"There's this Bruce Springsteen quote that always inspired me," explains Brian Dales, frontman for The Summer Set. "He was talking about how 'Thunder Road' was the first song on Born to Run. He said it was an invitation to a story. I've always held on to that thought."
There is a story - actually, a lot of stories - that went into the making of Everything's Fine, the second album by the Scottsdale, AZ upstarts The Summer Set. It's a story about a band that made its mark as teenagers but has since grown into adulthood - and faced some uncertainty along the way. It's a story about a band reinventing itselfâ€¦.without losing touch with what made them stars in the first place.
It's also a story about a girl. Or, more specifically, "About a Girl," the first song on Everything's Fine, a contemplative, acoustic/orchestral number that may surprise fans of the band who caught the energetic group on the Vans Warped Tour last year. It distinctly sets the mood for what follows, a loosely- based diary of a relationship from beginning to end, and one that both veers into previously unchartered territory and greatly expands on the group's upbeat guitar pop sound, last heard on 2009's Love Like This.
"We couldn't have written a song like â€˜About a Girl' three years ago," says guitarist John Gomez. "I mean, I was 16 or 17 when we worked on that last record. I couldn't see us musically or lyrically being able to write that then." But to say The Summer Set is simply growing up is an understatement - and, actually, a disservice to the collective experience of the group. Although the band released its first EP in 2007, Gomez was only 11 when he and his brother (and current bandmate) Stephen started playing music together, and still just teenagers when what became known as The Summer Set was formed, with drummer Jess Bowen, guitarist Josh Montgomery and Dales. (Fun side note: Jess, Stephen, and John used to be in a band with Kennedy Brock of The Maine).
Growing up in Arizona, the group led a new scene of punk upstarts, inspired by the likes of fellow Arizonians Jimmy Eat World and The Format. "It was a cool scene," says Gomez. "We'd play for 1000 kids on a Friday night. And there were so many good young bands, they would inspire us and push us to get better. It was sort of like a competition." More experience came from the road. After releasing their first full- length album (Love Like This) in 2009, the group went on tourâ€¦and never really stopped, playing 300 shows a year and a main support slot on the 2010 Vans Warped Tour. By the time The Summer Set were ready for album number two, it was almost like they'd become a different band. "We had a lot going on in the last two years," says Dales, who went from writing a song for a girl ("Chelsea") on the band's first record to essentially documenting his breakup on their latest. "And we were really young on the first record, so I don't think that record was so personal. This time out, I wanted to tap into that. It's hard for a listener if you don't believe what the singer is singing. I wanted to make this a really believable experience for both me and our fans."
For Everything's Fine, the group spent some time songwriting with Paul Doucette of Matchbox 20 and Mike Daly of Whiskeytown in Nashville, and recording with veteran producer John Fields, whose work stretches from the likes of Har Mar Superstar to Paul Westerburg to Andrew WK. "He pushed us hard, and he brought so much in us," says the singer. "We had some early demos that sounded like our last record, but when we were done, everything sounded so new and different."
Sonically, there's a lot of new territory on Fine -the big choruses and stomping drums of "Thick as Thieves," the more acoustic flavor of "Someone Like You" and "Love to You," and even a hint of country on "When We Were Young," The last part wouldn't be much of a surprise if you knew the band. "A lot of us love country music," says Dales. "That's why we spent some time recording in Nashville, and why we've covered Taylor Swift songs (2010's Love Like Swift EP) in the past."
Besides finishing a new record, the band has been busy recently opening for All Time Low and Yellowcard, as well as experiencing their music in a whole new context: blanketed all over television, from VH1 to "Jersey Shore" to, most notably, "Dancing with the Stars." It was there where Dales' ex (actress Chelsea Kane) danced to the band's first hit "Chelsea." Says the singer: "They had to dance to a personal story, so she called and asked, and I was flattered. I mean, that's millions of people hearing that song, and now I have all these moms thinking I'm super romantic. I'll take it!"
Everything's Fine presents a more nuanced story of The Summer Set. Even the sad face on the album's cover is a hint that there are several new sides to the group. "The title is a bit sarcastic," admits Gomez. "Our first record was just one emotion. Everything's Fine is yin and yang. We've had some ups and downs recently, some breakups, some general trials and tribulations. This is a record that says we're young, but growing up and experiencing new things. So in a way, it's optimistic, too.
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