venues and reach more people. But we already have this loyal, hardcore following and I couldn't be more grateful for this. And I keep pushing myself forward, trying to make a great album, trying to put on the best live performance I can."
With Of Men and Angels, Bryce Avary shows The Rocket Summer is ready for take-off... The sky's the limit.