Breaking: Avid Dancer

Jacob Dillan Summers discusses his conservative past, the beginnings of Avid Dancer, and what it took to produce his excellent debut LP, “1st Bath.”
Breaking: Avid Dancer

Jacob Dillan Summers discusses his conservative past, the beginnings of Avid Dancer, and what it took to produce his excellent debut LP, “1st Bath.”

Words: Natasha Aftandilians

photo by Cara Robbins

May 28, 2015

Avid Dancer / 2015 / photo by Cara Robbins

MEMBERS: Jacob Dillan Summers
FROM: Venice, California, by way of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Alaska
YOU MIGHT KNOW HIM FROM: Extensive tours opening for Delta Spirit, Hamilton Leithauser, and Mac DeMarco (or if you live in Venice, as the guy who served you your muffin at Superba yesterday)
NOW: His debut album, 1st Bath, a perfect psychedelic surf-rock soundtrack to all your summer adventures

Most musicians will say that making a debut album takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, but for Jacob Dillan Summers (a.k.a. Avid Dancer), that’s more than just a platitude, it’s practically the word-for-word list of ingredients that went into making 1st Bath. With the help of a few shots of tequila, Summers put a very personal stamp on the album. “I ended up getting a needle, and I tried to push it down into my hand to make it bleed, but it wouldn’t do it! So I lifted my hand up over my head and I just had to stab myself, probably ten times, to get enough blood out.”

If this sounds like a grisly, Ozzy Osbourne–esque account of blood sacrifice, don’t panic. That’s just what it took for Summers to get the right amount of “paint” to scrawl his moniker onto the album’s artwork. “With this album, I wanted everything to be very personal,” he admits. “I wrote the lyrics out in my own handwriting and blood, and drew my tattoos inside. All the album artwork is my childhood photos. I wanted it to be mine.”

So the blood is literal, but what about the sweat and tears? Those come from Summers’s experiences as a drumline world champion, an active duty Marine in the Drum Bugle Corps, and a recording engineer working with metal bands in Anchorage, Alaska. It’s not exactly the trajectory you would expect to launch someone into a career in indie rock, especially for someone with a strictly Christian upbringing.

Sheltered roots didn’t allow for much exposure to secular music, making Summers a late bloomer whose musical discovery phase as an adult had some awkward beginnings. “I joined the Marines, and it’s not like everyone in the Marines was going to be like, ‘Hey, man, listen to this new hip band!’ They listened to whatever was on the radio, like Creed or whatever. When I did listen to the radio, I thought, ‘This is okay,’ but it sounded generic—mostly because of the lyrical content and the aggression. I didn’t really understand it.”

After moving to Los Angeles and slowly stumbling upon the work of artists like Elliott Smith and Death Cab for Cutie, Summers found his voice as a heartfelt singer-songwriter striving for honesty in his songs. Sunny yet soulful, retro without sounding recycled, 1st Bath shows Summers as the sincere and vulnerable artist he truly is, rather than the straitlaced, macho persona one would expect after taking a quick glance at his religious and military history. He’s comfortable being the hopeless romantic (just listen to the way he breathlessly swoons for his object of affection on “Stop Playing With My Heart” and try not to be enamored).

“At some point,” he says, “you just get the perspective of, ‘I’m just going to sing as myself,’ and a lot of that is really singing from the heart, you know?” For Summers, it’s clear his heart is ready to shed blood in that pursuit, as painful as the process might be. FL