Avid Dancer, photographed in New York City during the CMJ music marathon, October 2013 (From left to right Leif R. Davidsen, Osvaldo (“Ozzie”) Carmona, Jacob Dillan Summers and Brian Andrew Marquez).

Avid Dancer, photographed in New York City during the CMJ music marathon, October 2014 (From left to right Leif R. Davidsen, Osvaldo (“Ozzie”) Carmona, Jacob Dillan Summers and Brian Andrew Marquez)

“I feel like I’ve been sitting in a prison cell my whole life wanting to get out and realizing that I had the key in my pocket the whole time.”

-Jacob Summers, lead vocals

AVID DANCER –  The name fits them all like a glove.  More than making sense (songs like “I Want To See You Dance” really DO make you want to dance!) it’s significant in that front-man Jacob Summers has traveled great distances to discover himself and let his freak-flag fly.   Raised in a strict religious household, he made the leap into secular music well after most of us did (I’m taking a bet that he’s heard the question, “What was it like to hear the Beatles for the first time?!” more times than he can count) and then joined the Marines, where he became a champion drum line drummer.  But wait, there’s more!  After leaving the military, there was a stint in Alaska…he began writing songs…got a manager…moved to Los Angeles…signed with a label…found the band of his dreams (see handsome gents above)…and within a year the band was touring with Cold War Kids, playing CMJ in New York City and was voted one of the “Top 15 L.A. Bands to Watch in 2015” by L.A. Weekly.   I know what you’re thinking, and yes, you can take a moment to let that all blow your mind.  To top it all off, (and for all you haters out there) behind the scenes Summers and band-mates Leif Davidsen, Ozzie Carmona and Brian Andrew Marquez deserve mad respect.  Talent aside, they make a point to shower a room with love, and they do the world an even bigger favor by leaving hype and bullshit at the door without trying.  In life and music, Avid Dancer is a story about doing what you love, being exactly who you are and saying to hell with the rest.

I met with the band for the first time last October when they were in New York playing the CMJ Music Marathon, and more recently I followed up with Summers to speak to him about his life and music and the release of his new single, “All Your Words Are Gone,” off of their much anticipated full-length LP, 1st Bath due out April 14th.  Here you’ll find interview notes and highlights from our first interview together, along with my full conversation with Jacob last week while driving home to L.A. from Santa Cruz.  – Eve Reinhardt, Managing Editor for VNDL Magazine 

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“YOUR HAPPINESS IS NOT SOMEWHERE ELSE.  IT IS UNDER YOUR FEET”

– Jacob Summers, lead vocals

Jacob Summers, Photographed in New York City

Jacob Summers, Photographed in New York City

  “I THOUGHT I WAS THE ONLY ONE WITH ANXIETY…I REALIZED, WOW, I’M REALLY NOT ALONE.” – Jacob

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“FEELING THOSE BEATS IN YOUR CHEST”

– Brian Andrew Marquez, drums

Brian Andrew Marquez, Drums, Photographed in New York City

Brian Andrew Marquez, Drums, Photographed in New York City

LISTENING TO A LOT OF PODCASTS, HEARING STORIES, REALLY OPENED MY EYES…I’M PRETTY SHY…STORIES INSPIRE ME. – Brian

 

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HE PLAYS EVERYTHING—PIANO, GUITAR, VIOLIN—HE’S LIKE A BEAUTIFUL MIND.

– Jacob Summers on bandmate Ozzie Carmona, guitar

Osvaldo (“Ozzie”) Carmona, Guitar and background vocals, Photographed in New York City

THE SHIFT OCCURRED WHEN KURT COBAIN COMMITTED SUICIDE.  IT DREW MY INTEREST. I HAD TO KNOW WHO THIS GUY WAS. AND A FRIEND OF MINE GAVE ME HIS ALBUM, NEVERMIND, AND HIS BEATLES ALBUMS…THAT WAS IT FOR ME. – Ozzie

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“I GREW UP LISTENING TO CLASSICAL MUSIC, JIMMY BUFFETT AND A LITTLE BIT OF ZEPPELIN.”

