"If you had said to me in 2018 or 2019 that I’m going to be making another Summer Set album, I really wouldn’t have seen that happening."
In case you missed it, The Summer Set are back!
Following a four year hiatus, the band surprised everyone when they revealed that they had reunited and were releasing new music. That new music came in the form of 'Street Lightning', a perfectly shimmering follow-up to what the band were delivering on their last full-length 'Stories For Monday' and an ode to how beautiful life can be if you just let it take you where it wants to.
And there is more to come.
To find out exactly how we have got here, we sat down with Brian Dales to piece together the last few years and what the future now looks like...
It would be fair to say that neither of us thought we would be having a conversation like this in 2021. How exactly have we reached this place?
“Not at all. But I guess one of the silver linings of the pandemic has been me being back in Arizona. That’s where we started The Summer Set all those years. I had lived in LA for the last ten years or so, but I moved back to get a bit of extra space, and I’ve ended up sticking around. Stephen [Gomez, bassist] also still lives here, and we just started hanging out for fun. Time heals a lot of wounds, and we started making music for fun. I don’t think any of that happens without the pandemic, which is crazy to think of when it comes to positives. But if you had said to me in 2018 or 2019 that I’m going to be making another Summer Set album, I really wouldn’t have seen that happening. I thought that we were done, and even from a personal place, I didn’t see myself wanting to do anything like what we did in the band - even being back on the road as much as we were. I thought I was retired from it. Now the idea of going out and being a part of the common ground that exists at shows and festivals is exciting for me again, when it hadn’t been for years.”
Going back to the point when you brought things to a close was such a fascinating way to go out. You were arguably producing your best music in ‘Stories For Monday’. To many, it might have seemed quite sudden, but behind the scenes, it must have been very different…
“I feel like the feeling of wanting to stop goes back even further than the moment we announced it. ‘Stories For Monday’, which I think is the best album we ever made and us at our peak, almost didn’t even happen. We had a hard time making it. Even when we were doing the rounds after it was released, the narrative was that the album was almost a farewell. And in a way, it ended up being that. We barely made it through it. It was hard to make, and I was putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself as a songwriter to find the ‘big’ one. The only reason that it even came out was that we sat down one day disheartened because we couldn’t put the pieces together and said, ‘Fuck it, let’s just take what we have, self-produce it, get it out and call it a day’.
“So we did that. We let our guard down and decided it was time to put things to bed and made it ourselves. Then we put it out, and it was the best thing we had ever done with the best response. So, what do we do now? We’ve built ourselves up into the mindset that this was a swan song period, so let’s do one long tour and then give things a rest. The truth was that things had started to feel like groundhog day, and I needed something different in my life. Even though it was the best it had ever been, I was made up in my mind that we needed to step away. That was hard for us and our fans, but I like that we went out as we did on that album. If we had tried to make another album a year after, I have no idea what it would have been like.
“I got to spend a lot of the last year zooming out, looking at things from 10,000 feet away and listening to everything we had made as an audience member rather than the artists trying to dissect everything little thing. I realised that I do like it and I wouldn’t change a single thing. So I’m really glad that we took that break when we did.”
Your heart knows what to do better than your head. And you could have very easily done an anniversary tour or played a one-off here or there in the last couple of years, but you knew that it would have been detrimental…
"Absolutely. The first Summer Set album turned ten in 2019, and we got asked if we wanted to play some special shows. We had discussed it, but ultimately we decided it would have been weird because we weren’t active. We didn’t want to do something purely out of nostalgia. Of course, we’re a band who are coming back now, and there is an element of nostalgia to that, but our stance is how we can make things feel new and fresh? How can we be an old band with a fresh twist? So we said no, and I’m really glad we did. If we had done that, I don’t think we would ever have thought about the possibility of coming back correctly. We feel like a brand new band again, and that’s fun. I don’t think we would have ever felt that way if we opened the door to a load of celebration shows."
