Countdown to Warped Tour: Q&A With Jess Bowen of the Summer Set

Our Countdown to Warped Tour in South Florida continues, with power-pop five-piece the Summer Set. They covered Usher's "Love in This Club" with more energy than probably Usher himself while sticking to their guns and keeping their rock edge intact, making the hip-hop hit less about picking up girls and more about wooing them with sweet, smooth vocals.

The Arizona natives write such cutesy lyrics that even Disney princess

Chelsea Staub was smitten -- no, seriously, she ended up dating lead

vocalist Brian Dales because of a song he wrote about her. But what really sets them apart to us is their chick drummer, Jess Bowen. She comes from a family of drummers and doesn't want to be seen as just another Meg White. New Times caught up with Jess and talked Warped Tour, Saved by the Bell reruns, and the band's Beatles undertones.   

New Times: What's it going to be like for you touring with bands that you've worked with before on this Warped Tour?

Jessica Bowen: It is going to be so exciting. I think it's going to be kind of like a band summer camp. So many bands that we've worked with before, or we know of them, and we get to come together for a whole summer and just hang out, basically. Obviously, it's a job, but at the end of the day, it's going to be BBQs, and everyone buses their cars next to each other. So it's like we've got all our good friends that we've been friends with for a while and all of those people that we haven't met yet. So it's really going to be like a summer camp, you know? Like a fun summer camp for us [laughs].

Are there any bands that you're looking forward to seeing?

Definitely. I'm really excited to see the All American Rejects. I've never seen them in concert, so I'm stoked to see them. Motion City Soundtrack... Mike Posner is on this year. His song is Top 10 on Top 40 right now, so I'm excited to see him. Of course I like the Rocket Summer, Andrew W.K., Sum 41. There's so many bands that I haven't been this excited to see, 'cause I haven't seen any of these bands in concert, so I'm really excited. It's a crazy lineup, and it's so diverse. That's what's great about it.

I actually spoke to the Cab a few weeks ago, and they mentioned you guys as a band they love touring with.

They were kind enough to take us on their headlining tour last summer, and ever since then, we just clicked with them. They're some of our best friends. We talk to them all the time, and then we toured with them a few months ago on the last tour -- The AP Tour -- so honestly it's just like they're family to us. They're awesome guys.

Are there any other bands like that, that you're excited to see and you work with often?

A bunch of the bands from the AP Tour, so it's NeverShoutNever, the Cab, Hey Monday... and then it's going to be bands that we were friends with before, like Anarbor is playing... a band called Eyes Set to Kill, who are also from Arizona. There's a bunch of bands just on the tour in general that we've become friends with... We Are the In Crowd. There are a lot of bands that we've played with, toured with, or at least met because we played random festivals here and there... So I'm just excited to just really get to know all of them.

What's your favorite food indulgence while you're on tour?

Let's see. It depends on what part of the country we're in. If we're in Philly... most of the band is vegetarian. I'm actually not vegetarian anymore, but I try to eat mostly vegetarian, so we'll get Philly cheese steaks, but we get vegan Philly cheese steaks. In Florida -- 'cause we played next to the beach -- so I ate a lot of seafood there. I guess I'm really indulgent, but I just love seafood, and at least over there, they have really authentic seafood. We love Mexican food, so any time we can find like really authentic Mexican food... 'cause Stephen and John are brothers, and their grandparents are from Mexico, I believe. They pretty much introduced us to authentic Mexican food, so anytime we can get it... Even though they still love Taco Bell -- I don't understand that. I can't stand it, but they love Taco Bell. But I love the authentic Mexican food.

So I heard that Brian Dales wrote a song about Disney actress Chelsea Staub, she heard it, and now they're dating?

I guess that's somewhat accurate [laughs]. Our guitar player, Josh, went to middle school with Chelsea. She's from Arizona, and she actually went to Flora High School, which is where John, Stephen, and Josh went. She went there for only I think a semester -- probably I think a few months -- but either way, they all knew her, and Josh was the closest one to her. So he had just joined our band as we were going out to play a showcase in California, and he was really nervous, so he wanted to see some familiar faces. So he invited Chelsea. We all met her, and obviously Brian kind of like instantly fell in love with her, like love at first sight type of thing. That was the first time they'd met each other, then after that, it was just sort of an idea that was being thrown around. It was in Florida, actually, where we were writing this song. We wrote it a long time ago; then after that we decided to record it, she heard the song, and they finally started dating after that. So it kind of worked out [laughs]. She was in the video. They were still dating at the time. Yeah, she's awesome. She's like the greatest person ever.

I saw the video for that. It was really cute. It sort of reminded me of Saved by the Bell.

Yes! That's exactly what we were going for. And it's funny, because a lot of our fan base is a lot younger, so I think a lot of it went over their heads a little bit. But then, we know people who were instantly like, "Oh! Saved by the Bell!"

So Chelsea and Brian are still dating?

No, they're not dating anymore. But they're still close. We're all really good friends with her. Our band had been really good friends with her for a while before they started dating. That'll never change. We're all still really close with her. We love her.

So Disney shows aside, where do you guys get your musical inspiration from?