 – Leif R. Davidson, bass

Leif R. Davidsen, Bass, Photographed in New York City

Leif R. Davidsen, Bass, Photographed in New York City

 

“MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A SUPPORTIVE WIFE IF YOU’RE GOING TO DO MUSIC.” –  Leif

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Avid  Dancer, Photographed in New York City

Avid Dancer, Photographed in New York City

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OPEN YOUR EYES AND START BELIEVING.  FIND YOUR JOY TODAY.

DON’T HAVE TO LOOK SO HARD.  DON’T HAVE TO LOOK SO FAR.

JUST BE WHO YOU ARE. DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA.

-Lyrics from the new single, “All Your Words Are Gone”

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“I had absolutely no plans whatsoever to try and be in a band or to be a singer in a band” – Jacob Summers

ALMOST TWO MONTHS after meeting in New York, Jacob Summers has me on speaker phone while he drives home to Los Angeles from Santa Cruz, CA.  What started as a few follow-up questions (sorry Jacob!) turned into a bigger conversation about his music and the massive arc and transformation he has made in his personal and professional life.

You’re announcing your new LP, 1st Bath, this week, which is very exciting to hear.  What can we expect and what are you the most excited about on this new album?  What are you the most proud of? 

There was a version of my album that was done over two years ago, so I recorded most of it on my own.  I had no financing and I had absolutely no plans whatsoever to try and be in a band or to be a singer in a band because I was drumming for other bands, you know? And then I got this nine-song album done and ended up getting a manager and putting the band together. Seriously, I almost don’t even believe that [the album] is coming out, because I listen to these songs, and some of the songs I wrote so long ago.  I think one of the first conversations I ever had with my manager was like, “My biggest goal is just to be able to share this with as many people as I can.” I’m obviously very proud it.  Even listening to it after years and years and years I still stand by it, it’s something that I’m extremely proud and, like, it’s kind of weird; looking back on it I’m like, how was I even smart enough to go and record this stuff and, like, even do it? It almost feels like a really graceful mistake, you know what I mean? So I think I’m most excited to just be able to put it out and actually see what people think about it, you know? Good or bad I don’t care—I love it. Just to be able to have it out, and to finally have that thing done and in the world so that I can mentally move on­—

Yep I totally get that—

And then there’s another thing that’s happening really soon that I’m excited about. Assuming that it doesn’t get pushed back, tomorrow we are going to release the song called, All Your Words Are Gone, and that’s going to go along with announcing the album coming out. And that song is one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever written. It’s probably the song that means the most to me. Looking back on it, I remember writing it and that song is the first I ever wrote where I honestly was like, “Put it out there,” and I didn’t really realize that I was doing it at the time. When I look back on it I’m like, “Wow, I really said something about what I was going through at the time and those are my true feelings.” And I think that there’s still, like, words that resonate, or like people on a larger scale could relate to on a personal level, you know? So after I wrote that song that’s when I really, really started to realize, like, Okay that’s what songwriting is. It’s not just doing cool stuff that people want to vibe out to.  At least for me, like, that was the first time where I was like, this is how I’m going to write songs from now on. If I only write one song a year that’s how I’m going to do it. So the song is very, very important to me, and it’s not a radio, tight, produced song like—there’s a song called “I Want To See You Dance“, and it’s like on the radio and stuff—it sounds nothing like that at all. It still sounds like me but it’s probably the most honest song of all of the ones on my album.

“…everything that’s happened up to this point, you’re the one that’s holding on to that, it’s holding you back, and those chains are weighing you down because you’re holding onto them.” Jacob Summers

If you don’t mind me asking, what was going on in your life when you wrote “All Your Words Are Gone”?

