*Special thanks to Sommer Sharon and Toby Schuh for this unique article. We’re very lucky to have them both as a part of Unsung Melody. – Jonathan
Twelve year old Austin Rios has traveled with the band Digital Summer this past year, taking over the duties as drummer on a few songs at each show. Digital Summer just kicked off another tour with Austin on board. They’re touring with Nonpoint and Candlelight Red, as of January 18th and continuing the tour until the end of February. I had the opportunity to talk to Austin, along with his dad Ram, we discussed Austin’s drumming skills and this unique opportunity they have to travel around the country with a rock band.
You can listen in on the entire Austin Rios interview below:
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Hi Austin! Thanks for talking to me today. I met you at a show recently in Cedar Rapids, Iowa where you were playing drums for the band Digital Summer. You are only 12 years old, which is an amazingly young age to be touring with a rock band. When did you start playing drums?
Austin: I started playing drums when I was eight years old. It all started around Christmas when my parents wanted me to stay active during the wintertime. It was either wrestling or taekwondo, and all that stuff. I just wanted to do drums and music and stuff. I asked for a drum set for Christmas. About two weeks after Christmas, they were just worn out so we had to get a bigger set.
Did you take lessons?
Austin: No, I did not. I’m self-taught.
So, how did you teach yourself?
Austin: Almost every day I would sit in my shop and mess around on the drums for two to three hours a day. I actually started to get a little bit better each day. Then I just started playing songs. It’s crazy the ones I play now compared to the ones when I started.
Ram: All that banging and clanging that sounded horrible. Me and the wife were like what did we get ourselves into? This is horrible. What were we thinking? Well all of a sudden it started sounding like music. A lot of hard work. Occasionally he would get on YouTube and he would look at all these phenomenal guys. Build his confidence. All of a sudden he would watch something on YouTube and he would just like, bam, “I want to keep drumming, I want to be able to do that.” It was crazy how the motivation of just these random drummers on YouTube were inspiring him.
Do your other family members play instruments, or have any musical talent?
Austin: Nobody in my family really has any musical talent.
Ram: We can play air guitar and air drums just as good as anybody, but that’s about it.
I saw a YouTube video where you were playing the drums at 8. That’s a really young age to be playing as well as you were. I have a son that is almost 8 as well. Do you think this is just a natural talent or is it a desire and dedication?
Austin: For me, it’s pretty much both I guess. I’ve been determined ever since I started my first drum cover. Determined to be better than I was on that video. It came naturally. It was discipline and determination.
Ram: The funny thing is when Austin does a drum cover he doesn’t look at it until months later. Then he’s criticizing and picking it apart. Literally when it’s uploaded on YouTube he does not look at it. Then he’ll go back a month later and look at it. He knows inside he could have played that better today than he did a month or two ago.
At the Cedar Rapids show you had mentioned you go to a Rock Band Camp. What age did you start doing that?
Austin: I was 8. It was pretty much almost after they found out I had the musical talent. It was cool though. All these rock camps are a great experience. You go into like separate classes. The guitarists go into separate classes with a guitar teacher. The drummers go into separate classes. All the drum teachers love me because I’m very humbled about what I do, and I’m very good at what I do. These rock camps are a great experience to meet new kids that do the same things I do.
You’ve done that every year since then?
Austin: About almost every year.
Ram: When he was 8 1/2 I was just googling. I pulled it up. The first one was in Dallas. They give awards out to these kids that just stick out like a sore thumb, that’s got a natural talent. And Austin got an award there.
Austin: It was the John Bonham one. For like the best drummer or something. It was real cool.
Ram: These other kids had been playing since they were four or five. So Austin was in an age group between seven and 11. So at that time he was five months into drumming. For him to get an award like that, I was just like my son has clearly got something that other people see. Shortly after that we went to one in Colorado, that same year. Now he’s probably got about seven months of drumming. They moved him up immediately to the older kids. So that means he played with [kids] between the ages of 12 to 17. The director thought he was far more advanced to play with the older kids than with the younger kids.
You started a YouTube channel to showcase your skills. How did that start? Who had the idea, and why?
Ram: I come up with the idea. We all know with YouTube you either make it or break it. They are either gonna eat you alive or they’re gonna encourage you. So I said let’s give it a shot, let’s put it on YouTube. So we put it on YouTube. His first one I believe was What I’ve Done. It just took off, just amazing.
On your YouTube channel you have a video of you drumming Digital Summer’s song Counting the Hours during a thunderstorm in your home state of Oklahoma. I have family in Oklahoma so I know how crazy storms can get there. How did that idea come about?
Austin: We were going to do that cover anyway that day. But then we found out that there was a thunderstorm. We were just listening to it one day. It was like waiting for the storm or something in the words. It was talking about apocalypse, wash away everything. So we were like there’s a thunderstorm today and we want to do a drum cover, why not go in and do a drum cover out in the rain. I gotta say that was the craziest drum cover I’ve did, but it was fun. We’ve never seen anybody do it before.
