Since launching his career as a 16-year-old with the independently released The Rocket Summer EP, a name he took from a Ray Bradbury short story, Bryce has toured around the world, selling out venues not just in the U.S., but Canada, the U.K. and Japan, while playing such noted events as U.K.'s Glastonbury Festival, Scotland's T in the Park, Japan's Summer Sonic Festival, Austin City Limits, SXSW, Bamboozle, Cornerstone and the 2007 Vans Warped Tour.
"With this album, I wanted to strip away some of the expectations and goals even more so that have perhaps held me back in the past," he explains. "I still tried to write songs the whole world would want to sing along to, a beautiful and huge record. But I went into it with the attitude, I want to make an album of genuine and honest songs written from my heart and personal experiences that musically and lyrically would be better than anything I had done yet and above all would be an album that would hopefully, truly move and affect people. The whole pop success is like playing the lottery anyway. Of course it would be amazing, but for me it's all about focusing everything you have on making the greatest music you can without banking on any thing else. I'm grateful to be doing this and I want to do this for the right reasons."
For someone as spiritually motivated as Avary, that means he focuses on the struggles and victories of life's often-challenging journey in Of Men and Angels. There's the fervent post-emo power-pop punk riffs propelling "You Gotta Believe," the autobiographical tale of romance and surviving the bad times in the hint of a hip-hop groove in "Hills and Valleys" and the quiet-to-loud, mud-below-to-ground-above contrast of "Light," while "Nothing Matters" is a paean to altruism and selflessness, "Pull Myself Together" about accepting grace and allowing yourself to move on while learning from your mistakes and the moving, hymnal "Walls," an epic ballad on battling depression. And if his songs often tackle serious topics, Avary isn't above concocting something more tongue-in-cheek, like "Japanese Exchange Student," which compares his social life as an up-and-coming artist to that of a student's experience in a foreign land, and "I Need a Break (But I'd Rather Have a Breakthrough)," his own sly acknowledgement of the role of luck in pop success.
Avary produced the album with CJ Eriksson, who engineered Do You Feel, recording "21 or 22 finished tracks…almost two albums' worth" at Ocean in Los Angeles and in Austin, playing, as he did on his previous albums, all the instruments himself—tackling guitar, keys, bass and drums, which were the first thing he learned as a kid.
"I wanted this to be the best record I've ever made to date, so when people look back on it, they say, ‘That's an album which really affected my soul.'"
In fact, The Rocket Summer has a way of getting Bryce Avary's fans to feel just that. His albums and live shows are all about positivity, optimism, seeking a higher power, overcoming our struggles.
"Yes, this is a very spiritually charged album," nods Bryce. "That's the biggest thing in my life and it's what keeps me going. That's the root of everything I do."
Of Men and Angels follows last October's release of the four-song You Gotta Believe EP, which debuted at #1 on iTunes alternative chart and #5 overall. Three of the songs, including the title track, "Hills and Valleys" and "Light," were part of a "Complete Your Album" iTunes promotion, and are all included in the new release.
Musically, Avary is a one-man show—though he tours with several longtime friends—who has been compared to similar wizards and true stars like Brian Wilson, Prince or Todd Rundgren, although in an updated, anthemic punk-rock style."I don't intentionally set out to write radio hits, but I do want my songs to connect with the world," he says, "something that can ignite the airwaves."
"I'm happier than I've ever been about this album. Musically, I wanted it to be a little more organic, very little chopping on the drums, no autotune on the vocals, longer takes. I wanted the album to be real, but still sound slick. It just doesn't have that sterile feeling you get when things are chopped up and made computer-perfect."
There are a number of candidates for hit singles on Of Men and Angels, but wealth and fame aren't exactly the most important things on Bryce's mind.
"Walls," a song that deals directly with people's depression, shows how he uses his own experiences to comfort others going through similar situations. It helps explain the kind of viral following that turned last year's video for "Do You Feel" into an Internet phenomenon. With guest appearances by Paramore's Jeremy Davis and Josh Farro, Jack's Mannequin's Andrew McMahon, Forever the Sickest Kids' Jonathan Cook, All Time Low's Alex Gaskarth, MxPx's Mike Herrera, Hellogoodbye's Forrest Kline and Relient K's Matt Theissen, the clip led to the album version of the song being played more than 4 million times on The Rocket Summer's MySpace site.
