Music

‘Damn, did we just glow up?’: The Summer Set’s Jess Bowen on returning from hiatus better than before

"It feels so much better being back together and growing in our own ways and going off and doing things personally and professionally and seeing what else was out there. We appreciate this much more after that."

Most middle school students don’t want to go to school, let alone go early. But Jess Bowen, drummer for the pop rock band The Summer Set, wasn’t like most middle school students—she wanted to get to school as early as the teachers did so she could play music.

“I was involved in jazz band in middle school, and I remember going to school early just to play different drum kits,” says Bowen on the phone from Columbus. “My music teacher would get annoyed because I would constantly ask him, ‘What time are you getting here tomorrow?’ I would go in and bring my Walkman and play whatever song I was into at the time and play along with it. I thought it was the most fun thing in the world.’’

All of the years of getting up early to bang on the drums got Bowen what she wanted: a career in music. In addition to her work in The Summer Set, she has been a drummer for Lights, Tessa Violet and 3OH3!. It’s been a journey for Bowen and a drum kit, but it almost didn’t work out that way. She wanted to play guitar, but her father promised her that he would get her a guitar only if she tried the drums first.

“I thought to myself that girls didn’t play drums, and I wanted to play guitar or sing,” explains Bowen. “I wanted to play anything else besides drums. My dad said he would get me a guitar if I played the drums. He kind of conned me because he never got me a guitar. Once I started playing the drums, I fell in love with it.’

In middle school, Bowen started a Blink-182 cover band with future Summer Set bandmates John Gomez (guitar) and Stephen Gomez (bass). Few things remain the same since eighth grade, but the three of them playing music together certainly has, despite some bumps in the road and a hiatus. 

“Stephen and I have known each other since sixth grade,” explains Bowen. “John, his little brother, was two years younger than us, and when you’re in eighth grade you don’t really want to hang out with sixth graders. But one day John came to practice and we made him sit in the corner, and then he started messing around on the guitar. He was better than the guitarist we had, and we decided John was going to be in the band. The Blink-182 cover band made us love music.

“We also grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, and there weren’t a lot of people our age starting bands, and we bonded because of that. We decided to stick together because we were on the same page, and enjoyed playing together.”

But before Bowen could put her foot in the music game, she had some saves to make. She was a soccer goalie throughout her childhood and received scholarship offers. Bowen ultimately decided to pursue a career in music instead. 

“I do miss playing soccer, and it could have been a path I took in life,” says Bowen. “But because of how intense I was about it at a young age, I got burnt out by the time I was getting ready to go to college. At that time music became more of my passion, and it was obvious that I should pursue my music dream. My other dream was to make the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. Being a musician or a professional soccer player are both hard things to be successful at. But I was more excited by music and even if I was broke, I knew I would like being a musician better than being a professional soccer player.

“I don’t know if there’s any correlation between being a drummer and being a goalie, but it feels the same. I would never want to be a star on the team in soccer like Alex Morgan. I want to be the one who is in the back and saves a goal from going in, similar to how on stage I hold down the fort and set the rhythm of the band, but I don’t need to be front and center.”

With the soccer dream put aside, Bowen was able to dedicate her time fully to the band, which meant, in large part, spending time on MySpace. Any band that started out during the mid to late 2000s spent some time promoting their music and booking shows through MySpace and The Summer Set was no different.

“Without MySpace, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” says Bowen. “We used MySpace as a building block to gain fans. We added people and had our music on the page and it’s how we would connect with people. We treated MySpace as a job, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., we would meet up at someone’s house and spend the day on MySpace. We would add people and tell them to check our music, and we would return comments. I feel like we built up a fanbase that way and it wasn’t robotic. One of those people we added ended up giving us our first record deal.’’

The Summer Set went as hard in real life as they did on MySpace, and they toured constantly throughout the 2010s. But burnout and exhaustion doesn’t abide by how much you love what you do, and eventually it came for The Summer Set, who went on a hiatus in 2017.

But in 2021, the band reunited and released a single called, “Back Together in December.” Bowen felt more refreshed coming back to The Summer Set after the break.

