Stories For Monday: An Interview with The Summer Set

A new record, a new tour, a new adventure

photo: Heather Hawke

It's a sunny Thursday afternoon, and The Summer Set are hanging out near a carousel in the depths of the sprawling Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Everyone is in a good mood, because in less than 24 hours, another new track from their upcoming album Stories For Monday will be out in the world (and it's one of their favorites). They're in the the park today to spend some one-on-one time with their fans to play that song, "Jean Jacket", setting up a low-key yet exciting event that wraps up a week of premiering the song exclusively to fans in a few major cities across the country. LA is the band's home these days, so it's perfect that they're able to be at this meet up personally - and as the release date of their new album gets closer, all five members of The Summer Set are ready to share their new music and this next chapter in their lives.

The Summer Set are no strangers to Feed The Beat, and we've had the chance to work with them on a few different occasions since they joined the program a few years back - Brian has even attended the famed Taco Bell Friendsgiving event in the past! So we couldn't pass up a chance to talk to the crew about all of the things that have been going on in The Summer Set camp.

We sat down with Jess Bowen (drums), Brian Logan Dales (vocals), John Gomez (guitar), Stephen Gomez (Bass), and Josh Montgomery (guitar) to talk about touring, details about their new music (spoilers: they did most of the production on this release, and did you know JR from Less Than Jake has a sax solo on one track?!) their influences, and how Stories For Monday almost didn't happen.

The weekend is over. Here's a story for your Monday:

So we're starting out with a weird question, and it could be a tough one, unless you've got the answer to this in your back pocket: If you had to tell the Feed The Beat community who The Summer Set was in one sentence, what would it be?
John Gomez (JG): That's not a weird one, that's just the loftiest one.
Jess Bowen (JB): Yeah, it's not just one word, it's one sentence.
Brian Logan Dales (BLD): The Summer Set in one sentence, that's hard…
JB: I think we can think of something. How can we not know how to explain ourselves?
BLD: I mean, describing The Summer Set in once sentence is kinda like… five twenty somethings from Arizona who haven't figured out how to describe themselves at all.

There we go, that's a perfectly acceptable sentence!
JB: That's it!
BLD: That's my one sentence on The Summer Set, right there.

It's obviously been a little bit since you guys have had new music out - to be totally honest, we're pretty stoked! In other interviews, you've talked about how there was a chance that your upcoming record wasn't going to come to fruition, and that you were going to take a bit of a break as a band. So, what brought that about? Were there other things on your plates, were there other things that you were working on, or was it more that you were just ready to take on something new?
JG: I think it was that we found ourselves just in a rut, creatively. We've been doing this for eight, nine years, and after you find yourself in a rut creatively on one project, as an artist, you at some point reach the conclusion that maybe you need to branch out into something else. If under these circumstances we're feeling drained, maybe we need to expand out and try other things. I think we all had little ideas of what we wanted to do, but I think what really sparked it was that something was holding us back from finishing this record. When we came to terms with that, like "Hey, this is really hard to make, does that mean we need to step away from this for a second and find out why we're creatively stuck on this?," it was sort of in that realization that there was a block the writers' block was lifted in a weird way.
JB: It's almost like a romantic relationship too, you kind of realize "Well, what's the problem?" If you step away from it for a little bit and then you can see what the issue was - then you come back together and you're stronger than ever. I think that's kind of what happened with us, too.
JG: Yeah, we needed a breath.
JB: We needed to take a step back from it.
JG: We needed a breath from the record to realize that there even was a record.
Josh Montgomery (JM): We were asking ourselves all the wrong questions, you know? I think that when you have a creative job, so much business goes on behind the scenes, and sometimes that becomes the only way you think. And then when you ask yourselves, before you even have a product, "Where am I putting it? What's the outcome of it?", I think you've already set yourself up for failure instead of doing what is true to you and what is honest. I think we had it backwards… but it's only natural when this is your livelihood.
BLD: Yeah, doing art for business isn't good for art OR business.

That's a lot. It's big of you all to be able to come out and say that, because I feel a number of bands have gone through that and haven't talked about what a struggle it is. That makes it exciting for us, and for the fans, to be able to hear and see what happens with this next record. And now that record is done! It's in your hands - so tell us about Stories For Monday. What are you most excited about? Besides, of course, the obvious joy of having this music out and being able to share it with everyone.
BLD: I'm excited that you can hear all this shit that we went through to make this record in the theme of the record. I think it's all these songs that are definitely about the end of an era of innocence. What I like about it being called Stories For Monday, is that I think a large part of the first seven years of being in this band felt like one really long weekend. Now this is the beginning of something brand new, and that's a lot of what the album feels like to me.

