The Driver Era Embrace Their Freedom on 'Summer Mixtape'

The Driver Era Embrace Their Freedom on 'Summer Mixtape'

Ross and Rocky Lynch see no need for reintroductions. Following the 2018 dissolution of the popular pop-rock band R5, which the brothers were in alongside their other two siblings, the two took a leap of faith into their new endeavor, The Driver Era.

It was like capturing lightning in a bottle. With almost no questions asked, people immediately latched onto the new project. "Preacher Man," the band's high-energy debut single, set the tone for their explosive career in crafting the perfect pop songs. By the time their sophomore album, Girlfriend, was released in 2021, so did the music. Sensual falsettos and R&B flairs tapped into the unshakeable past, present and future of the brothers as generational heartthrobs. They grew and so did their audience, so might as well have some fun with it.

The Lynches are no stranger to the spotlight, and collectively they boast a resume that has names such as Disney and Fox, countless tours, movies and more. However, it's still difficult for some to divorce their family-friendly pasts with their mature presents, and The Driver Era went viral for everything from nostalgic feelings towards Ross, who was inescapable in teen magazines and went on to play as Jeffrey Dahmer, to the sexual objectification of his stage presence.

While unexpected virality and a rigorous touring schedule can lead to tension, Ross and Rocky grounded themselves in the curation of their latest offering, Summer Mixtape. Subtle nods to their shared love of hip-hop mesh with house-inspired beats and electronic experimentation as Ross' sickeningly decadent vocals pour over each thump and twang. At its core, The Driver Era wants to capture the special moments of intimacy and longing, much like the magical feeling that they created and sustained since "Preacher Man" four years ago.

To commemorate the release of Summer Mixtape, read on for PAPER's talk with The Driver Era about what this new chapter means for the band alongside photos taken before their Pier 17 performance this past summer in New York City.

Let’s start with the most obvious: you’re releasing a new record in the middle of tour.

Ross: That was annoying.

Rocky: We do the opposite every time.

Ross: Essentially, our manager booked a tour and then we scrambled to figure out how to put out new music so we'd have something to play.

Rocky: It's half and half because honestly, at the time, it was more like we had a project, we had an album, then we kept pushing it back.

Have you been sitting on this music for a while?

Rocky: I would say there's a couple of songs we probably started like a year ago and then there's a couple that we started probably like a week or two before we went on tour.

Ross: We kind of live and breathe the music, so some of them can be — maybe we found them from a few years ago. For instance, a song called "I got you, you got me," it's like the shortest song on the record. It's a minute and a half. That was a song that was originally created like probably two, three years ago.

As I was session surfing, I found the track of it and it inspired me at the time so I kind of freestyle rapped on it and that's what you hear! And then there's other songs, like "Back To You," which I think was made like a week before we got on the road. Like really, really fast, really recent, really thrown together. And honestly, I think that's kind of the magic and rawness of this mixtape. It's all rough and tumble. It's all this “fuck shit up” kind of mentality. None of it is perfect and most of it is raw expression and most of it is unperfected.

The title is interesting because, although the lines are blurred a lot more now, there’s still connotations that come with the word “mixtape” that sets it apart from an album. Would you consider this a mixtape, an album or somewhere in the middle?

Ross: I think it’s a mixtape. It's the first body of work that we've decided to use our own mixes for, so I like how it kind of starts that new chapter for us. But also, I think it's very much a traditional mixtape with some of the flows and some of the rhythms and how a lot of the songs kind of stand on their own. I really think this makes it, and the way I'm kind of making sense of Summer Mixtape was that it was pretty much our summer mixtape. These were the songs that we were listening to and cultivating and living with, so it's kind of like our summer mixtape to you.

Do you listen to your music when you’re done working with it or do you like to ignore it until it’s time to play it on stage?

Ross: We're the opposite. We listen to it a bunch and then once we release it, it doesn't exist anymore.

Rocky: Often, I catch myself driving through the hills and sometimes I'll just be playing one song over and over again. It’s funny, like it's weird that I'm listening to this song now, and I don't really think anything of it. But a couple months ago, I played this one song every day in my car nonstop for weeks where I was just like, “holy shit, this is hot!” There's times where Ross and I will go for a drive and we’ll play three to four songs that we had been messing with. At times, we're playing the music a lot.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear you dive into dance music and channel house inspirations, especially since it seems like it’s everywhere with Drake and Beyoncé. What were you listening to when this record was being made?

Ross: A lot of house music. Really really got a house bug, like every day I’m in the car like [mimics house music] all the time.

