Today I'm interviewing Daniel Throssell of Summertime's End. Summertime's End has been described as "Musical candy for the sweet-toothed. Think Owl City meets Relient K... in Australia."
Which other bands do you most look up to?
I grew up on Relient K. I remember discovering their music about eight or so years ago, when I first started listening to music, and since then they've always been my favourite band. I've seen them twice (despite living almost totally on the opposite side of the world) and it's rare that I ever turn as stupid and fanboy-ish as I am when I'm watching them perform. I really look up to what they do, more so with their older stuff, in terms of bringing music with Christian themes to an audience that really needs it. If I can have half the impact on someone's life that they had on mine, I'd be happy. I really look up to those guys. I'm also a huge fan of Owl City and what he achieved by himself with just a computer and a whole lot of imagination. Adam Young is a genius and a pioneer, and I really admire him for that. Finally I have to say I also look up to Hawk Nelson. Those guys are just blatantly Christian and it's so awesome to see people who are so willing to sing about their faith like that and not worry about how it might hurt their mainstream image.
Which of your songs is your favorite?
It's a tough choice for me, but Nadia's Goodbye has always been my favourite. It's probably not my best work as a producer, but I think it's my strongest effort as a songwriter yet. It's about a topic close to my heart, too, so it really means a lot to me. I have to say I'm also quite fond of Valentine's Day as well; I really like the lyrics and the arrangement. Plus I'm not the greatest singer, so I'm quite proud of my vocal performance in that track!
(Also I know you didn't ask, but I just have to say that I do have least favourite tracks as well. I'm not really a fan of Airport Dreams or Away, and yet people often tell me they like those the best! It drives me crazy sometimes. I reserve my strongest dislike, though, for the acoustic version of 'Compliments'. I don't think I've listened to that for months... I always skip it.)
Where do you find inspiration?
For me, the music I listen to is a massive inspiration. When I listen to a song that I really connect with, I get this thing that I described to a musician friend of mine as "songwriter envy". It's basically the feeling of listening to a new song for the first time and totally falling in love with it, and wishing that you'd written it. When that happens I'm always inspired to write. Obviously the first temptation is to try and write that song again but it usually just sets off a creative spark that eventually turns into another song.
In terms of inspiration for my lyrics, though, I draw a lot on my relationships with people. It's interesting to note that whilst the people are different, almost all teenagers go through the same kinds of things with other people: the person you fell for a little too late, the best friend who you were crazy about, the friend who lost interest in your friendship and drifted. We have all sorts of songs about these kinds of things, because not only do many people who go through this stuff write these songs, but also almost everyone can relate to them. To me, being able to put these events into a song sort of summarizes it, and in a way provides closure. There's also the good stuff too: everyone's been in love with someone, and I sure like writing about that! Finding new ways to make my girlfriend Hayley smile with a song is a huge challenge for me, and something that always inspires me to work on my music.
You sing a lot about love for people, and love for Christ. How, in your mind, are these similar or different?
To my mind, the love I have for other people and the love I have for Christ are two very different things. It's difficult to describe, but I guess an analogy that everyone could relate to is that one can love their sister and their girlfriend at the same time, but in different ways. I don't mean to say that my love for God is like either, but it's different in the same way. I actually view the songs of mine that sing about love for my girlfriend as extensions of God's love through me; I can only love because God is love, and I can show my love for God by loving my girlfriend in a godly manner. What I mean by that is not singing about girls like many modern artists do - stuff like getting with a girl you've just met, or focusing on a girl as a sexual object. There is no glory to God in things like that. The truth is that when you love God, you have to keep his commandments (1 John 2:4!), and one of those is to love other people. So I sing about my love for other people, but that's only a subset of the love I have for God, and from God.
When did you start writing songs, and how has your life and your walk with Christ changed since you started professionally making music?
It's funny; I started writing songs before I could play any instruments. Back in 2008, in my last year of high school, I went through a few of those clichéd relationship situations that I described before, and a few of them really left me in a bit of a spin. One day I got out a pen and some paper and just started writing lyrics. They were really funny - something about how girls just wanted to break your heart - but they were a start. (Interestingly enough, whilst the original lyrics didn't survive, the song that came from that melody was Dazzling By Design, 3 years later.) I wrote a few more of these lyric-only songs, and then when I first started learning the guitar in late 2008, I wrote Weather. After about a year of writing almost nothing else, Hayley eventually asked me enough for a song of her own, so in 2010 I wrote Your Sunrise... and everything followed on from there! My life has changed drastically since then. When I was writing my old songs, I was pretty young, immature and a bit unstable. I was still kind of figuring out who I was as a person and where I was as a Christian. Now, a few years later, rather than music being a little thing I do, it's pretty much my whole life. I am Summertime's End just as much as I'm Daniel. It's been a lot of fun to adjust to that but I really love what I do! I've also matured a whole lot in my faith. I feel like I have a much better idea of what my life is about now than I did when I first started writing music, and I feel absolutely blessed to have been able to get to this point. I'm not sure if I can say that my songwriting has been the driving force behind my development as a Christian, but I can definitely say that it goes the other way - being a more mature Christian definitely gives me something to sing about!
What is your lyric writing process like?
