If there is any constant in rock and roll, it is there is no constant.
Changes in the industry, whether in promotions, sound, distribution, band lineups, or just a daily environment keep those involved on their proverbial toes.
For Digital Summer, change has often been embraced but can lead to unfortunate circumstances. While Digital Summer embarked on its latest tour with a handful of bands including Taproot and 12 Stones, life has not been prototypical or exact.
The five-piece group, hailing in large part from Phoenix, Arizona, made its way into Kokomo and Valparaiso, Ind., last week as a three-piece plus two. One of the founding members, guitarist Ian Winterstein, was not with the band having returned home to meet his day-job obligations as a paramedic.
Digital Summer were dealt a big blow earlier in the week as drummer Ben Anderson was released from the band. As the pulse and immediate direction of the band sat in the balance, the unfortunate disposition of one of the other bands on the current tour run, Gone For Days, dropped off the bill for financial reasons. With it came a modest silver lining, as drummer Justin Pacy filled in for Anderson on the kit. Having just a pair of rough live shows to learn new tunes, Digital Summer’s run has been a rocky one.
“It’s unfortunate, and we didn’t want to,” started frontman Kyle Winterstein of the loss of Anderson. Digital Summer played the final shows of the tour with Winterstein on vocals, Jon Stephenson on guitar, Anthony Hernandez on bass and Pacy on drums. “We take respect and gratitude with things like that and hold with a high regard. But when a member of the band is not presenting well, it reflects poorly on us all. Sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand. It was unfortunate because he is an amazing drummer, very talented.”
No one promised a Robin Leach-themed caviar dream when Digital Summer released its third EP, Breaking Point, in August through a widely successful KickStarter campaign fueled primarily by the fans of the band. In fact, according to Kyle Winterstein, the work had only begun to cycle again.
Handling their own promotion, production, media relations, as well as all the little details such as setting up and tearing down merch tables, setting up and tearing down equipment, Digital Summer prefer the Yeoman’s approach.
But with it comes a price, and sometimes the pieces don’t always fit. The circumstances surrounding Anderson’s departure took its toll, but other moments even on stage put life on the road in perspective. As promotions and networks on the current tour hit and missed, which piggybacked on what became a frustrating tour in the summer that had a handful of dates get canceled for poor promotions, a swing and miss led to a virtually empty house at the Center Stage club in Kokomo. Opening acts Prospect Hill and 3 Pill Morning took the stage to a paltry approximation of 50 fans, mostly comprised of the other bands and their entourages.
Digital Summer were even pulled from the stage in Kokomo for 15 minutes in hopes of drawing a larger crowd to the very thin turnout. This is part of the ride, right?
“There isn’t a time in this industry when you throw your hands in the air and say hell with it,” Kyle said. “You have to bring the ‘A’ game every time. You have to be thankful that anyone is showing up at all. The rock scene is so stagnant right now, so tough. There are going to be good shows and bad shows. Just go up there and show what you have to offer.”
The hit came the next night in Flint, Mich., at the world famous Machine Shop, where a huge crowd greeted the tour with the usual open arms, even though several cars in the parking lot were vandalized. What became the final show of the tour Sunday night in Valparaiso had yet another sparse crowd, four hours of show delays due to a local show in the afternoon running behind, and the final four dates of the tour announced as being lost to poor tour management.
While there have been dark clouds in recent times for the band, its not to say there haven’t been bright spots. The first single off Breaking Point – ‘Forget You’ – has been a smash on internet radio including a constant rotation on Sirius Octane radio and up to No. 38 on the Active Rock Chart. The band are in preparation to release a second single in the coming weeks, which Kyle eluded will likely be either ‘Breaking Point’ or ‘Dance In The Fire’, but wouldn’t commit to either choice, or possibly going in a third direction.
Digital Summer are currently eyeing a 28-date tour stop with Nonpoint that begins Jan. 18 that heads through the west coast and back around to Florida. And a possible reuniting with Clint Lowery, who offered his chops on ‘Forget You’, and the boys from Sevendust could be in the works for later in the spring of 2013. Life isn’t as bad as it can sometimes seem.
“The bottom line is we don’t have the money that major label bands have to throw at radio,” Kyle said. “We make relations at the radio stations. We go and do acoustic stuff, we do interviews whenever we can. We’ll go out of our way to make an impression. Buy a guitar, sign it and give it to them for a giveaway.
“The single (Forget You) opened a door for us. It got us into the radio stations that we may not have been able to get by ourselves. We’ve made a ton of friends in radio. The whole thing was supposed to be a setup to the second single, but the first single did pretty well.”
A growing fan base has caught up to Digital Summer, that includes nearly 50,000 following on Facebook and the success from the KickStarter campaign, which brought in over $50,000 to fund Breaking Point showed there is purpose to the cause. Moments on the current tour have included guest appearances by 12-year-old Austin Rios, have made them a few caviar dreams. Rios, a drummer from Elk City, Okla., who has a lengthy list of Digital Summer covers posted online, reached the band with a set of YouTube videos of him covering album tracks.
The band noticed and handed him a set of sticks.
Rios, who Friday night admitted he hadn’t used feedbacks in his ears before, didn’t need the devices to keep pace on ‘Broken Halo’ and ‘Whatever It Takes’. Those moments seem to define the band’s purpose, but irony in perspective held when Rios wasn’t allowed into the Warehouse in Valparaiso because he wasn’t 21, which altered the band’s setlist.
Ultimately, additions to the family like Rios proves it’s still all about the fans, and staying true to the higher purpose of what music really means to people.
“All we are trying to do is be realistic,” Kyle said. “We try to be online everyday, promoting. A 24-7 machine. Every time we come out to a show, we’re trying to promote it. We try to put on a good show. Identify with the fans. We’ll be at the merch booth and talk with whoever wants to talk to us. That’s how you make friends on the road.
“Even if we have four Digital Summer fans show up tonight, then great, make sure we put on a show and show them a good time.”