Yeah, honestly, I feel like we were kind of ahead of the jump and then, before I knew it, everybody was doing house music like Drake and Beyoncé. For a second, we were ahead of the jump, or so I thought. Maybe we could have been just a little quicker about putting it out, I guess. But who cares? I don't really care. Honestly. I feel like a good song is a good song. If you want to listen to it, you're gonna listen to it. People thought trap was gonna die. It's still thriving.

Speaking of trap, it’s also undeniable that you’re rap fans, which is definitely shown in your later work. Didn’t you even hang out with mike.?

Rocky: Our brother was hanging out with mike. kind of a lot for a second there. We ended up going to a couple of his house parties and played some beer pong. And he honestly he's like a —

Ross: I kind of like him. He’s a nice guy.

Rocky: Yeah you’re kind of like, “Yo, bro. You’re just kind of warm and friendly.”

Ross: Didn’t he play professional baseball at one point?

Rocky: I think that sounds right. But, I feel like most of our influences are —

Ross: Sheck Wes!

Rocky: [laughs] I feel like it's usually producers. Honestly, it's artists that are also producers that I find we enjoy a lot, so we're always listening to Kanye, Pharrell, Calvin Harris. I was listening to this Eminem song last night on the bus while we were filming this music video. I haven't heard it in a while. It's called "Shake That."

[Both start rapping “Shake That”]

Rocky: Listening to that song, it’s funny because they have like three different melodies. It's also kind of long, but the melodies, to me, are pop melodies! It's a gangster dude saying them, so it's like, I don't know—

Ross: Who sings that part?

Rocky: It’s Nate Dogg, I think. “I’ve been to the motherfuckin’ mountaintop!” Growing up, we listened to a lot of Eminem and Dr. Dre.

Touring is a big part of The Driver Era’s success and last you said, you were already at 400 performances. What’s that number at now?

Ross: That’s for R5 and The Driver Era. We’re gonna be at 70 shows this year, so we’re probably close to 500 now.

Rocky: And that’s not even counting — well it doesn’t even matter — but when you were younger and you do those little musical theater things. That’s a show! Wow, I haven’t even thought about that, like considering that as a performance. That is crazy how much time we’ve actually spent on stage.

Ross: That is crazy, honestly.

How do you integrate your creative process into your rigorous touring schedule?

Rocky: On this tour, just last night, we shot a music video all day and then Ross, myself and Garrison just hopped on our tour bus and started working on the song. Prior to that, while we were shooting the music video, we were working on another song trying to like see what we can do with it and how we can fucking make it slap.

Most songs, if we're going to try and play it on the road, it’s usually already done. There's not much testing it out. But, like I said, there is a song that in our minds that we have been testing around friends and shit. We gotta play it live.

Ross: We just shot a music video for it, and the song is not done. I have no idea what we’re going to do.

Rocky: There also was a time in life when we did so much writing with other people that we eventually were like, “go away.” We honed it down to just us. Now, I think there's a bit of a reopening happening. We used to play songs for people and I'd be like, "I don't want to know what you think. Because why would I fucking care?" It's like that. You're throwing my groove off. I don't want to know!

Now it's a little bit more of an open process with the ability to be like "oh, okay, you feel that way" and then allowing that to be an option but not letting it get you sidetracked or anything. I have been liking being a little more relentless. But, the end result of your songs is that it's a little better because you've already done this teasing process with people that you fuck with. Maybe they’re musicians, maybe they’re friends, maybe they’re managers. or radio or whatever. We have been doing that on tour which has been nice.

Would you say that Summer Mixtape was the first time you really tried to open up your process and allow others to give input?

Rocky: It’s what got us started on the process. We were kind of honing it in, we got it to a good spot, and then we slowly started doing it. We started sending songs around and decided these are the songs people are fucking with for some reason.

Ross: But most of our immediate crew said that it was strange and weird, and they didn’t get it. Literally most of our team.

Like they didn’t get the direction?

Ross: They thought it was strange. Most of our family especially was like, “I don’t get it.”

Rocky: Maybe that’s somewhat of a good thing. It’s kind of funny! That means we’re onto something new.

Ross: It's like what you said. You kind of learn to discern whose opinion matters. You learn to discern and that's the whole statement. When it comes to those opinions, they all listen to pop-country, and that's not really what we're trying to do, so we were just like, “Alright, this isn't your vibe then." That's fine.

Rocky: I love the Justin Timberlake “Sexyback” album [FutureSex/LoveSounds]. There's plenty of stories like that but apparently, everyone on his team and his label was like, “You can't put this out, bro." Is that his best album ever? Probably.

Ross: I don’t know, bro. The one with “Senorita?” Justified?