"People start tearing up when they hear ‘Walls,'" nods Bryce. "We're definitely aware the kind of connection we have with our fans. I just see that as God working through the music. And I'm just fortunate to be a part of it."
In the end, Avary uses that good fortune to help others. He performed the White House last summer in connection with his support of Invisible Children, an organization dedicated to rescuing youngsters who have been kidnapped and enlisted against their will into the Ugandan army. He has also started a clothing line, ‘CALL IT CAPTIVATE" which donates 25% of sales to several different charities they have partnered with, from disease research and poverty aid to orphanages, leaving it up to the buyer to decide which one to the "CIC" Charities they would like to donate to.
"I like to support people who do good things," says Bryce. "I'd do this even if I weren't playing music. But I'm fortunate enough to stand in front of a microphone, so I might as well say something that helps."
"Save me/I need it/And I can't help/But feel desperate/My desires they seem/Are coming to their endings… But I will trust/It's not the end/But a great beginning." "Light"
"When there's opposition, and you know what you're doing is good, maybe it's because something bigger is actually happening," says Bryce. "You just have to hold on a little tighter, trust that things will get better. But I'm definitely not quitting."
Of Men and Angels is not the sound of someone giving up, but rather The Rocket Summer making one huge step for band-kind.
"I like the term ‘young veteran,'" says Avary. "But at the same time, I don't want people to think this album is not fresh. I'd be a liar if I didn't say it would be nice to have the radio and TV thing happening. I'd love to expand this, play bigger venues and reach more people. But we already have this loyal, hardcore following and I couldn't be more grateful for this. And I keep pushing myself forward, trying to make a great album, trying to put on the best live performance I can."
With Of Men and Angels, Bryce Avary shows The Rocket Summer is ready for take-off… The sky's the limit.
"Each song is like an intimate conversation or entry in a private diary," Carey says about the album. "A lot of the songs reflect specific, different times in my life. Others were inspired by movies, actual events that happened to me, or the stories of friends who told me about experiences that they've gone through." With just a few exceptions, Carey wrote and produced the entire album in collaboration with The Dream and Tricky Stewart. The trio clearly shared an inspired sense of what Memoirs should be. Sinuous grooves and instantly memorable melodies flow from track to track, while the wit and intimacy of the lyrics create the feel of one friend talking to another. As well-defined as each song is, Memoirs plays with the beauty and consistency of a classic, start-to-finish album.
"My main goal was to work with people I could collaborate with without its seeming redundant or stale," Carey says. "In my opinion Tricky is one of the most underrated major producers out there right now. I really enjoyed collaborating with him. And I especially liked writing with The Dream, basically because we both love having fun with lyrics and melodies, and we’re also capable of getting more serious on deeper songs. There is a particular sense of freedom I feel when we write together -- even though I make him stay in the studio all night until he is ready to kill me! LOL!" In addition, Carey adds about Timbaland, who produced the sizzling track "Skydiving, "I finally got to work with him for the first time, which was really a lot of fun."
Memoirs’ first single is the hard-hitting "Obsessed," which is accompanied by a video directed by Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour trilogy) in which Carey plays both the glamorous star and her stalker fan. Like the video, the song’s lyrics combine devastating putdowns ("Last man on Earth still couldn’t get this") with humor ("See right through you like you’re bathin’ in Windex"). The no-nonsense "Up Out My Face" captures a similar caustic mood, dismissing a former lover with the send-off, "When I break, I break, boy." "It's a Wrap" delivers a similar message about the end of an affair: "When it's gone, it's gone." "Standing O," with its irresistible chorus, sardonically applauds a faithless ex for his signature achievement: "You played the one that loved you the most." "Betcha Gon' Know" foresees karmic revenge for a wayward lover, but, once again, the clever lyrics ("Oprah Winfrey whole segment for real / 20/20 Barbara Walters for real") encourage a smile amid the pain. The ballad "H.A.T.E.U.," meanwhile, finds the singer seeing life in the wake of a breakup and longing for the moment when loss and regret transform into a cleansing anger. But the title of the song doesn't necessarily stand for what you think it might. "H.A.T.E.U. is the first song I wrote for the album," Carey says, "and it stands for Having A Typical Emotional Upset."
