By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Bryce Avary twists in his seat after every question, staring down at the cell phone he's cupping in his hands as though it will give him the answer if he watches it long enough. Can't really blame him for hoping someone will give him the answers. He's been trying to come up with his own for too long. Avary doesn't seem much older than he did when we first met a few years ago, and he certainly doesn't seem old enough to be answering the questions he's being asked. Questions about the years he spent on the sidelines of the music business, waiting for anyone to take a chance and put him in the game. Questions about broken promises, broken hearts. While his hair's grown out a bit, he's still short and slight and his voice is still high and hesitant. Granted, he just turned 20, but so much has happened between then and now.
A few feet away on the desk next to him lies a copy of Calendar Days, the debut full-length by The Rocket Summer, the band that consists of Avary and whatever instrument he happens to be holding at the time. The album officially hits stores February 25; Avary thought it never would. Can't really blame him for that either.
Though he doesn't look much different, Avary has changed quite a bit since he released his first (and until recently, only) disc, a five-song EP, when he was 17. He knows now that when you're dealing with managers and record labels, black is sometimes white and yes is usually maybe. And that often it looks as though you're doing nothing when you're working as hard as you can.
"After the two years, it totally makes sense, because I've changed a lot, just as a person and a lot as a musician," Avary says. "Now it just makes total sense why it took so long. I know a lot of people were like, 'So what do you do? You're not in school. I don't see you playing and stuff. Do you just sit around?'
"I've just been trying to get the songs right," he says. "It took a little longer, but I'm just really glad that I didn't sign anything when I was that age. It was always the smallest, like the lowest-end major-label guys. I don't know. People are scared to take risks. And now that I've signed stuff, major labels are calling up all the time now. It's just kind of funny."
Making a career out of writing and playing songs seemed so much easier, so much more possible, a couple of years ago. Avary's older brother, Blake, used to tease him, tell him that his career had already gone as far as it was going to go. Because that's what older brothers do, particularly when their kid brothers are 17-year-old aspiring musicians. Bryce had just released his EP--five cuts of, as one song put it, "Teenage Love Rock"--and a song from it, "So Far Away," was getting regular airplay on KDGE-FM's The Adventure Club. That's it, Blake would tell him, you're through.
Blake didn't believe it, of course, and neither did anyone else. Especially Bryce. Because that's what 17-year-old aspiring musicians do. Bryce was excited about hearing his music on the radio--"I almost got a concussion, I was jumping so high," he said in May 2000, not long after "So Far Away" first appeared on The Adventure Club's playlist--but he knew it was only the first page of the script. Him jumping up and down listening to the radio? That was merely the opening scene that gets the audience involved. The credits hadn't even begun to roll.
The rest of the script, as it turned out, needed some polishing. The story was erased and rewritten almost weekly, but it never got any longer. Avary would get calls from managers and A&R reps who had heard his songs on the radio or gotten one of the many packages he sent out, but none of them was saying the right things. He came close a couple of times: Michael Dixon, who manages Ron Sexsmith, offered to fly Avary to London to hang out, maybe do some recording, with the hopes of adding Avary to his client list. But the deal never clicked. So even though Blake was joking, it appeared that he was right: The Rocket Summer came out of nowhere, and it seemed as if it was heading back there just as quickly.
Avary knew if he waited long enough, something would happen. But it was hard for him to stay patient, especially since he was making grandé lattes at Starbucks while holding down another full-time job, recording songs at his parents' house in Colleyville; killing time was killing him. Last summer, he decided to stop waiting for something to happen to him and start making things happen on his own. That's the way he'd always done it before. He wrote the songs and played all of the instruments in the studio. He booked the shows and put out the records. He hung out at shows from the time bands were loading in until long after they'd put their gear back in the trailer, just hoping to meet the right people, make the right connections. He knew he could do it again. All he needed now was enough money to make the album he wanted.