Rocky: The Neptunes, dude! But, that album kind of put him on the map. If you go to the FutureSex/LoveSounds album, you might like every song on there.

I was able to see Justin perform some of those songs at Something In The Water, Pharrell’s festival.

Rocky: Can you let Pharrell know that he should hit us up for that? Like, if you ever see him. Let him know.

Ross: We’ll pull up.

Your fanbase is dedicated, and with that comes moments of virality. You most recently experienced that when a TikTok of you performing blew up. It must feel kinda surreal or uncomfortable to be put on display like that.

Rocky: I don't really know how to answer that. The viral thing is crazy to me because it is really noticeable how, when something is more on the viral scale, everybody sees it. It seems like every human that I've seen or talked to has experienced the same thing. It could be 15 seconds, and everyone spends hours scrolling daily. When it actually is at the viral scale, it’s like every person saw this thing. When it's not at the viral scale, it’s seen by whoever is already invested and following you. It's reaching them every day and they're out there, they're loving it. That's fucking crazy.

Ross: It actually is pretty much the first thing that I have been hearing about since it happened. It's been an everyday thing. Nothing crazy, but somebody brings it up every day since it happened at least. I have mixed feelings about it.

Is it scary? Like you have no control of how people perceive you once it gets far past your core fanbase and goes mega-viral?

Ross: Yeah, but that’s my whole career.

I've been dealing with that for a long time. That's nothing new. Even when you're an actor on set, sometimes even your own crew doesn't see you as Ross, they see you as Harvey Kinkle or Jeffrey Dahmer. You'd think that they'd know better because we're all working on this film together, but slowly and surely, they see you as your character and they treat you accordingly. I've been dealing with that for a long time. That's nothing new. There also is a side to it that’s a little bit complimentary. You're just kind of like, "Oh, thanks. That's nice. I'm glad that you guys can enjoy that. That's kind of cool." I had one goal this year and that was to sell out this tour.

Rocky: To go viral?

Ross: No, no, no. I wanted to sell out the tour and we did. I guess the universe works in mysterious ways. That was pretty much all I wanted and I guess the viral moment probably helped, so I can’t complain. The universe delivered what I asked for.

Do you see The Driver Era as an extension of your childhoods and being in the industry for so long, or as a reintroduction?

Ross: No, I don't necessarily think I need to be reintroduced because I feel like the very idea of that is what would hold you back from—

Rocky: Reintroduction!

Ross: Or just being a wild, free being. I get that question all the time. People ask me, “How did you break out of the Disney mold? What was that experience like?” And honestly—

You never really felt the need to make that transition. It happened naturally.

Ross: I have appreciated and enjoyed every step of my career. I’ve learned from everything. I feel like I’m better as an artist and a creative than I’ve ever been. I’m excited to see where that leads and I’m not attached to anyone’s perception of me.

I think that’s really special to have such trust in your audience to understand your intention and fill in the gaps.

Ross: We actually have the best fans in the world. I know a lot of people say that but we actually do, for sure. They've been with us for 10 years already at this point and they keep coming! You're right. Most of them already know everything and they love it. They're having so much fun. They make us have fun on stage. It's like every night is a big party. It's really something special.

500 performances take you to a lot of places. Any new places you’re visiting on this tour?

Ross: This is technically the first time international as The Driver Era, and I think our fifth time as individuals.

So you’ve basically been everywhere.

Rocky: It’s going to feel like the first time. I feel like every time we’re going on a European tour or somewhere else, we’re older and we’re going to take it in. I’m going to treat it like the first and last.

You’ve sold out tours, traveled the world, did everything imaginable. What would the next step be? What is your ultimate goal?

Ross: I’ve been thinking about that recently, and most of my goals are really short-sighted right now. I’m really not thinking long-term because we still have a lot of tour left to do. I’ve been feeling like, after this tour, I’ll probably just disappear for a while. Personally, I’m just going to disappear for a little bit and reevaluate what I want, so I don’t really know yet. What do you want?

Rocky: I am definitely subject to not thinking that far ahead, which I probably could more often because I find myself thinking that I should've fucking done that thing. But, realistically, we finish these last shows or whatever we got, and I’m definitely going to vacation in my house. That's sick.

At that point, like, it's impossible to not wonder what kind of new sounds can I get going in the studio? So there's always that, but when we go to Europe, Japan and Australia and come back, I wondered if there would be a break from music even before this tour started. We never actually said this out and about, but I joked, “This could be the last tour ever, so fucking take it in." At that point, I think the options are pretty wide open on what next year could be.

You said you work backward, and it seems to be working.

Rocky: Yeah, so far it's been working. Don't fix what ain't broken.

Photography: Devin Kasparian