Avid Dancer is the moniker of Jacob Dillan Summers, a current LA-native who for a long time had no access to the pop and rock music that his peers took for granted when growing up. Thus, a true testament to his innate talents is the music that he has put out on his 4-track debut EP “I Want To See You Dance”.
Never mind that early in his career, he was unable to get gigs as a drummer in LA, a town where session drummers are always in demand, despite being a two-time world champion drummer himself.
Summers in an interview with The Examiner ahead of his Bay Area show at the Fox Theatre this Friday, Nov 21, revealed ‘musicians wanted to speak and bond over the quick references of The Ramones or Ringo Starr and he just didn’t have the vocabulary or exposure to the music’. So it set him on the path to write his own music.
It was only three or four years ago that he started listening to The Kinks and The Beatles, mostly because he made some demos and sent it to friends who said ‘are you into The Kinks, it sounds just like them?’.
Summers thought they might have been a new band and went off to discover their music. Not many people today can claim to listening to the Beatles only in their late 20’s, my kids were banging downturned pots to “She Loves Me” as toddlers. But Summers has used this to his advantage.
Writing songs, then sending them to friends who would say it sounded like the Beatles or Elliot Smith or psych-pop, would lead him to discover these musical geniuses that he had an affinity to. But from the beginning, his tastes and genres were diverse.
Perhaps this magpie musical stylings may also reflect the many places he has lived – from the different cities his NASA father moved; to his 4-year stint in Washington DC with the drum and bugle band; and a shortlived stint in Alaska as a newsroom sound engineer on the heels of a girl.
“Stop Playing With My Heart” with it’s languid melody, The Doors-like Hammond organs, moody vocals and pleading lyrics led him to being signed to Grand Jury Records. While psychedelia has its sway with the likes of Tame Impala, the music press were suitably excited about this astute exercise in hazy psych-pop.
But elsewhere, Avid Dancer performed the foreboding, power-pop laden “All The Other Girls” acoustically with soft harmonies, handclaps and feet stomps. “I Want To See You Dance” has an electro-synth scuzz that is impossible not to dance to while “Medicated” is an about turn – all Elliot Smith-like crammed with downbeat chord changes. All music he had written before he knew any of the bands referenced existed.
Excited to talk about music, Summers tells us more about growing up without pop in the late ’80s – Metallica, pocket rockers and fear of sin.
How did the songs for these EP come together? You said in an interview when you wrote these songs you were doing them as school projects?
Well some of the songs I wrote years ago. I was studying audio production at the Art Institute in Santa Monica. They would ask us to go find a band, bring them into the studio and record them. Instead of finding a band, I would just record my own music, me playing instruments. I was also drumming with different bands at the time but I had no aspirations of being in my own band or singing. I wasn’t a guitar player more of a drummer, but I did know 2 or 3 chords on the guitar. Back then, I didn’t even know the names of the chords but I knew how to string them together so that I could write a song over it. That’s how “Stop Playing With My Heart” came about. “Medication” is the demo of a song that is fully produced on my album, it literally came right off a journal entry with the three chords. And “I Want To See You Dance” is the most recent song I have written.
You grew up in a strict religious family only listening to Christian music – were you ever curious as to what your peers were listening to?
I got tiny little doses of it. But every time I was curious I would get scared back into Christian music. Like I don’t know if you remember those Pocket Rockers with the little cassettes. I got “The Heat Is On” in 6th grade and my stepdad told me it was literally singing about “the sin is on the street”. I thought “Jesus!”. I was scared of sin and didn’t really want any part of it. Another time a friend gave me an early Metallica track. It was from the early ‘90s and probably some of their darkest music. I remember listening to it late one night in bed, with headphones on and the tiniest volume so no one else could hear me – it was literally like a portal directly into hell. Can you imagine? (laughs) I thought there was some interesting stuff but I was kinda scared. And this was the late 80s and early ‘90s, there was no internet or cellphones. Christian music at the time was really bands like DC Talk – it was like grunge and had a bit of rap, and now when I listen back it is like the music I should have been listening to but an alternate reality version.
What do you mean?
When you grow up in a strict Christian household music and everything you do is to do with God. So if a song is not about God then it sounds fake. It’s like ‘what are you talking about?’. It took me a while to get into non-Christian music. I was almost 30 and I’m 35 now. I was in the Marines playing the drums before that, and that’s all I cared about.
How old were you when you learnt to play the drums? And how did that bring you to the Marines?
It all started when a friend moved and left his practice pad and drumsticks behind. I was in the 8th Grade and I didn’t like my electives at school so I told them I was a drummer. They realized very quickly that I was not a drummer so they made me practice all the time to get better and half way through the year I was section leader. I became a big, band dork. I joined the Drum Corp and was World Champion twice before I was 21. I knew the Marines had a Drum Corp in DC so I decided to join them.
What brought you to LA?
When I was in the Marines one of my room mates had a guitar. That’s when I really decided to use my GI Bill to go to a school for recording in LA. And I thought I could do some drumming on the side as a session drummer. But I couldn’t get gigs because I could not communicate with them about the music. The only bands that eventually let me drum for them were really new bands. Then I moved to Alaska for a girl.
How long were you in Alaska and what was the experience like of working in a newsroom, the weather, isolation – did you miss the LA scene while there?
The weather was dreadful. And it was isolating in the most jarring way. But I thought I will be the only person there who has these skills and as a sound engineer I worked on a newsroom show. They even featured me once. I would also run sounds for Anchorage bands in the clubs. There was not much to do there but I had a lot of time to think. After a month, I also started getting calls about management (for my music) and I had a feeling I wasn’t going to stay long so I just made the most of the opportunity. I produced a heavy metal band; and a Latin, Calypso and Country album for this 75-year-old. I hung out with the local sports anchor, got into football and decided that Seahawks was my team. I still get e-mails from people there. I was in Alaska for almost a year and had left all my instruments in storage in LA, no guitar – I didn’t even have a tambourine but it was nice to just do something else for a while.
Are people still introducing you to your new favorite bands via your own music – any others besides Beatles, Elliot Smith and The Kinks?
Yes actually. On the EP each song sounds different, it’s a jumble of styles. I try not to consider myself as having one style. All the songs are meaningful to me. But from “I Want To See You Dance” a few people have told me that it reminds them of The Dandy Warhols and last year someone said Brian Jonestone Massacre so I went back and listened to them and have been really getting into them. It’s funny cause when I’m writing a song, I think I’m doing something different.
How has your world view changed since being that sheltered fundamentalist Christian kid? And does that ever come through in your songs?
I feel it’s been such a growing experience. Growing up I was scared of sin and my 1st year of college I was still listening to Rush Limbaugh all the time. But now I feel like my whole world view has changed 100 per cent. I think it’s about living in a bigger city and making friends. And your friends you just accept them, and the fact that their beliefs are part of their upbringing and family. But I completely understand that other side too. And when I wrote that first song on my album, it’s not on this EP but will be on my album – everything I thought was bad about myself… what an outlet it was for me, it was like vomiting. This huge build up of all these emotions then to be able to pick up a guitar and really say something honest.
Avid Dancer will open for Cold War Kids at The Fox Theatre on Friday. For tickets, please click here. To purchase the EP “I Want To See You Dance”, please click here.