Hot off the Press

Jon Stephenson of Digital Summer

by Matt Karpe
– Columnist —

Digital Summer is an extraordinary band.

Not only do they make highly energetic and infectious hard rock, but away from the stage and recording studio, all the members work full time jobs to pay the bills.

The band itself, who have released three studio albums thus far including last year’s excellent Breaking Point, already have a pedigree to envy. As an unsigned act, they amassed six singles that broke into major radio rotation, something relatively unheard of in today’s modern rock climate.

With various other accolades to their name, the future is bright for Digital Summer, and I caught up with guitarist Jon ‘Bubba’ Stephenson to talk about life in (and out) of the band.

Jon Stephenson of Digital SummerMatt: Hey Jon, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with me. How are you doing today?

Jon: Thanks for having me! I’m doing good! I’m just now trying to find some free time for myself! We’ve been pretty busy finishing up this acoustic album, and planning for some festival shows we have lined up!

Matt: Let’s get straight to it. You’ve been a part of Digital Summer for nearly 18 months now, how much are you enjoying it?

Jon: Man, it’s been awesome! There hasn’t been one expectation that I’ve had that hasn’t been met. Everybody clicks really well with personalities, music taste, etc. The tours we’ve had the past year have been the time of my life! I don’t have one complaint since I’ve joined…well maybe just one: we don’t tour 24/7, but I guess we all need breaks at some point, ha ha!

Matt: What was it like at the start, getting used to playing the old songs, especially live?

Jon: I guess the best way to describe it was that I was nervous and anxious all at once! I obviously wanted the parts to be 100% perfect before we played them live, but then again I wanted to just go out and do it! It took some time to relax, and play things how they are on the albums, but with my own style. It makes them a lot more fun to play live when I’m adding my own “flare” to it. I love playing all the new stuff off Breaking Point, but there are some older tunes (before I joined) that are more fun to play live.

Matt: Let’s talk about the new album. Breaking Point has been out a while now, how happy are you with how it turned out?

Jon: Breaking Point will have been out a year on August 7. It’s crazy to think that it really hasn’t even been out that long! It feels like we released it 2 years ago! The response that we’ve gotten from our fans has been amazing. Digital Summer obviously had its tied-in fan base with the previous albums, so it was a cool accomplishment for me to know that we gained a lot of new fans because they enjoyed work I was involved with. I was kind of nervous on how the die-hard fans would react to my guitar work on the album, and overall, it appears that everyone thinks it was amazing, and the album was overall a step up from the previous albums. It’s always good to hear that people notice how we grow as musicians.

Matt: As it was your first album recorded with DS, what was the experience like?

Jon: It was a pretty cool, unique experience. When the writing process began, I was actually still living in another state than the rest of the band. I had a few months left until I graduated college, so in the meantime, we wrote Breaking Point by sending mp3 files of ideas back and forth to each other. I would fly out to Phoenix (where the band is from) about 3 times, and we had some rehearsals and more writing sessions. When it came time to go to the studio, I flew out to meet the guys in New York. It was basically an e-mail writing process for my guitar parts, pack up, and hope I knew all the parts when I met everybody at the studio!

Matt: I read that the album was released with the help of the Pledge Music scheme; you got such a great response from your fans. That must make you happy to know how much they love and support the band?

Jon: We actually used I’m sure it’s the same idea/format. It was unreal the response we got! We set our goal for $25,000 in one month’s time to complete & distribute the album. We ended up raising $51,000+. It was unreal how drastically money started coming in from ALL OVER THE WORLD! I remember us texting each other with exciting stuff like “Did you see someone from Australia just donated $20,000?!?!”

To answer the question, the term “happy” was an understatement on how we felt about that. Our fans truly are amazing, and we prove that we really appreciate everything they’ve done for us by hanging out with them at shows, inviting them for private acoustic performances on our bus, responding to their tweets, emails, texts, and phone calls. When we say we love our fans, we genuinely mean it! I would rank our fans as #1, even compared to the fans of platinum-selling artists. Hands down, no questions asked.

Matt: One thing I have noticed, especially in the US and Canada, the radio stations that are dedicated to hard rock/metal do such an amazing job in promoting new bands and bands who are on the rise. DS have a pretty damn good chart history regarding the success of the singles released. I guess the radio has played a big part in helping you get the success you have thus far?

Jon: That’s actually a double-edged sword. Radio obviously has a huge play in building artists’ names and success. However, if a band or artist plans on relying on radio alone to build a fan base, they might as well quit their career. NOTHING comes easy in the music world, especially in the rock world, where sales are at an all-time low and bands always struggle to stay relevant and survive. We’ve been very fortunate to stay afloat and build new fans across the world.