I was in Los Angeles and I had just gone through a pretty long break-up—it’s not like terribly important to the story of the song, but basically I was 30 years old and I had no idea what I wanted to do with myself, and it was like I was really coming to grips with the idea of, like, okay I’m my own person.  I was kind of alienated from my family at the time because of our religious differences, stuff like that, and I had no idea what I wanted to do, and I didn’t have a whole lot of self-confidence or, like, any direction really, you know? And I sat down and wrote that song and I was kind of just saying to myself that all this other stuff is going on.  There’s a lyric in the song that’s like, “Wash that sin away.”  There’s references to my life and there are words basically saying, you know, like, everything that’s happened up to this point, you’re the one that’s holding on to that, it’s holding you back, and those chains are weighing you down because you’re holding onto them.  And the only thing that’s going to keep those things [out of] my life is to just let it go and accept that that’s what it was, and just open my eyes and start believing in myself.   And that’s the lyric of the song.  So I mean, from that point on, too, it encourages me to take that seriously, to not hold on to things, to keep moving forward and actually believe in myself and realize that I’m a person just like anyone else, great or not great, you know?  And it’s up to me to decide what kind of direction I want to take my life and, you know, obviously life can have a mind of its own.

In every story people write about you they draw focus to the fact that you went from being raised in a very strict religious household, where you’d never listened to anything but Christian music, to years later being the lead singer in a rock band in Lost Angles, which might feel like a totally saturated topic for you at this point.  But it is a very interesting and unique story.  It’s such a drastic transition to make.  And I guess I really wanted to get a sense of what your personal trajectory was like going from one world/life to another?  How did that transformation take place?  What was that like?  And how does that influence your creative life?

When I first started writing music, I think at the time I felt really alienated from my family.  I didn’t really have a good sense of who I was, and I didn’t really have a good life direction from my parents or anything like that, so I think for a long time I was just lost.  I had no idea, you know?

But how is it that you ended up there in the first place? Why the sudden shift? Was it just a different lifestyle and being exposed to different things once you left home and joined the Marines?

I think when I joined the Marines and was away from my family for a while…I mean it wasn’t like any one thing where I was very religious and then I just wasn’t anymore. I think I’ve always felt the same way about religious stuff for my whole life, but I think it’s a really tough question because it’s hard to really nail it down. But I mean there wasn’t like any events that caused me to really break away. If anything it might’ve just been my personality.  I’m pretty stubborn, and maybe, like most people I don’t really see things for what they are at the time, especially then.  I almost had no self-confidence at all, you know?  I was pretty insecure and I think I just pushed everything away, like, everything, you know?   I just really, really tried to be on my own and, like, that just wasn’t working.  I was lonely and sad and I didn’t have any—for example: like now, with my girlfriend, she’s a huge inspiration in my life because I’ve seen the way that she lives her life, and I’m like holy shit she has real friends and real connections.  She’s a real person, she puts herself out there and it benefits her.  She has a full life, you know what I mean?  And I just had none of that at all.  So I mean, I don’t know if it’s affected my music or, like, the style of it or anything like that.

Do you get along now with your parents?

Well I was going to say—and not that I’m like successful or anything, but—just by finding myself and doing this process with music and stuff, just finding who I am, I have become so much closer to my family.  There was a time when I talked to my mom like once a year because I was upset, maybe by the way she raised me or like things that she had done, or feeling that I’d gotten screwed out of normal childhood; but then I realized that my parents were younger than I am now when I was going through that, and how immature I can be sometimes.  And kind of like that song, you know, [I] just released it.  And I started calling my brother and sister and my mom and my dad and, like, not being afraid to let them know that there was some…I mean obviously there was some good things too, but I wasn’t afraid to let them know that this bad thing happened, and realize they’re not going to judge me, they love me, you know what I mean? So in this last year I’ve become a lot closer—a bigllian times closer—to my family.

