Everyone knew a kid like Bryce Avary. Some -- not many, but some -- were kids like Bryce Avary, a young rocker wannabe. A spiky-haired 17-year-old junior at Grapevine High School, he lives with his parents and younger sister in Colleyville. He's an aspiring photographer and drives a 1972 Camaro, a car he refers to as "a piece." He's been in a handful of bands, but not one of them was around long enough -- or was good enough -- to be missed. He now plays in a group with some of his friends called The Dudes of Hazzard, which he points out is both a joke and "a complete rip-off of The Old 97's." Right now, Avary doesn't have much time to talk, because he has to go to band practice, so his joke band won't embarrass itself.
Like most kids his age, Avary is also beginning to worry about college -- but not for the reasons you may think. He's not concerned that he won't have the grades to get in or nervous about scoring well enough on the SAT to get a scholarship or anxious about leaving home. Avary is worried that a record label will want to sign him in the next year or so, and his parents won't let him because they want him to go to school instead. OK, maybe everyone hasn't known a kid like Bryce Avary. Maybe a few -- not many, but a few -- were a kid like Avary, but everyone wanted to be.
Because even though his optimism is certainly stoked by wishful thinking, Avary still has good reason to believe some label suit will soon knock on his door, recording contract in hand. Avary is the sole member of The Rocket Summer, a one-kid band that released its first recording, a five-song self-titled EP, a few weeks ago. He wrote the songs and played all the instruments on the disc, which has already led several labels to reach out and touch him. Despite all of this, Avary is trying not to consider himself signed and sealed. Trying not to do so, which is like trying to stay calm when someone promises you a map to buried Yahoo! stock.
"I don't know if anything's going to happen to it," says Avary, who sent out copies of the EP to "a million labels." "I've gotten some offers from labels who've heard it on the Internet that I've never heard of before at all. I have to start thinking about college soon, and if I get signed, I'll really want to do that. But I don't know if I'm going to get signed or not. I don't know if I should get a band, because if I get a band and I get signed..."
He trails off, because one of the biggest questions he's faced in his short stint as The Rocket Summer is whether he should form a band. Listening to the quintet of songs on the EP, you'd never guess it was a problem. It doesn't sound like the work of one person; there's too much going on. Most solo recordings take a decidedly lo-fi approach, and even the ones that don't are generally stripped-down affairs, sticking to a guitar-bass-drums arrangement.
Avary, on the other hand, crams each song with extra sounds -- keyboards, bells, more guitars, synthesizers, electronic drums, piano, and track after track of vocals. Working out of Arlington's Deedle's Room Recording (the studio owned and operated by 19-year-old Darrell "Deedle" LaCour), Avary took advantage of the studio's 24-track recorder. In fact, he recorded so many tracks for each song that you can't hear all of it. "If you listen, there's a whole bunch of stuff going on," he says, "but on some songs, you can't hear any of the stuff I took hours on."
He began working on the disc at the beginning of last summer, dropping by the studio every couple of weeks for a few hours. LaCour helped engineer the recordings, but everything else is the product of Avary -- and there is nothing lo-fi or stripped-down about any of it. Each song reminds you of what being young and rock and roll is all about. Which is why, to live up to the versions of the songs on the disc, he needs a band to play them.
It's not a unique situation: Dave Grohl's Foo Fighters began as one man and a room full of instruments. Locally, Centro-matic became a full band only after Will Johnson had recorded Redo the Stacks, and The Deathray Davies was all John Dufilho all the time until he'd already finished the debut album by his "band." But Avary, though he says he's had many offers, isn't quite ready to let anyone else into The Rocket Summer. He doesn't want to play by himself anymore, either.
"I've been playing acoustic for a while, and I'm kind of wanting to stay away from that," he says. "I don't want to play any shows, because I've sold so many records already that I think a lot of people would come." Which would seem to be the point, right? "I don't want to disappoint anyone unless they know it's going to be acoustic and all that stuff, and they're expecting that," Avary explains. "If nothing happens in the next month or two, there's a whole bunch of people that have e-mailed me and sent me stuff saying how they want to play [with me]. I could have a band really easily, but I'm really picky and that sucks. It sucks, because I don't want people to think I'm already a picky jerk and I'm just 17. It's tough, you know?"
