Monday, March 4, 2024

Time-lapse with Summer Set: Indie rockers debut album, return to local music scene

Summer Set has a long history on Wilmington’s music scene and have relaunched as of late. Friday, Nov. 3, marks the official release of the self-titled, 10-track “Summer Set,” now available on streaming services and vinyl through Fort Lowell Records. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)


WILMINGTON — It was the early aughts when two musicians came together by happenstance over a beer at Blue Post to form what would become a quintessential sound on Wilmington’s indie rock scene.

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“I needed a bass player,” Brian Weeks recalled Tuesday. 

“And I happened to be living with a guy who had a bass, so it worked out — besides the fact I never played bass,” Robert Rogan added.

Summer Set was born. 

The band performed on the local music scene up until 12 years ago. However, Weeks and Rogan were sitting on multiple tracks they recorded throughout the years before being approached in 2018 about turning the songs into a finished album.

Friday, Nov. 3, marks the official release of the self-titled, 10-track “Summer Set,” now available on streaming services and vinyl through Fort Lowell Records. 

Both Weeks and Rogan are English professors at Cape Fear and Brunswick community colleges respectively and have been the steadfast hands in the band. Its lineup has consistently rotated with well-known Wilmington musicians and friends throughout the years: Jeff Reardon (Rodeo Boy), Seth Moody (The NoSeRiDeRs), Jonathan Bass (The Rosebuds), Tripp Cox (Onward, Soldier), Anthony Polcaro, and Ivan Howard (The Rosebuds). 

“Summer Set” is a retrospective of its 22 years of existence. The vinyl form will be for sale at the band’s Saturday show, wherein Summer Set is playing with Tercel at Sandspur.

It’s Summer Set’s second show in two months, an uptick from a decade-long hiatus. Aside from releasing a Christmas song last holiday season, Weeks and Rogan have been involved in other side projects, such as De La Noche, featuring Ivan Howard of The Rosebuds. They also play in Feather with a group of friends, focused on yacht rock tunes.

Over the summer, Weeks and Rogan reinvigorated Summer Set. Its new iteration consists of John Manning on guitar and Dustin Codair on drums. Manning is from Thunderlip, Coverlip and Mountain Thrower, while Codair has been playing with the two Summer Set founders for a while in Feather.

Saturday’s show will pepper in a few new tracks, but the focus will be on the songs of yore, as featured on the newly released album.

“It’s basically different eras of our music,” Weeks said. “The eras are defined by the drummer we had — or the lack of drummer — at the time.”

During those absences, a drum machine was used or Weeks sat behind a kit here and there if needed. He is also the primary songwriter and will bring a lyric or riff to Rogan to flesh out a song.

“I hope to add something good occasionally,” Rogan quipped. 

The partnership is simpatico, according to Weeks: “Bobby hears really good harmonies.”

Laid back and self-admitted perfectionists, the two said they would often spend copious amounts of time on one track while recording Summer Set’s music years ago, between 2000 and 2012. The recordings took place in various places: at Michael Swart’s studio, in Week’s bedroom and a place he dubbed “The Music Box” — a room in the backyard of an old residence 20 years ago. 

“Other than Mike Swart, I don’t know if we ever actually recorded in a real recording studio,” Rogan said.

“We would just kind of get in there during the day when it was quiet, and record the drum tracks, and then I would take the tracks to my house and add the guitar and bass,” Weeks said.

Back then, aside from being on a compilation album produced by Durham label Pox World Empire in 2005 and 2006, which featured North Carolina artists, Summer Set put out independent releases. Weeks would push one-of-a-kind CD-Rs he burned at CD Alley.

“That was pre-internet,” Weeks said. 

CD Alley was quintessential to downtown Wilmington, once located where Black Cat Shoppe is now at the foot of Market Street. Fred Champion — the owner of the record shop and a stalwart of Wilmington’s music scene in his own right — often hosted shows in his third-floor apartment on Princess Street, now Monteith Construction (the company has named one of its conference areas “Fred’s Room” in homage). Champion brought in the likes of My Morning Jacket, David Dondero, Benji Hughes, and multiple other up-and-comers of the day. Summer Set opened for Dondero and Huges throughout the years.