“By finding myself and doing this process with music… just finding who I am, I have become so much closer to my family. There was a time when I talked to my mom like once a year because I was upset…” Jacob Summers

Do you look at music as one of the main reasons why you’ve transformed so much?

Absolutely.  Yeah.  Absolutely.  Music is something that I do because I love to do it, but it’s also something that I do when I feel like…I’m trying to explain it.  Like, I’ll be living my life, just totally content, and then I’ll feel this swelling of, like, not anxiousness, but kind of.  Almost like I want to go out there and…not do anything destructive or anything, but [music] is definitely a release.  There’s something great and therapeutic about sitting down and just saying something, even if it’s just saying one line that is really true…it’s almost like you’re really, really accepting that truth by putting it into a song.  Because it’s like, those are your words in a song, you’re gonna share it, so you have to know that what you’re saying means something, you know?  It’s definitely helped me through a lot of times, but then again, too, just being able to have people like you or, like, a record label or manager get my music and say, “Yes, I want to get this out”—  that in and of itself has helped me grow, because I feel like I have a purpose, even if it’s not like a universal purpose from God.  One-hundred percent of my focus has been about music, and to finally have that validity is—that’s definitely, like…I just feel better about myself.  You know?

Oh of course!  I mean I feel better after I clean my house, so I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to produce and release an album. You’ve said about performing that you feel terrified being a front-man.  But on the plus side it must also be exhilarating, no?  Can you share some of your experiences with that on stage? 

Well I mean it’s always kind of a growing experience.  If I had to choose a career path it would be to record music and never play a live show, ever.  Don’t tell my manager that!  But I mean, we did a show in Oakland for 2,800 people.  That’s by far the most people that I have played for besides the marching band stuff, which was a lot more.  But it’s hard being a lead singer and to walk on stage and hear people, like, immediately getting excited; or, like, look out and see people singing along to my songs—that are not people that I know!  I mean, that’s when it really hits you that the music is, like, getting out there. Somebody, some person got online or whatever, turn on the radio, and listened to the song enough times—which is like twice for my music—to memorize it and sing along and go to the concert.   I mean that’s really touching, obviously.  But then, like, every time I get up on stage, usually after I play a show I tell my girlfriend, “God I’m glad that’s over!”  I mean in the sense of, like, “Look! I did it! I did this thing, I didn’t die, I didn’t stop too many times nervously, or whatever, and like—I did it!  Maybe I can do that again and again and again!”  You know?  And every time I do it I feel my confidence gets a little higher and I don’t feel so silly. I remember first going out while playing and being like, Why are people here watching me play? Don’t they realize that I don’t know the chords that I’m playing? I almost felt in a way like a fraud, but not that my music is a fraud, it’s real, but, you know—I’m not the lead singer of a band!

Well neither was Bono at first

Well he is now!

 Yeah, he is now!  But you know, you did get shot out of a cannon into this world so it must feel pretty crazy sometimes.

Yeah, but there’s a couple of stories, a couple of artists that I work with, and the more I really, really consider that every person I idolize in a major way is still a real person with insecurities—like Harry Nilsson.  He is one of my favorites.  He was a majorly talented person and very shy—he did not like playing live, and probably for the same reason, like, Why are these people watching me play?   But he still went out there and I loved him, and those kinds of stories encourage me to just get over myself and to go and do that and enjoy the moment playing.

 Do you have a routine to combat stage fright?

Yeah, kind of.  There’s a couple of things.  My girlfriend hates this but I like to be alone.  I don’t have to act normal, you know?  Because when I go on stage, you’re not like a normal person—you are normal but you’re performing, you know? For me, the performance element is not my strength, so it’s good for me to be alone and not have to sit there and talk to somebody that’s like, “Oh yeah, I saw the Kings game yesterday,” and then you immediately turn on and then pretend like I’m cool enough to be up on stage.  So that helps me a little bit.  And then a lot of the times I’ll do push-ups, like right before we go on.  That’s probably my biggest ritual, just activating my body. Because sometimes you go out on stage and you can’t even feel your body anymore. You can’t feel your fingers playing the guitar and you’re like, Oh shit.  So I do some jumping jacks or something like that and I’m like,  all right, the blood is flowing.

