Album premiere: Avid Dancer, ‘Sharaya’ (and a talk with Jacob Summers about his muse and music)

Avid Dancer (Photo by Bjorn Bro)
Avid Dancer (Photo by Bjorn Bro)

There was a time, after the release of the debut Avid Dancer album “1st Bath,” when singer-songwriter Jacob Dillan Summers packed it in. He felt he had failed, so he moved to Texas, where the cost of living was cheaper.

Fate intervened, and her name was Sharaya. She became Summers’ muse, and eventually his wife, so there was little question what the second Avid Dancer would be titled: “Sharaya,” which comes out Friday via AWAL.

For Summers, a onetime member of the Marine Drum & Bugle Corps who, because of his strict Christian upbringing, came to secular music later in life, the process of making the second album was different. Instead of taking his rough ideas to a producer (“1st Bath’s” Raymond Richards) and having him add parts and shape them, Summer worked with several artists. Central to the process were Andrew Heringer (ex-Milo Greene) and his Beachwood Canyon studio.

Like the songs on the debut, though, the 10 new tracks obsess over love — either the pain of losing it or the excitement of finding it. Tenderly, sweetly, echoing the open-hearted innocence of ’60s and ’70s pop. It’s what Avid Dancer does, Summers acknowledges sheepishly.

“That’s what you can write,” he says with a laugh. “‘This is more of Jacob’s usual love song bullshit.’”

A day before its release, here is the premiere of “Sharaya” — along with a conversation with Summers covering topics such as his flight from and return to Los Angeles, working with collaborators and one certain photo from his wedding. (Spoiler: It’s the album cover.)

Buzz Bands LA: What’s the most important thing we should know about the new album?

Jacob Dillan Summers: The cover is a photo of my wife at our wedding. And it’s called “Sharaya,” which was an Amy Grant song [1985], and that’s how my wife got her name.

Why title it that?

What was going on in my life was that a couple years ago I had moved back to Texas, because I thought, “Fuck this, I can’t hack it here. Too expensive.” But we had a couple of shows booked here, and when I flew back for those shows, my agent had booked Sharaya’s band to open. Afterward, we started talking on the phone, but it wasn’t romantic. It was more like, “My manager did this, what do you think?”

When I came back to L.A. for my birthday, we talked about a lot of things … including what it means to be an artist. Am I really one? Am I just a fraud? She convinced me to stay in L.A., and then we started dating. Then after I got a new A&R guy (for publishing) at Warner/Chappell, I started doing songwriting sessions, three or four a week. And I realized that all of the songs were about what was going on in my life, being 38 years old and divorced, and feeling that excitement again. It was amazing to find somebody who likes me for who I am, and not somebody who thinks, “Yeah, I like you, I can work with you, you just have to fix that.” I felt good about being myself.

I was looking at my calendar last year, all the sessions I did, everything I accomplished, and I realized this would not have happened unless I’d met this person. So there it is, let’s just call the album “Sharaya.”

As pictured on the cover as well.

It’s a great photo. Our wedding kicked my ass.

“Sharaya” was made pretty quickly then? What was the vibe?

Andrew Heringer has little studio in Beachwood Canyon. It’s like a living room feel. You’d be sitting there just playing a part, and Andrew would be like, “Yeah, that works,” so he’d stick a microphone right in front of you. I recorded one of the songs sitting in a bathroom. Between him having such a nice set-up and being such a good writer, it was great. Plus, he plays a lot if instruments that I don’t, and really well.

There were a lot of collaborations, right?

We had a couple of sessions where different people came in. Like Davey Quon (ex-We Barbarians, now a member of Cold War Kids), who worked on the song “Free Spirit Woman.” I was pounding out some chords and thought, “This sounds like Cold War Kids,” he said that’s cool, and started playing something great right over them.

Jamie Sierota (ex-Echosmith) came in. (Rising alt-pop star) Morgxn did a song with me called “Silk” — I came in with basically a chorus. Andrew started working on it, and I handed it to Morgxn and said, “You’re writing the verses to this.” He said, “OK,” and a couple hours later he came over to me and starting singing to me in a really really high voice (affects a falsetto) … “How long I been waiting to find you…” and I said, “That’s great shit, man.” But I still don’t know how I sang it. It was really tough.

It was different than working on the first album, when I wrote the songs and really didn’t even know what they were. I would sit there watching Raymond produce the songs out in front of me and think, “Wow.”

But by this time you had more experience as a songwriter in general, right?

I had done a couple of writing camps, and it was an education. I was like, “Are you kidding me?” It was a bunch of songs being written in multiple rooms for one artist, who would then go around say, “I like that,” or “let’s keep that,” or “let’s move this around,” and by the end of the camp the artist would have five songs. I don’t want to go too deep into that universe, but I think writing with one or two other people is actually good, especially if you’re actually there and they’re your contemporaries.

And so we have more people to thank for more Avid Dancer songs about love, right?

There’s one song (“Gazing at the Edge of Everything”) that is one of the few times I haven’t written a love song. It was left off the first album. Beyond that, it was a matter of me going back through all the work I did with Andrew and everybody to find the songs that were resonating with me.

I could write about world politics, but I don’t want to. (Laughing) I’m a lover, you know that … That’s what you can write. “This is more of Jacob’s usual love song bullshit.”

You should save that title for the name of your boxed set years from now …

I guess it depends on what you want when you sit down and listen to music. I’ll look at my demographics online, because they’ll measure that for you, and it’s like: Ages 18 to 45, exactly 50/50 men and women. Maybe I should have a more targeted demographic? (Laughs.)

‘Music for the people …’

Look, it’s not like I need people fawning all over me or raining praise over me. It’s probably why I don’t really like to do shows. You have to try and get all your friends out, and what if nobody comes? That’s the worst. Or playing a 12 o’clock slot at a club on a weeknight and nobody’s there — it’s just sucks your soul.

But what if there are one or two people there who really count as a hundred?

You can hope. At the end of the day, I want to make music for myself. I’m living my life, and then I sit down with my guitar and whatever is happening will get expressed through whatever I play.

||| Live: Avid Dancer celebrate their album release with a show Saturday night at the Echoplex. Tickets.