Always a brilliant technical singer with an extraordinary vocal range, Carey rises to new heights on that track. "I sing a recurring melody in the upper register of my voice; it's not an ad-lib, but an integral part of the song's hook," she says. "That's not something I've done before, and when listening back to it, it reminded me of how Minnie Riperton used her upper register on her hit song ‘Lovin' You.' I thought how ironic that her song was called ‘Lovin' You' and my song is called, ‘H.A.T.E.U.' – and both use that upper ‘whistle register' as a major part of the melody. So it's sort of an homage to Minnie Riperton, a tribute to her since she has been so influential in my singing style."
On a tender note, the wistful "Candy Bling" beautifully evokes the blissful realm of young love ("Anklets, name plates that you gave to me/Sweet tarts, ring pops had that candy bling/And you were my world"), while "Inseparable" aches for a love that went wrong for reasons that seems impossible to comprehend. "More Than Just Friends" floats off into a fantasy of what a casual relationship might become ("Permanently paint me in your picture like Picasso/Love me down till I hit the top of my soprano!"). "Ribbon" and "The Impossible (Love Ya Like)" swoon with happiness and thankfulness over redemptive love that has returned to make life rich again. "You did the impossible," Carey sings. "You rescued my love."
Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel ends with a spectacularly powerful gospel rendition of Foreigner's gorgeous ballad, "I Want to Know What Love Is." Carey's voice soars into the heavens as a soul-stirring choir makes it clear that the search for love is the closest that any human being ever gets to the divine. Which brings us back to the angel of the album's title. "I had written a song called ‘Imperfect,'" Carey says, "but it didn't make it onto the album. The lyrics of that song address the fact that the world puts so much pressure on us -- especially on women -- to be perfect and look a certain way, and that is impossible because nobody is perfect. Only God is perfect. I know I've tried to be a good person, but I am definitely no angel!"
"But after I put this album together and decided to name it Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel," she concludes, "I remembered that the Minnie Riperton album that contained ‘Lovin' You' was called Perfect Angel. So I felt in so many ways that it was meant to be."
As the title of the New York rocker's Atlantic debut provocatively suggests, Star's whole life has been building to this point. The songs on "11:59" play out in real time, the stories spin out in narratives that resonate with urgency and truth. Star's often stripped-bare vocals give the songs an added resonance. "There have been a million hopes and let downs to get here," Star says. "I don't think you really choose the time as an artist, I think the time chooses you. This album is who I am." And now that he's here, as track "Right Now' stresses, he is going to seize the moment.
Thoughtfully and meticulously created, "11:59" proves well worth the wait. Throughout much of the album, Star seamlessly melds traditional rock elements with captivating rhythms.
For "11:59," Star partnered with producer Matt Serletic (matchbox twenty, Collective Soul), who artfully understood how to combine Star's storytelling style with his modern sensibilities. "Matt and I created something special; we really put our different personalities together to make this record," Star says. Howard Benson (Daughtry, My Chemical Romance) provided additional production to bring out his rock roots.
For more than half his life, Star has been a fiery performer. Born and raised in Long Island, N.Y., by the time Star was 14 he regularly traveled to Manhattan to play clubs, including the legendary CBGB's.
As a member of Stage, a band he formed with childhood friends, Star signed with Maverick/Warner Bros. After that brief excursion, Star returned to his first love of performing. Now a solo artist, what followed was a period of tremendous artistic growth as Star found his individual voice, culminating in the self-release of 2005's "Songs from the Eye of an Elephant." That 20-song set, recorded in his living room with just piano and vocals, showcased Star's do-it-yourself, indie ethic with its intensity drawing comparisons to Tori Amos and Eddie Vedder.
As he honed his live talents, Star simultaneously worked on his songwriting craft, often finding inspiration in movies from director/former rock journalist Cameron Crowe that marries music and image. So inspired is Star by film that he often watches movies with pen and pad in hand so he can note the feelings they provoke.