They also did a show with local band Glow in the Dark Scars, which was Champion’s rock outfit. It stands out as one of Champion’s favorite memories, hosted at the now-defunct The Whiskey (Seabird is located where the bar once was).

“It was pretty packed,” Champion remembered. “This was the early days before Whiskey even had a stage, so everyone was on the same level. It felt more intimate, like a private party.”

Champion calls Summer Set’s sound quintessential indie rock, as relevant today as it was when it was first recorded years ago. Though to answer how and why is a bit of a “mystery,” he said.

“It is a certain aesthetic that is difficult to put into words,” Champion elaborated. “I can easily tell you what it is not, but I would have a hell of a difficult time telling you what it is. I believe Summer Set is a band that could have been equally as successful as other Wilmington acts, like The Love Language, The Rosebuds, and Tift Merritt.”

According to Weeks, in its heyday the band played about every other month locally. They were the first, he said, to take the downtown stage at the shuttered Soapbox Laundro Lounge, which operated from 2001 to 2013 in what’s now a Waffle House on North Front Street.

Looking back, Weeks said he wished the band was more productive — perhaps more ambitious and driven.

“We were always pretty laid back and, you know — things change, things come up, but it would have been cool to continue to play more over the years,” Weeks said. “It’s just hard with full-time jobs and families to find the time to stay creative. It can be done, it’s just kind of tough.”

Summer Set at Bourgie Nights in September (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

‘Summer Set was ahead of its time’

No new music was created for the Fort Lowell Records release. Instead, it’s a time-lapse with Summer Set into Wilmington’s early-to-mid-aughts indie scene.

James Tritten of Fort Lowell began reaching out about putting together the project five years ago. Tritten calls Summer Set’s sound “timeless,” in that it spans various genres and includes traditional melodies that make for infinitely catchy earworms.

“In the early 2000s, Summer Set was ahead of its time,” Tritten said, “merging country-twang with the edgy dissonance of indie rock.”

The band’s infectious pop melodies embrace dreamy ethereal soundscapes, soul and R&B. Summer Set featured “Comfortable Town” on Fort Lowell Records’ 2020 release “GROW: A Compilation in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter.

When Tritten and his wife, Tracy Shedd, first heard the band’s 2012 song “Camouflage,” they said it was immediate affection.

“We were asking ourselves: ‘Why is this song not available on vinyl?’” Tritten recalls. 

The song starts with stark bass piano notes, leading into a whisper of lyrical melodies, backed by shoegaze-y instrumentals and a soulful rhythm.

Tritten said it took everything in his power not to kick off the album with the track. Instead “Camouflage” appears toward the end, so listeners can fully understand the band and its power.

“When it hits, it hits hard,” Tritten described, “and feels so good. It’s the kind of song that stops you in your tracks, and makes the world stop spinning for a brief moment.”

A host for DJ events at Satellite Bar and Lounge every Tuesday, Tritten has been closing out sets with “Camouflage” as of late. Before, he said he and his wife were “selfishly” tuning into the recording Weeks shared with them years ago, just waiting for the right time to compel a “Summer Set” release on vinyl. Talks had been circulating, but forward movement stalled, especially when Covid-19 hit and obligations shifted.

“James and Tracy pushed this into existence really,” Weeks said. “Some of our last songs were written eight years ago and nobody ever heard them because they weren’t released, so it made sense to put them out now.”

The Fort Lowell crew spent 72 hours choosing the arrangement of tracks on the album, with Weeks and Rogan having final approval. Tritten said he approached its pecking order the same way he would deejaying a set.

“As someone who curates music for an audience’s listening enjoyment, you often find yourself either telling a story with the selection of songs you choose to play back-to-back, or you create an ever-evolving mood with what you play at various points in the evening,” he said. “I always like to start off easy, then get into music with more energy, and take it down a notch toward the end of my set.”

The sequencing of “Summer Set” kicks off with the band’s most popular song, “Center of Attention,” from the early aughts. It’s an Americana-bent track underscored by poppy rhythms.  

On the release, it’s followed by the shoegaze rock of “Financial District” from 2002. A few more experimental-forward pieces, like “The Jetty” (2012), featuring Weeks on drums, and a key-heavy “Red Wine” (2012), with the raindrop effects heard on Toto’s “Africa” looped in, are included. Weeks called “Red Wine” more of a dance song, a different output than the band’s earlier roots sound.