The four of you had spent so much of that last decade together and seen the highs and lows that come with being in a band. There’s an extraordinary friendship that comes with being in that lifestyle. Being about to step away and set about rebuilding that initial friendship again is so much more important than any business decision…
"So much got in the way of that. It became more of a business than a friendship. It became more of an expectation than something we were doing for fun. And our stance this time around is to be more open and honest with each other. If at any time it doesn’t feel fun, then let’s talk about it. What hurt us last time was that we were all shutting each other out, and it was hard to see the forest for the trees. We were so young and in the thick of it that we were always thinking of the next thing and getting ahead of it instead of enjoying what we were doing at the time.
"We are doing this for fun this time around. Luckily all four of us have other things going on in our lives career-wise that are exciting and fulfilling. So with The Summer Set, if something happens, great, but if nothing happens, then a few thousand people are excited."
And being back home, returning to those old places you grew up in, starts the inspiration cogs turning in a completely different way to what you’ve become used to…
"And I was also revisiting the albums that I loved the most when I was 16 and remember why I love them. In a year of such uncertainty, you gravitate towards the things that make you feel certain. That all led me to pick up a guitar and write ‘Street Lightning’ with absolutely no rules attached to it. Throw everything I have learned as a songwriter out of the window and start over again with something that I think sounds cool."
So ‘Street Lightning’ was the first new track you had written?
“Yeah, I wrote it first on acoustic. I was going down to Stephen’s house whilst we had been reconnecting to make music, and I sent him a voice note with this song. He loved it, and then we brought it to life in his little bedroom studio in the middle of Arizona. We hadn’t done that since we were 17. I think you can tell as well. That teenage fire is back.”
To compare them aesthetically, ‘Stories For Monday’ felt a lot like youthful abandon through an adult lens. Chasing those old times. But ‘Street Lightning’ feels like you enjoying what life is really like right now. It’s more bright-eyed than blurry-eyed…
"That’s precisely it. ‘Stories For Monday’ had such a fear of growing up. When we were making it, it was the first time we had let the previous eight years catch up with us. We were adults, but we couldn’t let those late nights and early mornings go. A feeling of innocence lost. ‘Street Lightning’ came from that feeling of finding the kid again. It’s about chasing the highs of life, whatever your high is. We worked on making it sound like a sonic continuation of ‘Stories For Monday’ but that little bit newer and less afraid of getting older. This is The Summer Set, and we’re all 32 now, and we’re embracing that. I also like that it’s not as literal as some of our previous stuff. You can find whatever you want in this song."
And this is heading into a whole record, right?
"Yes, it is. But what is so fun is that this is the first time in our band's history that we have put out a song without an album being done. We’ve made some songs, but not the whole thing. What’s great about that is how it feels alive within its process. It can change shape as it goes. We’ve been able to see how people have reacted to ‘Street Lightning’ and take that in and keep going with it. We didn’t plan on putting anything out until next Spring with a full album ready, but then we got offered a festival and some other shows. So we had to put something out and let people know we were here. We’re going to keep on putting some bits out as we go along the way. I imagine a new album to be out in Spring or Summer, but I don’t know. This is the first time we have got to make new music on the fly, and that’s exciting."
The festival you are playing is The Maine’s 8123 Fest. There really isn’t a better place to step back into things, is there?
"It just made sense, you know? The last show we played as a band was at the first 8123 Fest. The Maine was the first band we played shows with. We grew up with them. Next year will mark 15 years since the first show that we played with The Maine. We have to get out shit together and be there because we can’t not be there. This is being put in our lap and is the perfect reason to be a band again.”
When you consider all of this and that you’re doing it, how does it feel? How does it feel to be in a position where The Summer Set can do these things again?
"I’m more excited than I even thought I was capable of. I have different gratitude than I used to. I feel like I have a second chance at appreciating what we had in the first place. With the last couple of years of touring and the last album cycle, I fell into a rut. I was tired, and I wasn’t very grateful anymore. If there’s anything that I’ve picked up from being locked up in the middle of the desert in Arizona for the last year is being excited to go and see different cities again. I was sure I had seen certain places for the last time. We used to go to the UK three times a year. I haven’t been in four or five. I now know I will be back next year. I will see cities that I had very much put to bed in my head. Now we’re going to go. I’m going to keep my eyes open that little bit wider and take a look around a little bit more.”