I wish I could say I had a solitary process for writing lyrics, but I don't! My lyric-writing process is really spread over a whole spectrum. The Art Of Succinct Compliments was the quickest lyric job ever. I sat down with a ukulele, worked out a melody, and almost wrote the song as fast as I could type. I'm not an incredibly gifted songwriter, but one thing I really do believe is a strength of mine is the ability to create poetry to a set rhythm. Give me a rhythmic structure and I can write a rhyme that will fit it really quickly. Compliments was obviously one of those songs so it really flowed. Valentine's Day was like that too, because of the rhythm and poetic nature of the song. There are songs like Silverlined where the rhythm wasn't so defined, but certain sections (like the bridge) would just materialize at once onto a page, and then the inspiration would vanish just as fast. Then there are a whole bunch of songs that are at the other end of the spectrum and take months and a whole lot of thought. In Stereo took many weeks to write lyrics for: I'd come up with lots of verses that fit the rhythm, and just spend hours staring at them thinking about changes or additions. For songs like this, I'll do all sorts of things like listing rhymes, swapping words to get the accent on different syllables, and even using rhyming dictionaries for inspiration. I often go through far more lyrics than end up in the song, and often a lot of my original lyrics are "dummy" lyrics that make no sense and just hold the melody. It seems really weird to me that the same activity can sometimes be a super-creative, spontaneous thing and at other times be a totally logical and thought-intensive process. I don't know of any other task that ranges from creative to logical like that. One common thing, though, is that lyrics usually (though not always: The Sunset Conspiracy and When She Sails Away were lyrics-first) come after the music, because it's easier to fit words to music than music to words.
What's the story behind your song The Sunset Conspiracy?
The Sunset Conspiracy was the last song I wrote for Light And Colour. It actually started from a title. I have a list of titles that I've come up with over time and I put them all in one notepad file on my phone. "The Sunset Conspiracy" was one such title that had been there for probably over a year. I was thinking about the album and getting one more song done for it, feeling like my creative spark was probably exhausted after having written 12 other songs, and hence feeling a little glum and directionless. So I looked at my file and saw that title. I really liked the idea that just those three words suggested - something about the sunset being a lie. So I wrote these lyrics about a guy who sat on his balcony every night watching the sun go down, and he's just obsessed with this idea that the light doesn't have to go, that the day doesn't have to end. And I wrote these lyrics, almost exactly as they appear in the song (apart from the "west" lyric - I messed up my thought process to start with and had him catching a plane east, before I realized in horror when I was listening to it that the sun does not set in the east!). I looked at them... and then just thought, "these sound way too indie... I can't use these. There's no way I could make this song sound like one of mine." I hadn't written a melody yet, but at this point I had pretty much given up on the song and was starting to feel like I had no good ideas again. I remember emailing Hayley and telling her I was totally out of inspiration, and said something like "check out these terrible lyrics I wrote today... that's how bad it is!". She emailed back saying that I'd totally misled her by saying I hadn't written anything good, and that she loved the lyrics! So I think that gave me a bit of a kick to finish the song. I knew there was something different about them to my normal lyrics, so I tried for something different stylistically. I'd never used electric guitars exclusively as the main instrument in a song, so I tried that, and the result I ended up with was amazing. It sounded like Relient K in all their pop-punk glory. I was actually scared though, that my fans weren't going to like it, because it was too different. So I took the unusual step of posting a preview to test the reaction... and it blew me away. Everyone said they loved it. So I was super happy, and I finished most of it off; called over my bassist friend Shane, who plays for a band called Oak Tree Suite, and he wrote and recorded a bass part for it. I honestly think his bass part in the bridge is one of the coolest parts of the album. On reflection, I'm super glad I ended up pressing ahead with this song, because it's my favourite song to play in the car. I love that chorus!
(I do get the feeling that you were asking about the meaning of the song, though, as much as that is a fun story.) Obviously a lot of the song is fictional. I don't sit on my balcony staring at the sun, and I know how the sun sets. But the sunset spoken of in the song is metaphorical. It's not something I can easily explain, because the themes of chasing the light and not believing the sun has to set represented a few things. One of those was on an emotional level: I never really found a place where I was stable and happy with my relationships until I met Hayley, and in that sense, she was the light I'd chased and longed for. The lyric about being "all too familiar with how things change" is a bit of a reference to events like those that prompted Nadia's Goodbye, in that almost every other friendship I'd had over the last few years had ebbed away to some extent eventually. But the song also has another meaning, and that was about God: the belief that we don't have to live in darkness for most of our lives. This guy is sick of the sunlight always leaving and he has a desire to chase the sun, to be in the light always. I think that was like me: knowing that there's something missing, something that only God can fill. The only problem with interpreting the song is that it alternates between these two meanings quite readily and extricating the parts which refer to one or the other is a tricky task; some lines mean both at once! But there is a lot more to it than just chasing the sun around the world (which in itself, I think, is a good little story).
Thanks Daniel! Check out Summertime's End's new album "Light and Colour."
"Light And Colour" is my sequel to "With Love From Where You're Not". After over a year of anticipation from my end I'm incredibly excited to finally be able to release it. Expect more and better guitar work, heavier Relient K/Hawk Nelson influences, richer harmonies, punchier drums, more organic instrumental playing, thicker synths, dreamier strings and more dynamic vocals. I honestly believe this album blows my older stuff away - but I'll let you be the judge of that. Enjoy!
Light and Colour is available online as a free download on Summertime's End's website!