Feature: A Summer High
by Ellena Whitfield
Fiftyone West is a quaint coffee shop in Tempe during the day. From 7:00 AM to 1:00 PM, customers can come in and try an array of drinks from hot tea to locally brewed coffee. But as soon as the sun goes down, the tables are cleared out and the shop turns into a free-for-all for underground bands and artists to come play. The dismantled coffee bar in one back corner, makeshift merch tables in the other, and ankle-high stage allows for intimate shows to take place. Attendees feel as though they’re jamming out to some pop-punk in a neighbor’s garage down the street. The vibes of the night so far were chill and laid-back, but the energy in the room was about to pick up as quickly as tonight’s opening band finally made out it to the wild, wild west.
East Coast natives A Summer High ventured to the west for the first time ever in support of singer/rapper CallMeKarizma on his 2017 Gloomy Tour. The tour kicked off last week, and already the boys of A Summer High have seen new sights, met new people, and checked childhood dreams off their bucket-lists.
“[We’re going] to 15 new cities on this tour,” bassist and vocalist Mason Levi said. “It’s been great. The west coast is very new and exciting.”
“Everything is so different here than the East Coast,” guitarist and vocalist Luke Oxendale added.
The band opened their set with ‘Kiss Me Gently’ from their latest release, Pretty Little Liar. The crowd was already rowdy, but A Summer High was just getting started.
Arizona was uncharted territory for the four boys, aged 18 to 20 years old. The East Coast was something which, at this point in their careers, the band knew like the back of their hands. The band’s last tour was through New England and the Midwest supporting 7 Minutes in Heaven with The Millenium. But before that, the members of A Summer High grew up, met, and became the band they are today on that side of the United States, a very long way from Tempe, Arizona.
A Summer High officially formed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the spring of 2016. Besides the sibling relationship between the Oxendale brothers, the boys were all strangers until similar goals and a shared love of their favorite bands brought them together.
“None of us knew each other before this band started,” Levi said. “Luke and Noah grew up 40 minutes from where I lived, and all of our old bands ended at the same time. [Luke and I] found each other on Facebook and decided we wanted to form A Summer High. We got together and … we recorded [a cover of] ‘Good Girls’ by 5 Seconds of Summer.”
Guitarist and vocalist James Anthony, living in Minnesota at the time, was in the same boat.
“I was just about to leave [my old band] because it wasn’t the direction of music I wanted to go into,” Anthony said. “It was a metal band. I kind of just joined it to be in a band. Then I saw [Luke and Mason’s] cover and I hit them up. I was like, ‘This is crazy. I’m from Minnesota but that’s exactly what I want to do.’”
Levi and Oxendale bounced messages back and forth with Anthony until they eventually met up in person in Pittsburgh, and within hours the three boys wrote what was eventually going to be their first official release, “I Need You Here”.
“[W]e just knew that we were going to be a band that can flow together because we were able to write a song within hours,” Anthony said.
After playing off a few minor technical difficulties and encouraging the crowd to sing along and beat out the malfunctioning microphones, the band made smooth transitions between “Wasting Time” and “Sad Song”, both of which were released as a package earlier this year. Then, to slow things down just a little, A Summer High brought the crowd in close for “Do You Remember”, another track off the Pretty Little Liar EP. Before rolling into the heartfelt ballad, Levi explained how this song was about a breakup and remembering all the good things a relationship used to be. He then invited every fan to put their arm around the person beside them and appreciate their best friends.
The energy of the crowd picked right back up where it had left off as the band transitioned into “I Need You Here”. While Noah Oxendale carried the band through the first verse with a steady beat, Luke Oxendale, Levi, and Anthony began to really utilize their stage space. Though it was minimal, the three made the most of it with jumps, spins, and engagements with the fans in the front row.
To help get their names out there, A Summer High took to the road a few months after forming, following pop-rock band 5 Seconds of Summer on their Sounds Live Feels Live tour. From Buffalo, N.Y. to Chicago, I.L., Luke, Mason, and James played for 5SOS fans in the venues’ parking lots.
“We just didn’t want to get wrapped up in playing local shows to the same 40 kids over and over each month,” Anthony said. “We wanted to do something different that would get us somewhere … and we thought that was the best way we could possibly grow our band in the shortest amount of time.”
