Summer as a season is technically just about over, but another Summer is just beginning. I sat down with what has to be Indy's youngest rock star, Summer – no last name needed — on a balmy August weekend in Broad Ripple.
"My goal is to bring back the dynamism and power of rock n’ roll to today’s culture," the 15-year-old said in an early email to me, and I immediately heard Gus Gus in my head singing "Teenage Sensation." But there's an awareness about her that belies her age, and so I can only hope the audience is listening.
"We're working on the new show dates now, with [Lafayette multi-instrumentalist] Michael Kelsey's band," Summer says when we sit down to chat. "I've played different shows with Kelsey, who helped me make the album, some open mic gigs, and a few showcases. I did get kicked out of one show for being underage," she laughs. "It's quite difficult to find good shows. In the movies, there's always this big show or this big club that everyone is trying to get to – and I just don't see that opportunity here, for my age group."
Yet. I can almost hear the word in her wistful tone. The album she made with Kelsey, called Save The World and officially released at a show this Saturday at GLM Live in Lafayette, has flairs of Liz Phair's mid-aughts self-titled release.
"When [Kelsey] heard my demo, and said he would help me record an album, I just couldn't even believe it. My first full length album! It was so exciting and I was so happy. I mean, I was nervous to go through the process of getting the vocals right every time, but it worked really well. He kept me involved, in the whole process of adding instruments, and tweaking things, mixing, and editing. It was my first real collaboration and I learned a lot from him about the entire process."
Summer comes from a family of educators, and is currently home-schooled. While she can set her own schedule, it's an intense, all day schedule: school in the morning/writing, practicing, and recording in the afternoon/ and then evenings are free for performances. I don't ask when anyone sleeps.
Summer suffered from severe stage fright early on, but found a way to work past the fear.
"I lived in Indianapolis until I was about 6 or 7, and then my family moved out to the country. I think it helped me overcome some of that stage fright. Certainly, if I still lived in the city, I might write about different things, but I think leaving helped me evolve in a different way, different themes, different ideas. And I am an animal lover. To get over that stage fright, I would practice singing to my goats – they were my first audience. Being in the country, in that open area, it really helped me, and so did my animals."
Summer also knows a lot more than I was able to discern just in our brief conversation, too, I might bet. There's a tension and awareness about her that belies her age. And she had a lot of answers, actually, and not just for the questions I posed, but for those held by the world at large – and so, I can only hope the audience is listening. She expresses wide-eyed interest and brutal focus in touring both the US and overseas, in lush locales like Ireland
"The cover art on my CD, while hopefully visually appealing, was also supposed to be fun, like much of the music, but there are important underlying messages in there, too," she says. "For example, I didn't realize until recently that human trafficking, slavery, really is still very much an issue around the world. I know I'm not alone, that is, not the only one who did not know it was an issue until recently. There are many different ways to save the world and I know that's just one important issue among many. People all over face many problems, and I get that there are generally two sides, or even more, to every problem - and you can see where each side is coming from.
"With Save the World, I have a superhero theme and I like that most of the time. Superheroes know where they stand – who they're fighting and what they're fighting for. There's a right side and a wrong side; it's very obvious, and like with something as serious as human trafficking, it's very clear who is right and who is wrong. Those who support the enslavement of their fellow man are very wrong. And it's something that we should be working together on to stop. I wish there was more clarity when it comes to right and wrong, and good and bad, and who and what needs saved first, and the most."
It's often difficult even for adults to openly and respectfully communicate and express themselves on heated subjects and in this kind of frank manner, and I don't want to sound like a condescending fuddy duddy, but I have to say it: I'm really proud of this young woman.