Star continued selling out such vaunted New York venues as Joe's Pub and Rockwood Music Hall and building an audience through such exposure as a Myspace featured artist, but he knew he needed a national platform to further spread his music. Enter his decision to compete on CBS's 2006 reality show "Rock Star: Supernova" as a way to take his music directly to the viewers. And the viewers loved him: Star's high-octane performances quickly became fan favorites as they highlighted both his stellar musicianship and natural- born showmanship.
"It's always been about playing for people. That's when I'm truly myself."
"The album is really just about my experience over these past two years. Traveling around the world and letting my hair down. Having fun. Being free."
With an ethereal voice and playful personality, singer/songwriter Wynter Gordon is giving dancefloor divas and music heads alike a new reason to Believe. The single "Dirty Talk" from her forthcoming debut album, With The Music I Die, has already topped Billboard's "Dance Club Play Songs" chart at #1, while her Freemasons-produced "Believer" also climbs steadily on the UK charts. Prepare for a major Wynter storm this year.
For the past two years, Wynter has tirelessly traveled the globe, collaborating with some of the biggest names in electronic music and picking up a few tricks along the way. She's stepped into the studio with David Guetta and Rhythm Masters, performed in front of thousands at the Winter Music Conference. All of these incredible experiences have gone into the making of her debut. As Wynter explains, "I'm not the same girl anymore. I'm more confident. I'm more me." Her songs reflect this new self-confidence—she and her collaborators have given themselves license to play, reveling in a new sound that is a blend of European house, bold beats, and purely emotive songwriting. "I feel so comfortable with myself now. I'm really in that place where I've just let go.
As Wynter's world has blown wide open over the past couple years, she is similarly inspiring those around her. "I still remember the first time Wynter sang for me," recalls James Wiltshire of UK production duo Freemasons (Shakira, Beyonce), who crafted "Believer" with Wynter. "I was still setting levels, but I had to really rush as everything she sang was just incredible. Goosebumps everywhere! Half the lead vocal on 'Believer' is the very first take. She is an amazing singer."
"Believer" has a deep message at its heart, explains Wynter, "but it's still dance music. I think that's what was missing in dance. There was no real emotion or personality to it, and that's what I bring." It's a natural fit for a singer who grew up listening to the big voices of Whitney, Celine, and Mariah (and penned hits for Mary J. Blige, Danity Kane & Jennifer Lopez). Even her single "Dirty Talk" has a sincere sense of fantasy, revealing a young woman experimenting with different sides of herself.
Life these days is a living fantasy. As she's bounced from Ibiza to Amsterdam, London to Paris, Wynter explains that she fell in love with "the energy in Europe. I picked up a little of the culture from everywhere I've been." For a girl from South Jamaica, Queens, who was raised in a two-room house with "my mother and six brothers and sisters," she's aware of how far she has come. Her childhood was difficult, shaped by poverty and a largely absent father. "My only escape was art," she remembers. As a teenager, she was accepted to the famous LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts (known as the Fame school). There, her natural talent was nurtured. "You could really be yourself and focus on your talent," remembers Wynter.
After high school, when most of her peers were off to college, Wynter threw herself fully into realizing her music dreams, even as she dealt with surviving on her own for the first time. She juggled several jobs while working in the studio at night. It was some time before she landed her first big break: penning "The Breakthrough" for Mary J. Blige. The legendary singer was so moved by the song, she named her 2005 album after it, a vote of confidence that Wynter still remembers with awe. "My whole life, I've been the underdog, and it's just magic."
Today, the singer/songwriter loves to play with "retro" vintage styles as much as she does with a mixer, and admits she also has a burning desire to someday be a comedic actress. For now, she's making a big impact on everyone she shares a studio with. "I really love Wynter," says Dutch DJ/producer Laid Back Luke, who crafted a full-throttle remix of "Dirty Talk". "She is such a humble, down-to-earth, hardworking girl, and not to mention a fantastic singer and performer! If anyone's worthy of superstardom, it's her!"
As she prepares to reveal With The Music I Die to the world, Wynter hopes that she moves people to "feel my artistry and feel that I'm a real person." The songs document the incredible journey of one girl, both around the world and within herself. Coming to a place of ultimate freedom, where both trials and triumphs are released on the dance floor. The title, explains Wynter, is less about a death than it is about a rebirth. "Music lives on forever," she says. "So I'll always be around."