Apart from being a big inspiration to A Summer High, 5 Seconds of Summer had a fanbase that appealed to the band for a number of reasons.
“We wanted to find a band that had the best fan-base in the world and kind of try to tap into that,” Anthony said.
“We got so much recognition from that. Not only from the fans but the industry as well,” Levi added. “Right after we did that tour-follow we were invited to go to the Spotify headquarters in New York City … It changed the game for the rest of our careers … it’s still affecting what’s happening to us today.”
According to Levi, it wasn’t until the band was ready to really set things into motion that drummer Noah Oxendale, Luke’s younger brother, joined. And from that moment on, the quartet was complete.
Compared to the other tours they’ve completed in the past, the Gloomy Tour has been unique and special to the A Summer High boys for many reasons. This was their first time on the West Coast and their first time visiting places like Portland, San Francisco, and most importantly, Los Angeles. Though they are traveling to some of the biggest cities in the country, playing for brand new faces every night, the band has made it a priority to stay grounded and appreciate every day they spend on the road as much as possible.
“Last tour, we were touring in a Sprinter van with beds in it. It was nice. It was luxury,” Levi said. “This tour, we decided … let’s just tour in a Prius. So we’re legitimately touring in that Prius right over there.”
The Prius was not only the more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly option, but it has made this tour much more intimate than the last, according to Noah Oxendale.
“Driving in the Prius gives it a much more casual feel, rather than taking the van,” he said. “And because we’re traveling in a place we’ve never been for the first time, we’ve made it a point to try to stop places and sight-see, and really take in the fact that we’re all over the country.”
In was nearing the end of A Summer High’s first performance in Arizona, and the band took a moment to stray away from originals and cover a song that every person at Fiftyone West – whether they were willing to admit it or not – held near and dear to their hearts. As soon as Luke Oxendale played the first few notes of “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers, the entire room erupted into a frenzy of cheers and nostalgic laughter. For a few minutes, everybody was unified, with every single person dancing around and singing to the unforgettable lyrics.
A Summer High fans (or ASHers, as the band has dubbed them) are a crucial part of the band’s roots, their future, and everything in between. The bond that they have with their fans is so important to them, the boys make sure to maintain it every day they spend building up their careers.
“[T]he fans have totally formed exactly what this band is,” Levi said. “We all really, really care for each and every one of our fans and just the fact that they’ll support us and help us do things, like… I mean I’ve had a dream of going to LA since I was 6 years old and the only reason I was able to go was because of music. And they’re the reason music gets us places.”
Through social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Youtube, the boys of A Summer High interact with their fans on a daily basis. Whether they’re sharing news about upcoming releases, updating everyone on their lives, or just checking in, staying connected with the fans is part of the band’s daily routine.
“Just to show how unbelievable our fan-base is, we’ll have days where we’re feeling bad, and say we tweet something about being upset … there’s been days when they’ve gotten hashtags trending like ‘#feelbetterluke’ or ‘#feelbetterjames’,” Anthony said. “They are just the most inspiring and uplifting fans we could’ve ever asked for.”
Their set closes with fan-favorite and title track of their EP, “Pretty Little Liar.” With this being the band’s first time in Arizona, and the next time not yet set in stone, A Summer High made a lasting first impression on their Southwestern fans. By now the crowd is amped up for the next act, thanks to the high energy and positive feelings the band left on the small stage.
A Summer High is pop-rock’s newest additions, but they won’t be newbies for long. According to Levi, the band’s momentum is going to pick up in 2018 even quicker than it did this year.
“We can’t say too much, but we have really really big plans,” he said. “It’s gonna be high energy all next year. It’s gonna be a really, really big year, so we’re super excited.”
After the Gloomy Tour ends, the openers will take some time off the road, but they don’t want that to throw fans off. According to Noah Oxendale, the band will be spending that time writing new material, planning for the future, and making sure that everything is going according to plan. Considering where the band was just a year and a half ago, these “really, really big plans” could swing into motion sooner than we think. Until then, A Summer High and the rest of the Gloomy Tour gang finish up their trek through the west in Colorado and Texas before heading up north to New England and Canada. Keep an eye out for these guys in the near future, as they’re always welcome back to Arizona to share new music and bond over The Killers as much as they please.