Even at such an early age, Avary is a veteran. He's been playing in bands since, as he says without a trace of irony, he "was a lot younger" -- 14 years old. He picked up a guitar in the seventh grade and joined his first band, Monkey Chunk, the next year. None of his bands went anywhere; Monkey Chunk was "a joke," accomplishing little more than humiliating Avary in front of his eighth-grade classmates when the group performed at a school dance. "It was the worst night of my whole life," Avary says, "and every time I think about it, I cringe because it was so embarrassing." Charlie 27, his last serious band, fared a bit better.
"We were really big around the Grapevine area," Avary says, before realizing that being "big around the Grapevine area" doesn't amount to much. "This sounds so lame," he adds, laughing. "We broke up and had a final show at a house party, and there was at least 250 kids there. We played a reunion show six months later. I don't think anybody knows us anymore."
After Charlie 27 split up, Avary began doing solo acoustic shows, playing the songs he would eventually record as The Rocket Summer. Though he considers himself more of a drummer than a singer or guitar player, Avary grew comfortable in the role, building confidence in the songs that he soon recorded. Even so, he didn't think he'd hear them on the radio -- at least, not so soon.
Avary was shocked and thrilled, then, when Josh Venable, host of The Adventure Club on KDGE-FM (94.5), called him. To say he was happy when the first track of his EP, "So Far Away," turned up on The Adventure Club's playlist a few weeks ago is such an understatement, Avary laughs when you ask him about it.
"I almost got a concussion, I was jumping so high," he says. "That was embarrassing. That was probably the coolest thing that's ever happened. He called me the night before. I'd had a really bad night, and I heard the message and I was like, 'Oh my god!' Because he said he liked it, but he didn't say whether he was going to play it or not. I don't know how that goes. And I didn't really tell anybody, because I didn't want anybody saying, 'Oh, Bryce said he was going to be on the radio.' So I just kind of waited. Then he said [on the show] that he was going to play a band called Rocket Summer. I started calling everybody." Including Venable several times to thank him. "He always says he hates me, which is kind of weird," Avary adds. "He's joking, I hope. I can't not thank someone for helping me out, so I call him. I think he's getting annoyed."
Avary can probably live with annoying Venable, especially since The Rocket Summer's radio exposure has already paid off. Avary has struck up a friendship with Will Johnson, a musician he reveres. ("Me and Will have been talking through the Internet and stuff, and he really enjoys the Rocket Summer stuff, which is really, really good to hear.") He's also seen sales of the EP shoot up dramatically in, of all places, Cleveland, where a pocket of displaced Adventure Club fans live. Most important, his parents have encouraged his efforts. "They do now," he says, laughing, "because I'm on the radio."
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The attention has Avary ready to head back into the studio. Actually, he's been ready, almost as soon as he finished the first batch. But he's happy with The Rocket Summer EP. To him, it definitely serves a purpose.
"Since then, I've written 10 new songs, and I think they're way better," he says. "It's good to have this record out there to promote the other songs. It's the same sound, but it's just...more powerful. It's more emotionally driven and more pop. I don't know. I like it a whole lot, but please don't think I'm bragging."
Avary knows that even if he was bragging, he couldn't get away with it for long. His older brother, a student at Texas A&M University, has already jokingly told him that being on The Adventure Club is as far as his career's going to go. But you can hear the pride in his voice when he talks about everything that's happened so far, and the hope for what might happen in the future, even as he tries his best to be modest.
"I'm not a celebrity, but I have to sign a whole lot of autographs," he admits, referring to how life has changed at Grapevine High. "Which I refused to do at first, but I started doing it this week because a guy wouldn't buy it unless I signed it. I wanted to sell it, so I hid in a corner and signed it. Someone saw it and said, 'He's signing records.' So everybody pulled out their records and made me sign them." He sighs. "It's only one class. Hopefully it hasn't spread."