“I don’t think we wrote off coming back together, but it didn’t feel like it was on anyone’s agendas,” says Bowen. “Brian (Dales, vocals) reached out to me, and then we all reconnected in our own personal ways. It feels so much better being back together and growing in our own ways and going off and doing things personally and professionally and seeing what else was out there. We appreciate this much more after that. This is the healthiest we have ever been. I’m like, ‘Damn, did we just glow up?’”

For The Summer Set, glowing up meant working out a ton, and it’s not a surprise that the band is the healthiest it’s been. They even brought workout equipment on tour.

“I take better care of myself now,” says Bowen. “Before we went on hiatus, I think… no, I definitely was drinking too much. I wasn’t working out back then, but now I do. I love the high that I get from working out. Even though it’s 100 degrees most days on tour, we brought weights, dumbbells, yoga mats and weight bands with us. People see us working out everyday, and I feel like I glew up from working out. We are also more responsible now, and take care of ourselves more. When we started, we were on tour for nine months of the year and we didn’t take care of ourselves. Now I have a better understanding on how to be healthy on the road.”

Another project that Bowen started when The Summer Set was on hiatus was her podcast Babes Behind the Beats, which highlights women and non-binary people in the music industry.

“I wanted to focus on a community that is overlooked,” explains Bowen. “We are a little more rare in this industry. We talked to women photographers, techs and engineers. We are still talking to female musicians, but I find it interesting to talk to other people in the industry. Throughout my career, young women would come up to me at shows asking about getting into the industry. I would be so lost and didn’t know where to start, and it’s not like they wanted to be on stage. I think this podcast is a nice outlet to give people an insight on how people are where they are today.

“We need to show young women around the country that women can do these jobs, and women should be hired for these jobs. We can do them and do them better most of the time.”

For most of the spring, Bowen went on tour with pop singer Lights as her drummer, and the touring crew was split between six women and six guys. For Bowen, not being the only woman on tour was a welcome change. 

“It was so incredible having that female camaraderie on the bus,” explains Bowen. “It was great having six men and six women. It was a different understanding with the women on tour and we could talk about things that I wouldn’t have told the guys in my band, and they would be like, ‘Ooh, that’s gross or TMI.’ But, vice-versa guys on tour can say whatever the fuck they want in front of women and times are changing. It used to feel like I had to be one of the guys whereas now I’m like, ‘No, I’m a woman, I want to be a woman, and this is who I am and accept me for who I am.’”

Even though Bowen drums for a lot of different artists, the process of drumming is pretty much universal whether it’s for 3OH3! or the Summer Set. 

“The process is pretty much the same,” explains Bowen. “I spend a couple weeks before rehearsal learning the songs the best I can, and find my style within the songs. For example, someone like Tess Violet—who is indie/pop, who is different from someone like 3OH3!—I still bring a hard-hitting rock live style to her set to try to liven it up. I try not to go too crazy though and I wouldn’t do Travis Barker fills for a pop artist, but I would do it for 3OH3! 

Bowen will be banging on the drums on Friday, July 29, at the Stone Pony Summer Stage when The Summer Set comes to Asbury Park for the Sad Summer Festival. Coincidentally the previous band that Bowen and the Gomez brothers were part of was called Last Call for Camden, and after that band dispersed, her and the Gomez brothers started The Summer Set. 

The name Summer Set comes from when the band opened an atlas and landed on Somerset, a Central Jersey county that is home to tons of shopping centers, mansions and the Yankees double-A team. They changed the name from Somerset to Summer Set and the rest is history. With their coincidental Jersey roots, the band is looking forward to playing in the Garden State. 

“We all love the Stone Pony and it’s a legendary venue,” says Bowen. “We have never done this Stone Pony outdoor stage thing and we’re excited to experience it. Our Jersey shows that we have done in the past are some of the best shows we play, right up there with New York and Los Angeles.

In September, The Summer Set will be dropping part one of their new album, Blossom. So far the songs have been well received by fans.

“Expect some awesome rock songs,” says Bowen about the upcoming album. “I’m stoked for everyone to hear it, and it’s the best that we ever sounded. It’s kind of like of going back to our roots, and it’s a mix of our previous albums Love Like This and Stories For Monday. It has the rock drums and rock guitar, but with great melodies with the pop elements that we bring to each song.” 

The Summer Set will be playing at the Sad Summer Festival at the Stone Pony Summer Stage on July 29. Ticket information can be found here.

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