If you are a hard working band with good, catchy songs, you have to put yourself out there to get noticed. Once that happens, it does seem like radio stations are more perceptive to you and the “product” you are offering. We’ve been on several tours where we made radio station stops at stations that had never heard of us, but when we show them our charting success, fan base numbers, etc., they are all really impressed. Once that door is open, they tend to take you way more seriously! This industry is all about building those relationships that can take your career further and further.

Matt: It’s a shame the UK doesn’t have the same support system like that. We get occasional programs focusing on rock and metal, but there isn’t enough support. I also like that the US/Canada is playing a big part in keeping single releases popular.

Jon: I wouldn’t know off hand, but that’s crazy you mention that. I’ve seen a lot of DVDs and tour pictures from bands touring the UK (and Europe, in general), and it seems like the rock fans over there are die hard! I guess that’s the irony: our perception is that the UK has more/better die-hard rock fans than the US. To us, it seems like music over there is a necessity in life, and not just something that’s accessible when the public wants it or feels like it.

Don’t get me wrong, the rock fans in the US kick ass, but there is that stagnant demographic of people who are like “ehh…I like the band, but I’m not sure I’d go to a show or buy a CD.”

Matt: If we can, let’s talk a bit about your life outside of DS. Being in a band isn’t your only job right?

Jon: That’s correct. All the guys in the band have day jobs. Kyle (singer) is a firefighter/paramedic, his brother Ian (guitarist) is a flight medic, Anthony ‘Guido’ Hernandez (bassist) is still in college getting his degree, and he works as a bartender. I probably have the most boring job. Yes, I am an accountant. I have 2 college degrees, crunch numbers, and sit at a desk all day! A lot of people are surprised when they hear this about us because we have a pretty established name in the rock music world, yet we still work day jobs. The public perception about “rock stars” is that we still live these lavish lifestyles with fancy tour busses, endless booze, and big bank accounts. That ended around 1990, haha!

The band does well, financially, but we all work day jobs to support our addiction for music and keeping the Digital Summer machine going. We are not, and will never be, one of those bands who tours non-stop just to appear to be “rock stars” or to look as if “we’ve made it” because we’re always on the road. That is just stupid, and a waste of time and money. Everything we do is strategic and for the betterment of ourselves and the band.

Matt: So how do you all find the time to meet up and rehearse, and how do your employers feel about your extended breaks when you go on tour, they must be some of the best bosses!!??

Jon: It’s hard, but we make it work. We all live pretty close to each other and to our rehearsal space, so once we find open days where we can all meet, we take advantage of it. The employer part is kind of a weird situation. Kyle has tenure at his job, so he has the ability to make it work. Ian actually has to schedule his shifts well in advance, and he flies in and out to be on the road/fly back to work. Guido and I live with Guido’s boss, who is a huge fan of the band, so that works for him. As far as me, I keep my band life secret in the office. My boss doesn’t know about Digital Summer or all of our success. When it comes time to hit the road, I’ll face that issue. Worst case scenario, I leave my job and do what I love doing. After all, life is about taking risks, right?!

Matt: I agree man. It’s good but slightly unusual to see a band who work hard outside of music in everyday life, and then still manage to give it 100% when you are in the studio or on stage, so congratulations on that…

Jon: Thank you! It’s always cool to hear other bands finding out about our lives, and use our formula as a guideline for themselves.

Matt: So what does the next 6-12 months hold in store for both you and DS?

Jon: We are in the process of finishing up an acoustic album, so that’s first on the agenda. We don’t have a release date yet, but it should be out in a couple more months. Other than that, we have some festival shows booked, one being with Sevendust, Filter, Pop Evil, Soil, and Texas Hippie Coalition. We are working on booking our next tour…But more importantly, we have a BIG announcement coming in the next week, so stay tuned for that on our facebook page!… and please “like” us if you haven’t already.

Matt: It’s been great talking to you, and I’ve got one more question, slightly random but a good way to finish the interview I think. Who would be in your line-up in your dream band? (Vocalist, guitar, bass, drums)

Jon: Thanks you for having me! This would probably be my dream line-up with non-DS members:
-Vocals – Ben Burnley (Breaking Benjamin)
-Guitar (besides me) – Mark Tremonti (Creed/Alter Bridge/Tremonti)
-Bass –Cone (Sum 41)…random, I know, but he’s good and looks like he’d be fun to party with
-Drums – Morgan Rose

Matt: That’s a cool list man; Ben Burnley especially is a great vocalist!! Ok I think that wraps things up, thanks so much once again for your time, I really appreciate it…

Jon: No problem! Thanks for having me!

Matt: I wish you all the best for the future and I look forward to hearing more awesome music from Digital Summer!!!!

Jon: Thanks a lot! Please check us out at the following links: