Since he was a young child, he has been slaying people and wreaking havoc in the Florida music scene, working his way up through the Death Metal and Glam Rock trenches of Tampa Bay. Billy has made enduring contributions to the Southeast’s independent, soft rock, garage rock, soul, and power pop music. In addition to his solo endeavors, he has been a crucial member of bands like Hotel Life, The Semis, Blackfish, and Luxury Mane. Major networks like HBO, ABC, CBS, The CW, Apple TV, The Sundance Channel, and many others have played his music.
Billy operates nonstop from The Ward, a comfortable recording studio encircled by palm trees on Florida’s gulf coast. For that ass, he is currently releasing a string of brand-new songs. You’d think he’d be wealthy by now, but he’s not. He compensates for his lack of money, though, with an abundance of fashionable new looks. Check out the single & the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how you got started?
BILLY SUMMER: I grew up in Tampa. My parents were both music teachers at the University. There was always music in my house. My mom practiced piano, and my dad, he’s a conductor, and there would be records playing a lot. I had a record player too. I would listen to music every chance I got. I started getting into playing guitar when I was about 12. Back then, it was mostly death metal and glam metal down here. I was totally into both, and some of my favorite bands were local ones. I started playing in the bars around Tampa Bay when I was 15. Eventually, I left school to pursue music full-time. I spent a couple of years in the Northwest but settled here in St Pete to be closer to friends, family, and the sun.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
BILLY SUMMER: I’m self-taught, almost. I took just enough lessons to learn some to play some classic riffs. When the guitar teacher tried to show me the circle of fifths, I quit. My parents are both formally trained musicians. I regret not learning piano or music theory, but I’ve got that rhythm and a pretty good ear. The rest of it is mostly just guessing. I’ve picked up a lot by playing with other players.
I sang in my mom’s choir when I was a kid. I think some of that stuck with me, at least the sense of melody, and that’s where I really got to tune my ears. I was supposed to be reading the music, I guess, but I always sang from memory. I thought everyone did that.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘BILLY SUMMER’?
BILLY SUMMER: The soft rock they played on Q105 when I was a kid. Later influences lean more towards glam rock, mopey acoustic stuff, and power pop like Cheap Trick, Big Star, Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, and of course classic stuff like Thin Lizzy, April Wine, Boston, 90s music like Pavement, Modest Mouse, etc. Currently its bands like Paint, Big Thief, Dougie Poole, Mdou Moctar. In transit, I listen to WTMP 1150AM. They play classic soul and R&B. All the best jams.
My name is William Robert Summer – my parents did that; William, after my grandfather, and Robert, after my dad. Summer is the last name. Sounds fake, but it’s not. I have played in lots of bands with actual band names like The Semis, Luxury Mane, and Hotel Life, but the pandemic pretty much blew it sideways, and I had so much music brewing, that I started releasing EPs and Albums under my own name.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
BILLY SUMMER: I use a lot of analog stuff, old synths, tape echos, vintage amps and guitars, that gives the music a retro vibe. That’s nothing new. I use the Roland SH-1000 a lot. It’s the sound of Steve Miller’s Fly Like an Eagle and Blondie’s Heart of Glass. It’s basic, but thick, and easily recognized. I bought John Frusciante’s Solina String Ensemble from this dude in LA. I’ve always wanted one, mainly so I could play Please Don’t Go by K.C. and the Sunshine Band, another Florida group from way back in the day, and one of the funkiest bands to ever do it.
6. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative and entertainment?
I hope to make some kind of connection, for sure, but I don’t have any particular message to convey. Music, for me, can be pretty dark. The lyrics are vague and centered on loneliness. I wouldn’t want people to feel that way, unless they wanted to. Florida is a ways from civilization, so it serves as an odd, but consistent muse. The things I write are mostly comprised of personal narratives or just commentary on what I’m seeing around me. I steer away from politics in music. Not because it isn’t important. But I make music because I love music, not for anything or anyone else.
7. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfillment as the amount of work you are putting into it, or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
Yeah. The work is the most rewarding part. I’m compelled to write and record. It can be all consuming. I’ve missed lots of conversations while daydreaming about how to finish a bridge or a lyric. To me, the work is the best part, even when it’s frustrating.
8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
If you always keep your receptor up, something will make contact. I work it out in my head or on the guitar with a vocal melody. I’m not a big collaborator. I envision myself to be, but I’m not really. Once a song presents itself, I usually know what I want it to do. It might start with a riff or a melody. When the skeleton emerges, it’s a rush. It’s like, oh yeah, this is something. But a week later, I can’t finish, I feel the opposite way, like it’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard. Then that change comes and we’re back to feeling good about it. I know I’m not alone. It’s a tortuous process. Occasionally, there’s lame songs that stand in the way of the good ones. Sometimes I have to write them,, too, just to get to the next stuff.
9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
It’s a toss-up, I’ll let you pick. It’s either:
B) Playing in a band one night with Robin Zander of Cheap Trick and botching up every song. After the show he shook my hand and said “good luck to you”. I got the message.
10. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?
BILLY SUMMER: There have been a lot. Music has been with me through all the big ups and downs. One highlight would be scoring placements on networks like HBO, Showtime, Sundance, and the CW. Hearing songs of mine playing on shows that I would be watching anyway has been pretty exciting. Maybe not the one on the CW. That was one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen. But shows like Search Party, Life and Beth, and Ted Lasso. Those have brought my music to people a lot more folks, so it’s been a bright spot for sure. I also play with a 10 piece funk / soul band on that is out of sight. They’re all great musicians and old friends. I’ve played with them for a long time, and I look forward to it every night.
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Photo credits: Shawn Kyle