THE DANGEROUS SUMMER are back and better than ever. It’s a biased opinion — especially when coming from someone who was admittedly devastated by their mutual breakup in 2014 — but you can’t argue with facts. The Maryland trio have spent the last few years on their own projects, both musical and personal, and now AJ Perdomo (bass), Ben Cato (drums), and Matt Kennedy (guitar) have re-established themselves and to the point where they have everything they need. But with their fourth studio album being an appropriately self-titled effort, they’ve most importantly become the band we all wanted them to be.
In many ways, The Dangerous Summer (out on Hopeless Records) represents a new page for the group. From a sonic perspective, the essence of their sound is still very much present — from their candid storytelling to the way its backed by instrumentals that swell and tug on your heartstrings. Songs like “Valium” show Perdomo’s visceral vocal ability still stands the test of time while others, like “Ghosts” and “Luna”, experiment with a new pace and articulate how much the band have grown. They’re still the same dudes that crush beers in their van before shows (“When I Get Home”) — they’ve just decided to “follow their hearts” and approach their new found rebirth with humility and gratitude.
We met up with AJ, Ben, and Matt prior to their current tour run to find out what they’ve been up to, how their eponymous release came to be, and what’s different this time around. Turns out, it’s not that they have to create music; it’s become something they want to do, now and more than anything else.
Change is an undeniable part of life, but it’s how you handle it which determines whether or not it will have a positive or negative impact on you. Do you agree?
AJ Perdomo: 100%. I think we’re at that point in this band where that became very clear. This is all a big change for us. We thought it was over; we didn’t know if this would happen again and change was needed. Obviously we are a three-piece now and we’ve never felt better as a band — now that we’ve shaved off that piece of ourselves that wasn’t working. We’re free and wild and crazy.
Ben Cato: Hell yeah! It just feels like we’re opening up. We all got in a room together and started writing, and shit just started coming together on its own after we had let stuff breathe.
Matt Kennedy: We were really confined to a box before with our former bandmate; he was very judgmental of everything we were doing.
Do you think personal growth always follows change? Or is that part optional?
AJ: I think they go hand in hand. As you change, you experience personal growth. Everyday I feel like you have personal growth and you can’t do anything without it. We’re slowly moving along every single day regardless of whether we know it or not. But you hit those significant points in life where you’re like, “Damn, shit has really changed”, and that’s what you grow the most from. Again, this record was such a big moment of personal growth for all of us.
Do you remember the moment when it was decided that The Dangerous Summer would be a band again?
AJ: Absolutely. I remember calling them. We were originally getting offers for festivals, and we realized we could go make some money and play some shows, and we had been wanting to play shows again. But then we decided we should just make an album, follow with our hearts, and go from there.
Matt: It seemed like it was the right time to get fully back together. Everyone who we had talked to said “Screw just doing a festival. If you’re feeling like it’s right, just start it again”.
AJ: The universe was speaking to us. We could feel that energy.
Ben: And those kids never left! It was crazy.
Matt: AJ had always said to us that if he ever decided he wanted to do this again, he would call Ben and I, and we would get it fired back up. We never knew if that would happen as we didn’t really speak a ton. He was busy being a father and working.
AJ: I had kind of entered my own little bubble. I lived in “Perfect-Land”, but there came a time in my life where I needed to jump off that cliff, so I jumped.
Matt and Ben — what have you two been up to the past few years?
Ben: Matt and I had other bands that we were working on; just grinding that out and taking it a day at a time. It was Christmas eve when I got a call. It was AJ and he was just like, “Now’s the time”. And I was like, “Shit man, I’ll be on a plane tomorrow!”.
Matt: There wasn’t even a hesitation the second he asked. My answer was “Fuck yes, dude”, because we had been waiting for years.
AJ: And then it just snowballed. It started with an album. Then we realized we loved doing this again and we wanted to play some shows, do some tours, quit our jobs (laughs). We fell so far back in love with it and with ourselves as a band that we really couldn’t just say no.
Was reestablishing the connection you had as a band challenging after the hiatus?
AJ: We picked up exactly where we left off; there was no blip or anything. The boys came into town and we started writing music right away — the songs just flowed. There were no issues as everything was easy, and nothing has ever been so easy.