So far, we've heard three songs from the record - "Figure Me Out," "Missin' You," and "Jean Jacket". What other tracks should we get ready to love?
BLD: The other song on the record that I'm definitely most excited for is one called "The Night Is Young". That's up there on the top of my list of songs on there, I think people are really going to connect with that one. I think it's one of the better songs we've done.
JG: And for the story of the record, it's one of the best.
BLD: Yeah, that song kinda tells the story.
JG: "The Night Is Young" definitely has some weight to the situation we found ourselves in making the record.
BLD: Yeah, "The Night Is Young" is a song about getting old, which is really kind of fun for me.
JG: Keeping in theme with the story of the record, I'm excited about a song called "Wasted". It's a song that all of us wrote together as a band, before we went on this summer tour, and it was this weird reflection and introspection at the same time of where we started seven years ago in the back of a white van, to what being in your mid-twenties feels like.
JB: A fun fact about this record, is that it's the first time that we've each picked our favorite song that we wanted. We had a bunch of songs and it was like, "well, why doesn't everyone just pick a favorite?" For me, there's a song called "All My Friends" that I picked, so I'm excited for people to hear that one. I can't wait for people to pick their own favorites, too.
JM: It's awesome when you show this record to your friends and your family and everybody, and their favorites are different - there's no "one song" that is the one favorite, it's scattered between everyone.

I imagine that it's hard to pick, because you're the ones who are going to be playing these songs, and you're living with these songs for so long -
BLD: SO long.
- it seems like your favorite can really change and evolve
JM: It feels like it has, for all of us. It's really cool.
BLD: On the other end of that, this is the first record we've ever made where a song - actually, "Jean Jacket" - is a song that I wrote between album cycles that wasn't necessarily at a point where we were really making a Summer Set record, I just wrote it with two friends of mine with even the idea of something else in mind. And we finished the song, and I thought "Oh my god, this sounds exactly like the kind of song I want to put out for us." Now we're sitting here, 2 ½ years after I wrote that song, and it's still my favorite one. That's the first time ever, on any record, that a song that was definitely from the beginning of the batch, it's still my favorite one today.
JM: I'm proud of us for putting that song out. It's so… cool? It's so unsafe, and it's so cool, and sometimes you write or you hear songs like that and it's just, "yeah, that's amazing, but we can't put that out because it's so far left."
Stephen Gomez (SG): I think that's one thing that we did on this record - we produced and mixed 10 of the 11 songs ourselves. As a result, I think we weren't afraid of letting any and all of our influences come out on the songs.
BLD: Especially since we thought it was our last record, and it was like "well, f**k it."
SG: There is a saxophone solo on "Jean Jacket"!

That one DID take me by surprise when I heard it.
SG: We just said you know what, we're going to do whatever we want. We're not going to be afraid of what people think The Summer Set should be. It doesn't matter.
BLD: A major part of this record, and a major reason this record got done is because eventually, we just had nothing to lose anymore.

I'm glad you brought up influences - in some of the songs on this record, there are definitely references to a number of musicians, a number of other songs that all sound like they have influenced you guys in one way or another. Were there any big influences or songs that you were listening to while putting Stories For Monday together?
BLD: There are five Springsteen references on the record alone. Five homage to Springsteen moments on the album… which is probably pretty bad. (Ed. note: It's not. They're totally awesome.) I think my favorite one, though, is when I call a girl Kurt Cobain. I hope the Cobain estate doesn't get mad at that one, but I thought that was probably the coolest one.
JG: There are two ends to this record: there's Brian's writing, which has always been inspired by this Bruce Springsteen, Americana storyteller style that be writes in. At the same time, we're being influenced by 2016, with artists producing their own music in their bedrooms on their own laptops, listening to a lot of artists that are doing that. So getting batches of songs that are just so in Brian's wheelhouse, and at the same time being excited to take a stab at producing our own music, created this sort of unique coupling of inspiration on both parts of the songwriting and production.

The Summer Set and fans at their LA listening session for the track "Jean Jacket"

I think one of the things that's really cool about the way you guys are ramping up to this record is what you're been doing with the listening sessions for "Jean Jacket". Especially with you being able to be here at the Los Angeles session, you're able to talk to fans about what's happening with The Summer Set, and talk about this song in particular, which is clearly special to you.
BLD: This LA one is actually really cool for me because I was able to just swing through the trees like Tarzan to get here. (Ed. note: We were in a giant park at the time. There were a LOT of trees. This mode of transportation seems very possible.)
JG: We'd never done anything like this before. The idea had many different forms - at first it was this very, very big undertaking where we were trying to do this all across the world, and we came together and realized what we really wanted was to create a unique experience for people who care enough to go and drive and listen to a new song of ours. We wanted to give them the chance to do it. And in LA, we figured "well, we all live here". it's interesting to release a song online and see reactions via Tweets, but it is much cooler to release a song and have people hear it for the first time face to face with you.
BLD: That's a good point. When I get a demo back of a song and I want to play it for a friend or someone whose opinion is important to me, it's fun to watch them listen to it. There's a different level of gratification and vindication when you get to watch someone react to something you've made.