“That was fun to make,” he remembered. “We were just learning how to use electronic software.”

Weeks compared it to an earlier snapshot of what he and Rogan did with Ivan Howard in the poppy, ambient-heavy De La Noche on 2019’s “Blue Days, Black Nights.”

“We’re getting a lot better at it, for sure,” he added about the advancement of technology and refining their craft.

The only change Weeks made to Summer Set’s tracks came with an additional lead guitar recorded over “Red Wine.” He then turned over the recordings to Tritten and Shedd. 

When Rogan listened back to the release for the first time, he said it brought back a swell of memories. He also was pleased with the way the project turned out.

“Surprisingly, I was really impressed,” he said. “I think why the songs stand the test of time or whatever is because we always worked pretty slowly, meticulously, in recording them.”

He called some of the songwriting sheer “magic,” in how swiftly it came together, despite how long it took to release.

“It’s interesting because I’ve been in other bands in my past, where I’ll listen back to a recording and be kind of embarrassed or something,” Weeks added. “But I didn’t get that cringy feeling here.”

Brian Weeks and John Manning at the Summer Set show at Bourgie Nights in September. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

‘It definitely has that fairy dust’

Weeks played in Reverse locally before moving away from Wilmington for a short stint, only to return and start Summer Set with Rogan. The band’s last show was roughly 10 years ago — until recently. 

They joined the stage with their new crew on a joint bill with the Paper Stars in September at Bourgie Nights. They played to a packed crowd of familiar faces. One fan described it as “an old high school reunion you wanted to attend.” 

Rogan and Weeks agreed. 

“It was great to see Fred [Champion],” Weeks said. “It was my favorite part of the show, running into all of these old-school, cool people.”

The band’s sound hadn’t weathered, nor had the performances. Rogan said getting back on stage as Summer Set felt somewhat effortless.

“It’s really weird, like a muscle memory thing,” he said. “But it definitely brings me back to writing songs on Seventh and Grace — it transports me to a great time in my life.”

Summer Set performed new tracks at the show, including “My Isolation” and “Better Days.” Weeks wrote the former during the Covid-19 pandemic, a reference to being stuck without anywhere to go.

“It just kind of came together very quickly,” he said.

“That one’s a fun one to play,” Rogan added. “It definitely has that fairy dust or whatever on it, in the same way ‘Center of Attention’ did.” 

“Better Days” harkens back to a country sound the band leaned into during its early days. “It has more of a gallop to it,” Weeks described. Yet, the band’s newest additions with Manning and Codair are also bringing a more forward-rock sound. 

“I think it’s cool playing with two guitars,” Weeks said. “You know, we used to play with Seth Moody and he could play guitar and keyboard at the same time — like literally in the same song simultaneously. He’s an awesome musician.”

Moody moved to Memphis almost a decade ago. But Rogan’s holding out hope the keys will make their way back to Summer Set eventually.

“When I listened back to the Summer Set stuff, the keyboards, I never really thought of it, but that was a big part of the sound — and I would love to add those back in,” he said. “But I’m really happy with what we’re doing now. When I think about what I would do differently, it comes to enjoying the moments that we had more and not taking them for granted. Being more grateful — that’s the word I’m looking for — ‘grateful.’”

The band began practicing over the summer and are focused on recording new music now. They are polishing the tunes, with the intent to release an album of original music, perhaps next year, but no one is setting a firm timeline just yet.

“Sooner rather than later,” Rogan said. “But you know, based on our track record…”

“Hopefully, it won’t be another 20 years,” Weeks chimed in.

Summer Set’s show with Tercel will be free and takes place at the Sandspur in Carolina Beach on Saturday at 7 p.m. The band will be playing in the outdoor area behind the restaurant and bar at 103 Lake Park Blvd. S.

“Summer Set” Track Listing

Side-A

  • Center of Attention // 2001-2005
  • Financial District // 2000-2002
  • The Jetty // 2012
  • The Empress //  2000-2002
  • Red Wine // 2012

Side-B

  • An Invitation // 2012
  • Favorite Places // 2001-2005
  • Crackhead In My Car // 2000-2002
  • Camouflage // 2012
  • Coast to Coast // 2001-2005

Listen to the album here.


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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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