Life’s a bitch, but it’s really the moment when we give up, shelve our dreams and harden our hearts that we truly die. For the members of rising pop-punk quartet Summerlin, that’s no way to “live,” and the band’s upcoming full-length debut, You Can’t Burn Out If You’re Not On Fire, is a rallying cry for anyone who dreams of escaping their dreaded daily grind, and boldly shouting their true intentions to the world.
Summerlin are making good on their pact: The Leeds (Yorkshire), England-based band are only in their early 20s, and still work day jobs when not touring, but this new record may be the final step toward leaving it all behind. Based on the album’s message, it’s a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, driven by Summerlin’s unwavering determination to not only succeed, but to also do it on their own creative terms.
“Growing up, you’re young, you enjoy life, you don’t really think about or do much, but you get a little older and you start to realize what the world is really about and the negativities that go with it” says singer/guitarist Drew Lawson. “Growing up’s definitely one of the themes…the record is about responsibility, and how you just strive for things. A lot of it is about finding yourself.”
Summerlin formed in late 2008, when members of various Yorkshire bands began looking for something musically different, and gravitated toward classic pop-punk like Blink-182, New Found Glory and the Offspring. The band began writing material with a sound that combined pop-punk with the harder elements they also loved. The early growing pains and lineup changes ensued, but by summer 2009 the band unveiled an EP, So Make Your Move. Early tours began in the U.K. and Europe, climaxing with an appearance at the 2011 Slam Dunk Festival, alongside the likes of Less Than Jake, The Starting Line, Goldfinger, Anti-Flag and Set Your Goals.
All the while, Summerlin were developing a clearer picture of the band they wanted to become. Lawson took on the role of DIY producer/engineer, tracking all of the group’s early and ongoing demos, and eventually the role became semi-permanent. Rather than risk having an outside party potentially water-down the band’s sonic essence, Lawson opted to self-produce You Can’t Burn Out If You’re Not On Fire. The result is a clear impression of Summerlin’s diverse take on pop-punk and post-hardcore, fusing unforgettable melodies with pulsing breakdowns and shreddy harmonized guitar licks. Not bad considering they tracked in a Yorkshire council house, much to the ire of neighbours.
“It’s something I’ve always done, because I normally track most of the demos we do anyway,” says Lawson of his role at the console board. “We just got sick to death of going to studios where they didn’t do what we wanted to. We got together and decided if we put enough into it, we could do it ourselves. It was just that nobody got what we were trying to go for, and at the same time, we knew what we wanted.”
For the final piece of the puzzle, Summerlin tapped the legendary Pelle Henricsson (Refused, Entombed, In Flames) to mix and master the completed tracks. Sequestered in Henricsson’s Tonteknik studio in Umeå, Sweden, the band had the rare opportunity to pick the brain of an industry icon, who’s produced some of the most important recordings in punk-rock, metal and hardcore. As is his trademark, Henricsson was vital to further preserving the grit Summerlin wanted to retain in their music.
“He’s a guy I always wanted to work with, even before this band. He did records I love—basically every Swedish punk band I was into when I was younger,” explains Lawson. “We didn’t want to go with somebody who would end up thinking we were just a pop band. I wanted somebody who doesn’t really know necessarily what our genre is, but knows how to capture rawness, and at the same time get great melodies. It was mainly about just getting raw and aggressive, but keeping our melodies intact.”
Borrowing a famous quote from Doors frontman Jim Morrison, the title You Can’t Burn Out If You’re Not On Fire succinctly summarizes the heart of the record—you’ll never risk a glorious downfall if you haven’t ever soared. Kicking in hard and fast with opening cut “Let It Go,” the album projects a consistent message of hope, tempered with the ugliness of daily reality our protagonists must overcome.
“’Let It Go,’ is basically about alienation and loved ones leaving you because of it,” shares Roo Buxton, the group’s guitarist .“It’s describing how someone feels: They just want to sleep to stop negativity in their heads, and depression. It’s weird, because it’s a really uplifting song—a really major based song—but the lyrics are quite dark within it. It describes how anything would be done to sleep and escape the situation.”
The track “Sink Or Swim” continues the theme further, this time focusing on the pivotal decision every musician must make when faced with embracing music as a lifestyle and career, or clinging to anchors like jobs, homes and girlfriends. Summerlin went through multiple lineup changes since their inception precisely due to such issues, and the band couldn’t help but channel their frustrations into the lyrics.
“ ‘Sink or Swim is about, in a broad sense, taking the plunge and fully committing into what you want to do. It’s about taking that leap and committing to something, and what happens, happens,” says bassist Benjamin Jackson. “The song’s really about an ex-member who didn’t want to, so we wrote the song while he was actually in the band. He didn’t really know all the lyrics were about him while he sat across the room.”
The departure of one of those former band mates was the impetus behind Lawson picking up the guitar full-time. Re-organized as a four-piece, the ex-quintet is now tighter live, and closer as friends, than they’ve ever been. With the four of us now, it’s solidified; we’re on the same wavelength. We’re like a band of brothers.”
With You Can’t Burn Out If You’re Not On Fire targeted for a spring release, Summerlin are gearing up for what promises to be a hectic, exhilarating year. Extensive touring is expected behind the release, starting initially within the band’s U.K. backyard and neighboring Europe, before moving on to total global domination and adoration. Whatever the result, Summerlin are having the times of their lives, finally, making music that deeply means something to the members. It sure beats the hell out of punching a clock, provided music fans see past the various flavors of the week, and continue to support bands with genuine integrity and something valuable to say. If so, Summerlin’s gamble will pay out handsomely, and there’s plenty more to come.
“The overly trendy stuff just doesn’t last, but we still have to win over people, I suppose,” says Lawson. “We’re not trying to make something that’s trendy; as cliché as it sounds, we’re just playing music that we love to play. It’s our debut album, so first we’ll be touring back home with this, but then hopefully we’ll be hitting the U.S. and Japan next. We’re just going to tour the hell out of You Can’t Burn Out, and then get on with the next record.”