“I’m a vulnerable, flawed person…the things that I really accepted and learned is to always be yourself, the good and the bad.” – Jacob Summers

 I want to know what you’re writing right now and what’s really exciting you right now?

Right now I probably have half of my second record—not done, but at least demos that I like.   I’m prepared to record them in the studio, but I think I’m still trying to maintain what I’ve done writing-wise in the past. I don’t pick up my guitar every day. I don’t nerd out in the studio every day.  I mean, I try to actually restrict myself as much as I can from that so that when I do it I feel something fresh, like I have some life to actually put into a song.  So I mean, there are a couple of songs that I’m really pumped about; like there’s a song that I’m working on right now called “I feel it”. It’s about my girlfriend.  Love.

If you could go on tour with any musician who would it be?

See, my instinct would be to say some hip band that I fucking love like Tame Impala, or something like that, but then I would be like embarrassed to play in front of them. But my favorite people would probably be like…aw shit, you know, I’ll tell you, someone I’d love to go on tour solo with is Father John Misty—do you know who that is?  Oh my God. He was the drummer for the Fleet Foxes and then he started his own band.  I mean he’s usually such a character; his music is awesome.  He’s got a great band but he loves playing solo and he has people opening up for him and I’ve got, like, a major band-crash on the dude. So probably something like that, because I know there would be times where we would be sitting in the green room, sitting around smoking a joint, and I’d be like, Holy shit!  Yeah, I’m smoking a J with Josh Tillmanyou know to mean? I mean it would be cool to go on tour with a bigger band, but it’s so hard to say.  Father John is probably at the top of my list. And you should definitely check that guy out if you don’t know him. There’s a record called Fear Fun and there’s a song specifically that’s called Nancy From Now On—it’s like the best song, just kills me every time.

What is the one thing that you’ve learned over the last year that you can’t imagine not knowing now?

Yeah…okay, all right…I mean I don’t know how else to say this, but for the longest time—and I think this is more of a personal thing—but during my childhood, my young manhood or whatever, and going through the shit that I was going through when I first started doing the band stuff, I feel like I didn’t have a great sense of who I was.   And my girlfriend will definitely attest to this, but I seriously I think I was just afraid to be myself, and people here just say over and over again, “Just be yourself,” all the time, you know? But it really finally hit me, like pretty recently, like after the shock of getting a record deal—and that fucked me up for a while; not a bad way, but that fucks with you because you’re like, Oh shit! Am I really that guy with his name signed to that label? And like, That’s my band.  And you’re, like, struggling to accept who you are.  And so I would do interviews and I would be self-conscious about, okay, like Who am I projecting myself out to be?  How am I, how are other people perceiving me? And trying to make sure I had that under control, and mostly just being afraid to let people know that I’m a vulnerable, flawed person, you know what I mean? And the things that I really accepted and learned is to always be yourself, the good and the bad.  I mean I always work on the bad and build up to good and, you know, try to be a better person every day, but it is okay to make mistakes and not be perfect. You know, I don’t have to be the best looking guy in the world—I’m not and never will be. I don’t have to have the biggest song or the biggest record deal or whatever.  I’m good enough.  And being a better person is good enough.  People are going to accept me, and if they don’t who cares—whatever! But I think I just really, really accepted that, like, All right this is my life; it’s the only life that I have; I am who I am, flaws and all, and what can I do with myself now? I feel like I’ve been sitting in a prison cell my whole life wanting to get out and realizing that I had the key in my pocket the whole time.  VM

Interviews and photos with Avid Dancer and Jacob Summers were conducted by Eve Reinhardt in New York City in 2014 and by phone in January, 2015

Artist:  Avid Dancer

Webiste:  http://aviddancerband.com

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