A Brief History of Summer Darling
In the fall of 2010, Summer Darling was having a moment. That July saw the release of their self-titled 2nd LP on local label Origami Vinyl and a well-attended residency at Spaceland, Los Angeles’ tastemaking rock club. They followed the residency with a North American tour opening for Ok Go, culminating in a show at the Nokia Theater (now Club Novo). It felt like Summer Darling was poised for a big breakthrough, yet little over a year later, the band was all but over.
To understand the demise of a band like Summer Darling, it’s worth examining where they came from. The band was formed by Ben Heywood, Heather Bray and Dan Rossiter in 2002. They released the EP What’s Done Is Done and played shows in and around Los Angeles before embarking on the first of many West Coast tours. A San Francisco based label Last Stand took notice, and signed them to a modest contract. The money wasn’t much but it allowed the trio to record an album with Frank Lenz, Richard Swift and Elijah Thomson. The result, 2004’s I Know You, I Never Knew You made a small splash in LA’s indie rock scene. The band expanded to a four-piece, with Rossiter moving from drums to guitar, and continued to play up and down the West Coast.
Last Stand didn’t survive long, however. The label folded shortly after the release of I Know You, forcing Summer Darling to slow down. In 2005, Ben and Heather got married. The band spent 2006 and 2007 bouncing from studio to studio, stringing money together where they could, recording bits and pieces of what would become two EPs, 2008’s Health of Others and 2009’s Good Feeling. It was a time of constant transition, as the band went through three drummers and two labels before landing with Origami Vinyl. Previous drummer, Todd Spitzer, moved back from Portland, allowing Summer Darling’s most well-known line-up to record their second LP with producer Sean Foye.
At the time, it felt like the turmoil of constant member turnover and no clear direction was over. 2010’s Summer Darling was the confident statement of a band that had persevered through 8 years of insecurity, under-attended shows and few resources. Their workman-like approach to touring, often driving 8 to 10 hours to play to five people in a basement for nothing more than a floor to crash on and a case of beer, earned them a reputation as grinders. Their relentless DIY approach paid off in the live show. Dan and Ben’s interlocking guitar parts combined with the bombastic rhythm section of Todd and Heather to create a dizzying cacophony, over which Ben and Heather sang about broken relationships, substance abuse and critical examinations of the Pentecostal Church in which both Ben and Heather had been raised.
They were rewarded with better shows, and for the first time, a small but fervent fan base. It wasn’t enough. At the outset of 2011, Todd announced he was leaving the band to pursue a simpler life in the countryside of Pennsylvania. It was understandable; he’d been through a divorce and everyone was tired of being flat broke all the time. Dan, Ben and Heather soldiered on, however, acquiring the talents of Mike Horick on drums and touring throughout 2011.
The wheels finally came off in 2012, due primarily to a confluence of circumstances in Ben’s life. Having struggled with addiction and clinical depression for years, the overdose death of a close friend and ex-bandmate fueled his complete emotional collapse. By the time Summer Darling played a sold-out 10th anniversary show in September, Ben was despondent and suicidal. His relationships with his band members had deteriorated and his marriage to Heather was in limbo. Though no one knew it at the time, it would be Summer Darling’s final show.
In 2013, at the encouragement of Heather, Ben sought treatment. Heather was also instrumental in getting the band back in the same room so that they could record their final album, most of which had been written by the time the group had unofficially disbanded. During a Christmastime blizzard, Ben, Heather, Dan and producers Sean Foye and Robert Cheek went to a cabin in Mammoth, CA and recorded Abandoner. A unflinching look at suicide and hopelessness, Abandoner never saw a wide release, yet remains an intriguing artifact as an album by a band about breaking up, while it was breaking up.
Summer Darling’s legacy is slight. They never were a popular band by any metric. Yet their records remain relevant testaments to the power of emotionally honest songwriting and forward-thinking arrangements. Too angular to be pop music but too pop-minded to be math rock, Summer Darling exists in rock and roll purgatory, a no-man’s-land where bands that don’t sound like anyone else and never broke through the national consciousness remain forever lost. With the reissue of their records, perhaps now a few more people will find them.
Summer Darling in 10 Songs
My Reminder (from Summer Darling)
Hello Liars (from Abandoner)
Dressed Up For Funerals (from I Know You, I Never Knew You)
Son (from Summer Darling)
Outer Dark (from Abandoner)
The Author (from Summer Darling)
Ride This Wave of Good Feelings (from 3 EPs)
Blazing Fire (from 3 EPs)
Liberty St (from Abandoner)
Math Is Everywhere (from I Know You, I Never Knew You)