A Warm Sound

As an independent musician, Rigby Summer has lived and traveled around America from Kansas City with its jazz roots and the poppy sounds in southern California to her current home in Stillwater, Oklahoma, which is a place of possibilities for her. It was in 2017 that she stepped away from music, but came back to it in the fall of 2020 to produce a short cover EP “Dancing Alone” with Kyle Reid.

Now, Summer has knitted a warm and heartfelt sound that brings true harmony and thoughtful songs to her debut release Geography. Having coproduced this album with Kyle Reid; the songs such as “Hold On” and “NY or LA” are lyrical stories that reach out and sing of the struggles people encounter in their lives. Summer is a gifted songwriter with a matching voice that is a blessing to experience. Her musical influences according to her website span from “Mary Chapin Carpenter to The Frames, Sia Furler to Johnny Cash, and her sound often draws comparisons to Brandi Carlile and Lucinda Williams.” In this interview Summer talks about her determination in her music and life.

Jupiter Index: The debut record of an artist is always a milestone for them. Talk about how this new release came about for you, and what was the recording process like?

Rigby Summer: By the time we started work on Geography I had been back to playing music publicly for just over a year and for the first time I had people asking me regularly when I would have something recorded. I met several folks in that year or so with whom I almost produced the record, but never felt settled until I met and got to play a show with Kyle Reid. I remember talking to my friend and fellow songwriter Bill Scorzari that summer about my plans to record. I said “I’m ready. I have it all sorted except the personnel.” His reply? “Then you’re not ready.” I’m so glad I listened to that advice and held out because when I met Kyle it was immediately clear that he was the right fit. He hears music in a similar way to me and so it took little explanation to describe what I wanted from the songs. He was just starting to produce others’ music and so he offered a lot of flexibility and space to make sure we got things just right. Overall it was such a fun and rewarding experience.

Jupiter Index: You have said on your website that “When Kyle Reid and I set to work on this album, I had written more than 30 songs that were worthy of recording. Of the songs we chose, many of them represent geographical locations from the road I've traveled. More importantly, each one also marks a specific snapshot--a postcard from my emotional and spiritual journey to this place in time, starting with the first keeper song I ever wrote and ending with the last song I finished before we started.” Talk about the first song and the last track of your debut record? What makes those two songs the footing for this special release?

Rigby Summer: Thematically I ultimately appreciated that using these songs as the bookends for the album meant that we opened with a song about the fear and anxiety of stepping into the unknown of loving another and closed with one about the hope and openness of the same situation.
But to be honest, that was a happy accident--I wanted this to feel like great albums of the past, the kind of albums that sound like a story, with sonic exposition, development, climax and resolution. To me, the way Kyle helped me nail my vision for “The Weight” (the opener) felt like the opening scene of a movie. And then, even though it “Gibson Guitar” has an end credits feel to it, I love that the final chord doesn’t resolve, giving a feeling that the story continues and, much like real life, there is no perfect ending or resolution...and even so, that final chord holds so much hope--a far cry from the uncertainty of what you’ve heard just 40 minutes before.

Jupiter Index: How did the song “NY and LA” come about for you and what was the songwriting process like for you and Jeff Brown and Arthur Rossi?

Rigby Summer: Oh, this was a fun one. It’s the only co-write on the record. Jeff has been a friend for a long time and we both have participated in February Album Writing Month several times. Arthur is also a longtime participant, but he lives in Austria so we’ve never actually met--or even spoken! He’s not a musician, but he is a prolific lyricist so every year he posts loads of lyric sets and opens them up for collaboration. In 2017, I saw “NY or LA” in his list and I thought “well, I’ve spent time in both of those places” and when I started reading the lyrics I heard the song in my head. I will admit that some of his first draft lyrics, even some that I kept, (laughing) sounded a little stalker-ish to me--so I re-wrote some of them and added a verse to shift the feeling to something more about two people who care about each other very much but for whatever reason emotionally, spiritually, mentally or even physically they may as well be on opposite sides of the country and one party may have to just wait it out patiently--that seems like a pretty universal theme that permeates a lot of different types of relationships.

It was almost done, but I just was not satisfied with it. I felt like it needed something to really drive the point home, but another verse felt like too much. About that time, Jeff came to visit and play a show with me the week of Folk Alliance and he just said “Yeah, it needs a bridge--take it to A minor.” He supplied the chords and helped me find the melody and I found the words to tie it all together “You tell me that you needed space, I’m just waiting for the day you bring your weary heart to me and say...”

Jupiter Index: What guitar do you use when you perform and in the recording studio? (What is your rig like and what strings do you use?)

Rigby Summer: Oh gosh, as far as acoustic, I’ve been playing the same green Takamine for twenty years! I love that old guitar. The guitar I learned on didn’t have a pickup so I bought it from a guy named Justin Hulsey when we were both in college at Kansas State--I love that because he is also still an active performing songwriter in Los Angeles, so between the two of us there are some good vibes in that guitar. Every now and again we cross paths and he asks if I'm still playing it. I’ve mostly been using basic D’Addario strings. I love the balance of their sound and they are crazy-durable!

As for electric, an Ibanez Art Core hollow body made its way to me in the summer of 2017 and totally changed the way I write and play. On the record I play it through Kyle’s Fender Deluxe Reverb and it is just do dreamy. But I tour solo a LOT and hauling a delicate $1500 amp around in my minivan in all climates is just not feasible so last summer I invested in some rad Ernie Ball expresison pedals--Tremolo, Overdrive and Ambient Delay. The combo lets me mimic some of my favorite features of a Deluxe or Princeton Reverb without the liability and added weight. I used that pedal combo on Dancing Alone, the “holiday adjacent” EP we produced and released last fall.

Jupiter Index: Where does your love of music come from?

Rigby Summer: That’s hard to say. It’s something that feels like it’s always been there. I came from a musical family but that was rooted in a more liturgical church tradition--my grandpa on my mom’s side was a great organist and so was my mom’s oldest sister. I was kind of a weird kid--when I was in elementary school and all the girls were making up dances to pop music, I went home and listened to oldies. I loved all of it, from the old girl groups from my parents’ generation to the rock and folky singer songwriter. I wanted to be one of the Shirelles. But I also could sing every word of “American Pie”....as a fifth grader! And it’s funny because while it seems like the radio was always on in our house, I don’t know that my parents consider themselves mad music fans in the sense that some folks are. But maybe there is power in that--the idea that music is just part of life. There must be because my brother was a huge music aficionado. We both loved music enough that there were other adults in our lives that fed us music more directly, especially my mom’s best friend, Mary. She bonded with my brother over his love for the Beatles and with me when I started to love Mary Chapin Carpenter--she taped off all of her MCC CDs so I could hear them and I wore those tapes out. Memorized every line and imagined myself in her stories.

Jupiter Index: Can you share what you would like people to know about you and your music?

Rigby Summer: I feel massively grateful to finally be spending most of my time and energy pursuing something I love so much. And it lights me up to see other people find their way home in the same way--most of the time the external restrictions we think are holding us back are just limiting beliefs we’ve imposed on ourselves. I wish I’d learned that earlier, but in the end I realized that these songs have been gifted and entrusted to me so I feel a responsibility to share them with others with the hope that they will see themselves in some of these songs and stories and find encouragement.

by G.M. Burns