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How The Rocket Summer Found a New Perspective on 'Sweet Shivers': Album Premiere

The Rocket Summer
Braverijah Gregg

The Rocket Summer

The Rocket Summer, a.k.a. singer-songwriter Bryce Avary, has released six albums since his debut set, Calendar Days, in 2003. Yet, his seventh LP, Sweet Shivers (which arrives Aug. 2, but premieres on Billboard today), feels like the beginning for Avary -- thanks, in part, to a tiny little honey bee.

When he started writing the album in 2017, Avary was feeling like his life was a bit upside down. He had recently experienced some personal loss, and decided to relocate to a cabin in rural Texas in order to fully dive into the music he was about to create. That’s where the bee came along: After Avary attempted to shoo the seemingly stubborn creature, some inquisitive research helped him discover that bees see flowers and colors differently than humans.

“That’s when I realized perhaps there’s beauty in seeing from a different perspective when life feels murky and cloudy,” Avary says. “Perhaps there are colors in the painful mysterious places that end up painting a much bigger picture. It helped fuel the hope.”

That inspirational moment is forever encapsulated on the Sweet Shivers cover, the photo Avary snapped of that stationary bee on a bright blue table. The album’s title derives from the same epiphany Avary had with the bee (as well as a lyric from a track called “Blankets”), as he puts it: “A feeling of excitement and joy in the unknown, even if the unknown itself is more dressed up in less than ideal feelings of uncertainty. A letting go of sorts; beauty in the free fall.” 

All of these ideas culminate in the 13 tracks of Sweet Shivers, which Avary calls “an introspective, restful, melancholic yet high-energy, often dance-inducing record.” It’s the first album Avary fully mixed himself, an experience that was thrilling for him because he utilized just about every analog keyboards, tube microphone, toy instruments, drums and amp he has collected through the years. The old-school production approach makes Avary even more excited to bring these songs to life on The Rocket Summer’s upcoming fall tour. First, he’s looking forward to seeing how fans interpret what he’s divulged on Sweet Shivers.

“While I write from a deeply personal place, the community that is The Rocket Summer and their reactions also inevitably shape some of the thoughts I have about the songs as they age,” Avary says. But there are some tracks that stand out to Avary thanks to their origin stories, like the escalating piano-tinged track “Gardens,” which he wrote from the perspective of an escaped fugitive after nearly being mistaken as one during his time in Texas. Or “5 4 3 2 1 Z,” a jaunty tune about escaping heavy feelings through music, which sparked from playing an upright piano at one of the few restaurants in the small Texas town.

What also makes this album feel particularly special to Avary is the fact that he finally feels like he’s getting to where he wants to be as an independent artist. After releasing two albums with Island Def Jam (2007’s Do You Feel and 2010’s Of Men and Angels), Avary started his own label, Aviate Records, in 2012, which he admits “turned me into a full-blown hippie artist guy” as a result of burnout from being so involved on the business side. It was an interesting juxtaposition to the experiences he’d had on a major label.

“A lot of energy was spent and wasted in those days arguing why I wasn’t okay with mostly being pushed to teen idol magazines with bubbly pink fonts,” Avary remembers. “When you have household-name, legendary executives and their entourages taking jets to your sweaty punker club shows and telling you the world was yours if you just wanted to step up and do what it took to take it -- that kind of stuff keeps you up at night, when musical integrity means everything."

Now, he’s found perhaps the most balance he’s ever felt, which is resulting in more music than he could’ve ever expected -- especially before encountering that fateful bee two years ago. Sweet Shivers really is just the beginning.

“This is without a doubt the most I’ve ever been fluidly writing,” says Avary. “I think it’s because I walked away from that potential pop star influence side of life, and have equally managed to find a balance of what it looks like to be an independent artist -- without the art suffering due to the inherent hustle of that life. I’m very excited for the future, and the now.”

Get Sweet Shivers here, and take a listen to the album a day early, exclusively on Billboard, below.


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