Matt: It just came together. We were self-funding this in the beginning; before we even showed Hopeless the first demos, we paid for our own plane tickets to go back and forth to L.A. to hang out with AJ and start writing again. We took a chance because we didn’t know if this would work. I had some airline miles left over, so I figured I’d just pull the fucking trigger (laughs).
How did focusing on your personal lives change your perspective and your purpose as musicians?
AJ: I think for me, personally, it brought me back down to reality and life as a person. We were on tour for so long and grinding it out — you almost become really cocky and really fucked in the head as you get this jaded view of the world. I was in this very negative place. When I got out of there and I was on the streets to find a job and help feed my family — to be theirs and to be the fucking anchor for my family… everything changes. You have to work so fucking hard. It dragged me back down to earth, and I thank God for the moment that my daughter was born because it pulled me out of that world. Now I’m re-entering it with a totally different purpose and a different frame of mind.
Ben: It’s been nice to be at home and work for a little bit because it gives you perspective. Now we’re out and we can really stop and smell the roses instead of just doing it at a million miles an hour and not having time to enjoy what’s happening.
AJ: It’s like the saying “the grass is always greener on the other side”. I don’t know about them, but as a touring musician I dreamed of a life at home. I just wanted to go home, hang out, and do that normal shit for a while, but once you get there you just want to go back out touring. You’re always going to fight that battle of what you love.
Arguably balance is the key to longevity. Do you think you have found a way to balance the personal with the professional?
Matt: I hope so (laughs).
AJ: I think so, but we haven’t really got that far into it (laughs).
Matt: We’ve been begging our booking agents to put us on the road for the entire year. We want to be gone as much as possible because we want to push ourselves and test ourselves and see how far we can take this. We might get sick of it halfway through the year but we’re going to push through it anyways. I feel like this is the right time for everything.
AJ: Right now the energy is alive! We just made this album and we’re stoked. The shows have been so good and we’re selling out crazy places. We need to do this. This is where our hearts are.
Matt: Talking to people every night is insane — like people are spilling their hearts out at the merch table. Hearing people say how much this band means to them is pretty awesome.
AJ: Especially coming from normalcy and a normal job — you’re not used to this world where people want to say thank you. But we’re really thankful to them for coming out.
We’ve also realized relationships are important. We used to be that band where we didn’t value relationships as much and we could be arrogant, and even assholes at times. We looked up to people like Stephan Jenkins [of Third Eye Blind] — rock star mentality people. But it’s horrible and it’s a toxic way of life and a toxic way of thinking. You’ve got to hold on to every hand you shake, make those relationships, and just be friends with everybody. The world is a beautiful place.
Four albums in, why was this the record that deserved to be self-titled?
AJ: We came into it saying we were going to make a self-titled album, and it set the precedence that this needs to be the “fucking balls to the wall, best fucking thing ever”. We set that bar at the beginning — this is going to be The Dangerous Summer. I pulled some influence from Paramore. Hayley Williams is sort of the last person in that band, but to her the energy of the band isn’t dead — they are Paramore and Paramore is what they’re doing.
I felt the exact same way. This is who we are, us three as people, and we want to tell people that this is it, and this is how we are moving forward. I think we really hit the nail on the head and we couldn’t be happier with the new record. People are loving it, and that’s so awesome. We were sitting on this record for like six months (laughs).
How did you approach the writing process for this album?
AJ: We did a lot of different things, but our favourite way is when we all sit in a practice space and we just create. We throw an idea out there and we start rolling with it. We bounce off each other and there’s this chemistry and this feeling in the air, and we know were we’re all headed – we essentially just jam out. Sometimes one of us comes to the table with a part and we go from there, but I think the most organic songs on the album are us three just riding the wave.
Matt: We would have a Pro Tools rig set up right next to where we were jamming. So if we had an idea and we were ready for it, we would literally throw mics on the kit and start recording.
AJ: We would record everything. I think that’s the most important thing we learned — to always have the tape rolling because you’re going to play something that’s magic. We would go back to the first take, almost every time, and be like, “This was magic, that’s where it’s at”. Then we’d build from there.
Ben: It was cool to re-demo some of those as well because the ideas became more and more refined. Then we built the actual recording sessions off the demo sessions so we didn’t lose that energy from the practice space. I loved doing that.