Besides the new record, you're going back on the road!
BLD: Yes!
JB: Finally!

You've already announced tour dates for the US and the UK, and they start pretty soon. What are you most looking forward to about being out on tour again?
SG: I'm really looking forward to playing the new songs. When you do a record, the record is done for you long before the fans ever get to hear it. So I feel like we've been sitting on this forever, and I'm just really anxious to get out there and start playing them live, to see them come to life in a different way. Live's always a little bit different and that's exciting.
JM: There's a specific spot we get in as a band, where we're just in the best tour shape we can be in? Everything is perfectly in sync, we're the tightest we can possibly be… you can't just do it on a pick-me-up, like "Oh, we haven't played a show in six months, let's just go do it!" We get to a spot as a band where - and this might sound conceited, but where we're really good live. It's such a release and a payoff. It's the best feeling in the world.
SG: It feels good, to have that kind of confidence. I love that. I love it when everything just goes like clockwork.
JM: You walk off stage, and it's like, "Yeah, we just f**ked shit up!"
JG: Producing the record last year, was it's own thing. My favorite part about being an artist, and being a part of a project, is you get that adrenaline once you just wrote a song, and you come out of the studio and sitting on your phone is this voice note of an incredible song. And then you get that second rush when you finally produce the song, when you get to hear it as a full thing. The next rush is releasing that music, and you get that reaction and gratification - or a "what the f**k" moment from fans if you've put out a song that people don't understand - but you get some sort of next rush. And then going out and playing it live is that next curtain that comes up, when you're actually there doing it, and that's the coolest thing. Stephen and I have done a few songs and projects with other people and there's kind of a sad moment in just producing something for someone, where you realize that in no way are you going to get to experience this on that level, on that deep emotional level. That's the coolest thing about going out on tour is, you get that experience.

So now we have to know - what is each of your must-have's for tour? I know I often get "clean socks" as an answer…
JB: Yeah, it's easy to lose socks on tour!
SG: I just don't even wear socks anymore.
BLD: I'm bringing an AeroPress coffee maker on this tour, and I have a feeling it's never going to be the same for me after that.
SG: Peanut butter. I eat a lot of peanut butter.
JB: I'm gonna have to go with a pair of noise cancelling headphones, to make sure I don't have to hear these guys all the time.
JG: Ooooh, what do I need… I'm weird, I don't like things.

If it IS clean socks, you can say clean socks...
JG: It IS clean socks. But I'd say microwavable pizzas to heat up and eat in the back lounge at three in the morning. That's pretty much what I need, standard.
JM: I just need rest. If you don't let me get like, six hours in, you don't want to see me the next day. It's not gonna be fun.
JB: Wait, can I change mine to a bottle of Jack?
JG: That's pretty much all of us. That's a universal The Summer Set thing, we all like whiskey.

Tour wise, we're also pretty excited that you're bringing Handsome Ghost and Royal Teeth on these US tour dates - they're actually both Feed The Beat bands that we've had in the program, and they're awesome.
JB: Handsome Ghost was the only band I listened to for like, six months last year.
BLD: Probably one of my favorite writers in the last year.
JB: I brought them up for tour and everyone said "Yeah, they're really cool!"

Yeah, they're awesome. What other music are you really stoked on right now?
BLD: I don't know, I haven't really listened to anything besides the new Kanye West record since it came out a month ago. It's pretty much only been that for me, just figuring out HOW it exists.
JG: The new The 1975 record for me is, I think, really really cool. I think they did a great job.
SG: I like that record, too.
JG: I know it's not like, a creative answer? But they're a cool f**king band, and I think they nailed that. I also really like Hoodie Allen's new record, I can't stop listening to it.
JM: I really dig the new Sia and the new CHVRCHES albums. I know it's not super new, but this past year, those have been two go-to's for me.
JB: I like Years & Years a lot. That new record is so good!

Okay, so here's our last question: You know how the Taco Bell sauce packets always have really awesome sayings on them? They're called "wisdoms," and one of the things I like to get from our Feed The Beat alumni is their "Alumni Wisdom" - so if you could have your own wisdom that would go on a packet, what would it be?
BLD: I don't think my wisdom that came to mind is very appropriate, let me re-edit that…
SG: What about "You have the right to remain rock 'n roll"?
BLD: "You have the right to remain rock 'n roll" is pretty cool.
SG: I always like Josh's "I always wanna look good because you never know when you're gonna meet the love of your life."
JG: "Look good every day, because you never know when you're gonna meet the love of your life."

That's a good one.
JG: I like that one!

The Summer Set's new album, Stories For Monday, will be released April 1 on Fearless Records.
Their tour dates, including a stint on the annual Warped Tour, begin April 13.