Every year, waves of contemporary artists with fresh perspectives are swept through the competitive tides of streaming services and very few make it ashore. But, The Driver Era – a relatively fresh face to the scene whose nostalgic hits capture end-of-summer melancholia – are effortlessly atop that wave, riding surfboards with beachy hair and all. In fact, band frontmen brothers Rocky and Ross Lynch have quickly captivated a dedicated audience like early noughties teen stars, with over 10 million followers across their Instagram accounts.
Fans of The Driver Era (the most active, hardcore fanbase, says actor and lead singer Ross) represent a new generation of youth. In the so-called Instagram generation, where no moment can escape uncaptured or immortalised, it’s no surprise Ross and Rocky’s experimental boyband-esque alt-pop is a huge success. The Driver Era’s catalogue, which includes 2019’s debut album X, is like a time-travelling dopamine hit. Each track laced with sonic nostalgia, a post-summer comedown that flirts with memories of courtship, existential crises and emotional triumphs under a West Coast sun: a necessity for a quarantined youth with an almighty case of FOMO.
Following the release of new single and music video ‘Fade’, a smooth, rhythmic outro to a quiet summer, the pair has teased monthly new tracks to drive momentum for The Driver Era and kickstart their next project. The promise of rapid-fire releases is enough to jettison any artist further into the spotlight: think German pop star Kim Petras, who released nine of 12 tracks from her debut album Clarity in 2019, to acclaim. Stan cultures – especially boyband stans – seek consistent presence, particularly now, during a strange and tumultuous year for devoted listeners who have used music as escapism under lockdown.
But recently, prior to switching gears into overdrive, the band as a focused project had taken some well-deserved downtime like everything else. A release or two filled the space between, but the quarantine period mainly marked an opportunity for the brothers to take a minute for themselves. “We didn’t really feel super inspired to be in the studio,” Ross admits over the phone, in LA. “But that kind of felt nice.”
It’s a calm, sunny California morning, he says; following a meditation session and some coffee, the brothers found a quiet spot to settle. Over the past few months, Ross and Rocky have played and watched a whole lot of hockey (they talk proudly of their favourite team, the Colorado Avalanche, making it into the play-offs). The brothers also spent a chunk of time there, in Colorado, and in-between endeavoured on road trips with their girlfriends to keep a steady relationship with staying active. “We just took a trip up to Mammoth Lakes,” Ross adds, “we went on a bunch of hikes and to a waterfall. It’s been great.”
The break was potent fuel for The Driver Era’s engine: “I think a lot of people were able to take time to be introspective and reconnect with themselves,” says Rocky, the elder brother of the two. “We had our fair share of that at the beginning of quarantine. We weren’t super inspired to be making music. Then, after a few months had gone by, it all came back, and we started again.”
There was an added bittersweet edge to the period for Ross, who plays Harvey Kinkle in Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (dubbed CAOS by stans). In July, the streaming service announced the upcoming fourth part of the show would be its last.
“I actually just saw Gavin [Leatherwood who plays Nicholas Scratch in CAOS] last night, which was great. We talked about our favourite memories, which was nice,” Ross explains. “It feels like we had a good run. I’m happy for the time that we did get to experience [together] on that show…I think we could have done another run. That would have been great, just to see everybody again. But I feel like it ends on a good note, and I’m sad for everyone to see these last episodes.”
“People are living their lives on autopilot. When you spend a lot of time on that, you are sacrificing spontaneous moments. You’re sacrificing whatever people could be doing outside of social media.”
The pair talk about times-gone-by with the same nostalgia that washes over their music. Documenting the good times is what they set out to do, they say, to capture moments in music like home videos. Now, as the summer closes, the band’s new single ‘Fade’ is just that: the perfect underscore to end the chapter. In the track, Ross sings softly over a reverberating melody: “Fading, it’s true/Fading too soon/Fading, it’s true,” and then, captures the tight grip of nostalgia as he asks, “In hope of better times, I’ll wait/But do you have time to hold on with me?”
Rocky explains that, among around fifty unreleased songs, the single was on the backburner, but it soon made its way to the top of the list as it became more relevant to their lives. ‘Fade’ captures the essence of a nostalgic generation that documents how everything fades too soon; but if captured, it can live on in immortality forever. The track, like the rest of The Driver Era’s unique catalogue, instils a dose of hope amid the chaotic. The band’s previous single, ‘Places’, a raucous hit, is about opening up to a partner and not knowing how to navigate new emotions, Rocky says. It seems there’s a running theme of hope – of not knowing the destination ahead but enjoying the journey anyway.
“There’s an optimistic undertone to the songs,” Rocky says. “[These songs] are really meant to be motivating.”
They’re also about remaining present. Much like Instagram, The Driver Era’s music expertly captures fleeting moments, but typically, Rocky prefers to keep a healthy distance from those kinds of apps to ground himself. “I have a weird relationship with social media. People are living their lives on autopilot. When you spend a lot of time on that, you are sacrificing spontaneous moments. You’re sacrificing whatever people could be doing outside of social media.”
Seemingly seeking authenticity, the brothers confidently share that their approach to music is always honest then, and concretely immersed in the present moment. It always happens naturally; from issues and problems they encounter in their personal lives. It’s beyond thought, Rocky describes: “When we’re not trying to write about anything, it just happens.”
Most recently, during an excursion to a small cabin in Colorado, this paid off. “We started and finished a song, really fast. Real quick. It grabbed the moment really well – it’s because it’s honest to that moment. Who knows when the song will come out, but that song came because we were able to compress and spend our time [in the moment]. It came out of everyone’s pandemic crisis moment, but it’s a special song,” Rocky says.
Their desire for spontaneity pairs well with the ravenous ways contemporary listeners digest content, and the continuous push for innovation in music. “We want to activate The Driver Era,” Ross declares, admitting that the band intends to give its fans what they want while catering to their own plans to dive head-first into a new project. “We’re musicians. You have to actively create and participate.”
So, fans won’t need to wait long for another track: following ‘Fade’, The Driver Era plans to release a new single every month until the end of the year, as part of a yet-undetermined ‘blooming’ new record.
And the pair have a specific vision in mind for their output. The brothers intend to create music with an “eclectic, awesome, classic” atmosphere that transcends genre. The band’s genre-bending sound, popular among its fans, is accredited to an embracing of modernity. Ross explains that The Driver Era is an amalgamation of the pair’s past influences, from pop, to rock, to RnB and Motown, pushed through the wiring and musical facilities of a computer: “We’re combining a lot of influences. I think that’s part of the future progressive sound.”
Above all, it seems that The Driver Era, whose wistful depiction of the past could sucker-punch even newcomers to the band, is not focused on the past at all. The forward-thinking boyband toys with ideas of the future of music, all while connecting with and capturing spontaneous moments of joy – anticipated nostalgia – to make the best of things.
As we near the end of our call, the brothers lovingly express gratitude for their fans, and accredit their success (past, present and future) to them: “We’re always super grateful and feel super lucky that we have so many hardcore fans that are paying attention.
“It means the world, because without them we’re not able to create [this music].”
Watch the music video for The Driver Era’s newest single ‘Fade’ below.