Matt: We hardly changed anything in the studio either. We met our producer [James Paul] Wisner right when we got down there so it took a minute to get acclimated to his style. But once we did, he’d let us do whatever we wanted because he knew how he could help.
AJ: He was more a sonic person. He wanted “the sound” whereas we wanted “the songs”.
It is amazing that after all these years apart you guys were able to come back together and reestablish that chemistry so quickly.
AJ: The first song on the record, “Color” — we wrote it on the first day we actually got together to write this album. It just went off. It was crazy.
Is there a song on the album that’s particularly special to you?
AJ: All of them are to me, personally (laughs). I poured my heart out. But definitely “Luna” — that song is for my daughter. That’s a special song and it holds the best place in my heart. But really, all the songs. I don’t fuck around (laughs). I just pour and pour, and there’s nothing I’d ever say that I don’t mean or I don’t feel. This really is our genuine selves. If you flipped us inside out, this is what we would look like.
Matt: I think “Ghost” is a special one for me because it marked the first time we had ever really explored that half-tempo, stripped-down kind of sound. That’s the shit I grew up listening to, and it’s awesome. That’s my song.
I really love both of those songs. I especially love the lyric from “Luna” that goes “You are the architect to all your dreams”. It won’t be long before fans get that tattooed on themselves!
AJ: We come up with this stuff, but it comes alive when people hear it. That’s the thing about waiting with this record for so long. We love these songs, but as soon as people start hearing them you feel it in the universe and you feel this energy. We’ve slowly started figuring out what songs people want to hear live. We started playing “This Is Life” and sometimes “Color” — we’ve been mixing it up. Our fans give these songs energy and it’s not even about what we feel, it’s about what they feel because it breathes a new life into them.
Did you ever experience any feelings of doubt or nervousness because you have been sitting on this album for a while?
AJ: Hell yeah.
Matt: We were nervous as fuck. When you return, you get signed on the same record label you had before, and there’s this expectation where your fans expect a certain level and they’re the first ones to turn it down if they don’t like it. Kids can be brutal online.
AJ: We haven’t been in the music industry for forever, so we’re calling up our record label being like, “Why haven’t you guys emailed us in the past month? Where the fuck is everyone? Where is our manager? Our booking agent?”. We were freaking out internally because we were lost in outer space until this album came out, but now the energy is flying. Our booking agents are booking in the other half of this tour, so we’ll be hitting even more cities. Waiting has driven us nuts for the past several months.
Since you’ve been reconnecting with so many fans on this tour, have any of their stories really made a strong impact on you?
Ben: At my hometown show in Atlanta, this dad stopped me before the show had even started. He told me he was there with his five-year-old kid — who he was teaching to play drums — and that I was his kid’s hero. It was so humbling, it was crazy. We took some pictures and stuff, but after the gig I wanted to find that kid and give him a drumstick or talk with him or something as that’s the next generation. That’s so sick if you can influence someone enough to want to start playing and maybe one day that kid will be where we are now. Or maybe even bigger, you just don’t know. That one really hit me hard. That kid was vibing hard and it was awesome.
AJ: I think we’ve all heard a lot of really insane inspirational stories but this one guy in Boston told me that “Never Feel Alone” helped him confront his sexuality. It helped him come out of the closet. He had tears in his eyes as he was telling me about the way that song changed his life. I listen to that song now and I think about what was going through his head at the time, and how he may have related to the lyrics and it really blows my mind. Sometimes people give our songs way more meaning than I even had in the first place. And that’s magic, that’s art, that’s music.
It must be really rewarding to know your work impacts people in such a meaningful way.
AJ: I think about my heroes and the people who got me through shit over the years when I was a kid listening to music in high school. We all looked up to these people to help us, and now there’s a generation of people looking up to us. Like damn, how did we get here?
Do you consider this a new beginning for The Dangerous Summer? Or is it a continuation of where you left off?
AJ: It’s a bit of both. It feels like nothing ever stopped. It feels like we finally just came back and released an album after dealing with some shit at home for the past four years. But at the same time, it is a fresh start and everything is different, and we are coming into this with a different attitude and it’s a different vibe completely. It’s hard to categorize, which is why I would say both. We don’t want it to be simply that we’re getting back together — we didn’t finish our story as we got cut off. Our hands were fucking cut off! (Laughs) Now it just feels so good to be here.
Matt: It’s like another chance at life. It’s pretty crazy.