A lot of '90s music we all get influenced by, like Goo Goo Dolls, Third Eye Blind, Matchbox 20. We actually all really like country music. Taylor Swift we all really, really like, and we actually did a cover set at a festival called Hoodwink, where you could pick an artist and cover their songs, and we did all Taylor Swift songs. So yeah, there's country music there, and we also get a lot of influence from Arizona bands like Jimmy Eat World, the Format, Gin Blossoms, just stuff like that. So we kind of have influences from everywhere. We feel like in our album we tried to make it a little bit diverse. We tried to put a little bit of everything in each song, because we all love all kinds of music.

I saw that. I saw that you guys also covered Usher's "Love in This Club."

[laughs]. Yes. We like Usher too.

What made you pick that song to cover?

Honestly? One day John was just like playing that on the first summer tour we ever did on an acoustic guitar, kind of covering it. And we were like, "Hey, that sounds kinda cool, like the way you're doing it. We should do a whole band version of it." And we kind of threw the idea around a little bit, and finally when we got home... and we were only supposed to play that song for one show -- our home show -- like our coming-home show, and we were like yeah, let's throw it in there for fun. Our hometown fans will think it's funny. And it had such a great reaction to it, and we were like all right, we have to record it. And it became one of our most popular songs, as well.

Yeah, 'cause the original is so different. It's kind of perfect. I feel like the only thing similar is the lyrics, so when you see the video, the only other thing that's kind of similar is when you see Usher at the beginning and the end.

Yeah, we tried to make it a little bit of our own but still keep... If all the fans think it's cool and like the style, then that's good. A lot of people hate when bands try to change a cover too much, but I think this way is still keeping the main part of the song the same, but we still made it our own with a touch of edge to it.

I think it's cool when bands try to cross genres. The Starting Line did that with J-Lo's "I'm Real," but it was a dude singing about girl issues, and I thought it was really funny. That's what it reminded me of.

[laughs]. Yup. It's scary, 'cause I think a lot of people hated us for doing it, but then people were like, "OK, it's not too bad." I guess it depends on who's listening to it.

I think that way is better than the traditional covers, because it's always like the same ten bands everyone's covering, and you never see anyone covering Usher.

Yeah, it's true. Like now everybody is covering what, like Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson.

Is Usher really in your video for it? Or did you guys edit him in it?

No. Actually that was... someone made that video. I know which one you're talking about. We never made that, but it's kind of cool, 'cause they add Usher in it and parts of us playing live. Yeah, it comes together pretty nicely.

Yeah, it looked really official.

I don't know who made it, but it's pretty cool. But props to them. Those people are really talented, 'cause I have no idea how they put it together.

I was like, "Wow, Usher came out in a cover of his own song. That's pretty cool of him."

Yeah, I frickin' wish. The closest we ever came to meeting him was at a studio in Georgia that we had just finished working at. And I think we were just too star-struck to do anything. We were like, "Usher just walked passed us. What do we do?" Then silence [laughs].

Had you guys already done the cover by that point?

Yeah, that's why we really wanted to be like, "Hey we did a cover of your song," but we were too star-struck.

What inspired you to take up the drums? You don't see a lot of female drummers, with like the exception of Meg White. That's like the only female drummer that people think of.

Yeah, everyone thinks of Meg White. Not that she's bad; I just feel like it's funny that that's the only female drummer that anyone really knows about. I actually got forced into it because my dad and my older brother... It actually sounds terrible to say forced, but I wanted to play guitar. I was like in sixth grade, and I asked my dad if he would buy me a guitar, and he said he'd buy me a guitar if first I played the drums. So I kind of got tricked. Then of course I started playing in middle school and throughout high school. And I never got a guitar -- I still can't play guitar. So I think I was tricked by my dad [laughs].

Why did he want you to start the drums first? Was somebody in your family already playing the guitar?

No, actually. I think it's just 'cause we pretty much were a family of drummers, 'cause he and my brother both played the drums. So I guess he figured, "Hey, if she's gonna play an instrument, she might as well play the drums, since we already have the drum set in the house; everyone plays it." He just wanted me to pick it up, and I guess it just kind of like came naturally because I listened to them play all the time. I grew up listening to them play the drums, so it wasn't too terrible. I didn't suck that bad at the beginning. I definitely wasn't good, but I wasn't terrible, so that's why I kept playing.

You got lucky, because I'd think most families wouldn't welcome a drum set into the house.

Exactly. That's why I got lucky that I came from a family of drummers, because if not, I never would've picked it. I always wanted to play guitars since I was little. But my mom probably hated the fact that we were always playing drums in the house.

So why of all the locations to name your band after would you pick Somerset, New Jersey, if you guys are from Scottsdale?

[laughs]. Well, technically all we really did was just open up an atlas and saw a town called Somerset, and thought, "Hey, I kind of like that. But we can change it to Summer, like the season." And we're from Arizona, so we're known for our hot summer seasons, so I guess we just went with that.

So there's no additional meaning that you added on to give it extra meaning?

We did tack something on. There's actually a Beatles song called... I forget what it's called, but it's a long name. And they mention something summer set in there, meaning like a somersault? Like doing like a somersault or something. I dunno, John knows the meaning, 'cause I don't even know the Beatles song that it's from. But after we found that out, we started using it as part of our story, because everyone is a Beatles fan.