The Los Angeles indie folk singer-songwriter quickly attracts the “nano” emotions buried deep within the atomic structure of our subconscious on his latest album.
Out Friday via all streaming platforms, Negative Space reveals a microcosm of inner thoughts and deep revelations about failed relationships, reluctant confidants, unspoken feelings, hidden anxieties, turbulent endings, personal resignations, unexpected transitions and closed chapters.
“The overarching themes include a lot of regret and a lot of trepidation until we get to ‘Round January.’ Some of the songs are more personal in that sense than others, and others were more conceptual like ‘Cause for Concern,’ which I had thought of as an album name initially. I thought, ‘People are going to hear these songs, and they’re going to be concerned about my well-being,’” Summit said.
Summit poignantly addresses that fractured sense of well-being throughout Negative Space’s raw, honest 10 tracks. Despite a barrage of dark emotions and difficult experiences, each track moves Summit and listeners one step closer to stronger, wiser and better versions of themselves. Fittingly, Negative Space is akin to chronicling years of internal growth and self-acceptance in a 30-minute span.
“Most of the songs were written in a songwriting class at USC. Some of those came from specific prompts like ‘Round January.’ I probably wouldn’t have written that song had it not been for the prompt,” said Summit, who studied songwriting and graduated from the University of Southern California (USC) in May.
“Obviously, you always want them to sound personal, like on ‘Doomed from the Start.’ For that song, I was thinking about my first serious relationship, which started in high school, and how it didn’t last because it was all about learning how to be in a relationship.”
Being ‘Doomed from the Start’
Summit beautifully dissects that failed relationship during the stripped-down album opener, “Doomed from the Start,” as thoughtful acoustic strums, crashing cymbals, pounding drums, vibrant piano and trippy synths transport listeners back in time.
In tandem, Summit wistfully sings, “Neither your fault nor mine/We reached the end of the line, the inevitable decline/But now I see you complicate/Point fingers, try to implicate me in sealing your fate/Because the truth is always harder on the heart/The truth is we were doomed from the start.”
“When I look back on it, that relationship was doomed because of the age that we were and the lack of experience that we had. I was also thinking about how the relationship I’m in now is so great largely because of the lessons I learned from that first relationship,” he said.
In March, Summit released a brilliant ‘80s horror film-inspired video for “Doomed from the Start” – think “April Fool’s Day” meets “Scream.” Directed by Isaac Sanchez, the film noir-like video features college friends partying in an old, dark mansion as a bunny-masked serial killer stalks and awaits his unsuspecting victims.
“I met Isaac in a general education writing class. This one had this really awesome professor, and we were writing our academic essays on horror stories. Isaac and I hit it off because we had the same background and taste, and we ran into each other at a horror movie marathon. When I found out he was in the cinema school, I immediately wanted him to do it because he knew what I was talking about,” Summit said.
“Doomed from the Start” isn’t the only Negative Space track to embrace a lingering sense of pessimism and a growing sense of fatalism. The mesmerizing “How Does It End?” adds a William S. Burroughs-meets-Pink-Floyd twist over a 2.5-minute sonic vignette.
It weaves vivid acoustic strums, quiet lingering synths, intermittent pounding drums and echoing David Gilmour-esque vocals as Summit sings, “When darkness falls, where do you go/I always wonder, I never know/Turn the corner, round the bend/Where does it start, how does it end.”
“I was assigned to co-write with someone in my performance class, but he didn’t actually end up writing anything. He was a drummer, but he wasn’t a songwriter. I was trying to get the session going, and I was like, ‘Well, what do you want to write about?’ and he was like, ‘Well, I’m reading the ‘Naked Lunch’ right now, and it’s about a heroin addict.’ I’ve never read it, but I was like, ‘Let’s write about that,’” he said.
Entering the ‘Negative Space’
Outside of pessimism and fatalism, Summit explores the inner workings of depression on the haunting title track and latest single. Throughout “Negative Space,” deep retro synths, delicate drum taps, bright electric guitars, melodic flute and uplifting acoustic guitars seamlessly fuse against a scratchy warm vinyl sonic backdrop.
Then, Summit poignantly sings, “Friend I’ve seen that look before/It just gets worse the more you try to ignore/But fear not, I found a cure/Millions swear by it rest assured/Cuz I’m what’s left when the rest has been erased/Standing in negative space.”
“Obviously, you have ‘Negative Space’ in terms of visual illusions and use of ‘Negative Space’ in art, but I took that and kind of spatialized it. I made it an actual place, and that song was intended as a jingle for depression. It was trying to acknowledge the temptation of resignation and giving up and how appealing that sometimes sounds to just let yourself go,” said Summit, who also plans to record a “Negative Space” video with director Steven Wetrich later this year.
Summit entered the Negative Space for nearly six months in 2019. He recorded the tracks at two friends’ studios and later added overdubs, keys and synths before mixing it. His musical collaborators and backing bandmates in The Jars – Jeff Frantom (bass) and Jarren Heidelberg (drums) – performed on four of Negative Space’s 10 tracks.
Unlike his previous albums, including 2018’s Summer Cold and 2016’s Gunpowder Tracks, Summit’s Negative Space emphasized thoughtful studio experimentation over spontaneous demo-based arrangements. It was a welcoming artistic departure for the studio veteran who started recording his own music at age 15.
“This time, I was writing songs for the past couple years that ended up on this album. I didn’t really demo them at all and that opened it up for a lot more experimentation in the studio. I planned a lot less. I had ideas and stuff that I had arranged with my band, but I had everything in my head instead of having these really specific things that we had to go back and copy,” he said.
Coming ‘Round January’
Earlier this year, Summit released his first Negative Space single, “‘Round January,” as a somber wintry anthem for overcoming parental loss and seasonal depression. It blends sorrowful acoustic strums and delicate drum taps with bright electric and slide guitars into a Wilco-like world.
Summit optimistically sings, “I hope one day I can tell you this won’t last/And be right/Cuz I know how you get when the sun sets early/But there’s a better way/There must be surely/But maybe you’ll make it out alive/Maybe you’ll just survive.”
“It’s specifically the month my dad died, and it’s also when I introduce the song now, and what makes it more broadly applicable to different people’s lives is seasonal depression. I probably experienced that unknowingly since before my dad died, you know the melancholy of those months, especially like the line, ‘when the sun sets early,’” he said.
Summit learned to survive musically while growing up in a creative Santa Monica household. His late father was an actor and musician while his mother wrote poetry and hosted literary events at Ruskin Group Theatre.
As a child, Summit listened to Janis Joplin, the Monterey Pop Festival, Brian Wilson, Elliott Smith, The Phantom of the Opera and Jon Brion. He also started singing Johnny Cash songs and playing guitar with his dad at local coffee shops until age nine. Three years later, he started writing songs, and eventually released his first two albums during high school.
Now, five albums later, Summit continues to write and record new music, especially after spending more than two months in quarantine. It served as creative, yet challenging time to put pen to paper and mind to music.
“I don’t have a home studio or anything, but I have plenty gear and stuff and the space to be creative. It’s really about making the time and the effort, but writing is not the most fun part. The process is really hard, but then you get something you’re really happy with. I mean, there’s plenty of time,” Summit said.