Check out the video of Austin performing the Digital Summer song Counting the Hours in a thunderstorm below:
Tell me the story about how you got connected to Digital Summer? (Be sure and check out our review of Digital Summer’s Breaking Point here.)
Austin: We started tweeting them. We used to tweet them the links to some of my Digital Summer drum covers. They really liked them. One day we were doing the camp jam, like the rock camp, in Houston. We were talking about just coming down and just hanging out for an hour or so. Turns out, they are originally from Phoenix, and our next camp was in Phoenix. So we asked them, we were like, “Hey our next camp is in Phoenix, can we just come hang out or something?” They gave the ok and we came down. They are awesome dudes. They are humble about everything they do. They are great musicians.
How did you start touring with them?
Ram: We were sitting there hanging out with them for the first time. We said, “Hey we drove from Oklahoma.” So then they said, “Hey our next tour dates are in Oklahoma, would you all like to come out?” Said, “Sure, why not?” I believe Kyle texted me about a couple days before they were coming through Oklahoma and said, “Hey are you guys still going to the show?” And I said,”Yea we’re still going.” He said ,”Would it be ok if Austin comes up and plays Whatever It Takes with us.?” I asked Austin. He was flipping out. He said, “Oh yea, definitely.” So then from there we come back home. We got another call from Kyle and he said, “Hey we’re going to head to Lafayette, Louisiana. Do you and Austin want to tag along and perform? Then from there we’re going to go to Wisconsin.” We’re down. Let’s go. Basically ever since then they gave us the green light to go with them. I believe it’s been beneficial to us and to them. The crowd, they’re seeing the type of guys they really are. That’s basically how we got hooked up with them.
The first time you played on stage with them, what was that like for you?
Austin: It was nerve-racking because I did not want to mess up at all. But it was really fun though.
Did you mess up? Did it go well?
Austin:No, no, no. I didn’t mess up. I played it pretty perfect.
Do you get nervous still? Or was that a first time thing?
Austin: I still get nervous sometimes. But now it’s kind of a second nature kind of thing. Those guys are so cool. We’ve been around them for so long. Now it really doesn’t make me nervous.
Now Digital Summer has had their full-time drummer, Ben Anderson? How many songs do you actually step in and play on each set?
Austin: About two to three on some sets.
Austin: Whatever It Takes, Broken Halo. The rhythm guitarist Ian sometimes can’t make the show because he has another job that he has to do. So it really depends on who is there. If Ian is there we play Broken Halo, Whatever It Takes and Forget You. If he’s not there we only just do Broken Halo and Whatever It Takes.
And Ben is gone now. Will that mean you’ll be playing more songs?
Austin: We hope so.
Ram: The deal is we know that the order to fill Ben’s shoes is…Ben was an amazing guy. Matter of fact he was one of Austin’s idols. We were tweeting Ben. That’s how we got hooked up with Digital Summer. It was really a kick in the gut to all of us when he left. So we’re hoping he gets to play more. Obviously he’s not going to because in some areas it’s 21 and up or 18 and up. Just hope and pray. We’ll see where it takes us. Austin is going to keep striving. We can’t ask for anything more. We’re first and foremost fans. Wherever the road leads Austin with Digital Summer we’re going to be right there with them. They’re more like brothers to us now. We’re family. They know Austin can’t go in to some of these places so they always have to have a steady drummer there.
Has Ben been officially replaced?
Ram: They found somebody to go out here on this Nonpoint run. The guy I believe who filled in this last time towards the end was Justin Pacy. He’s going to do this Nonpoint run until they find them a full replacement. I believe they’re going with Justin now because he knows the songs more solid than if they were to hold auditions for a newcomer.
Ram, I was told you drive the bus for the band. How did you get that gig?
Ram: We own a business here. Our business here that’s all I do is drive. We own a trucking business. So we’re always hauling and moving stuff. Driving from city to city. Driving from eight to 15 hours a day is no problem. We were at the studio. It was the first time I met them. I was just telling them hey this is what I do. And I was like, “Hey you guys ever need a driver, man, I’m your guy. I’ll give you guys a break from driving.” They said, “Oh don’t tell us that, we’re gonna take you up on it.” I was like well that’s the reason I’m telling ya. I just threw myself out there. People always say, “Isn’t it hard to drive seven to eight or 10 hours a day?” When you’ve got six different guys in there with different personalities, seven different guys with me, there is never a dull moment. It’s crazy. It’s like high school. Everybody is poking fun. It makes the time fly by.
Austin, you’re back in classes at home right now? How do you handle school while you’re out on the road?
Austin: My mom makes a schedule of months. She gives one to the principal to the school. She tells all the teachers we need this amount of homework for this amount of days. I take about a week’s worth of homework and then do it. Then we fax it back to the school.
What was life like on the road for you? Did you enjoy it?
Austin: It was the best experience I have ever had. I had a blast. I couldn’t ask for anything more than what these guys are doing for me. This is probably the best thing that has happened in a long time. Everybody that was on this last tour like 3 Pill Morning, Prospect Hill, 12 Stones, Taproot. Those are all amazing guys. And they’re all great musicians. This is a really awesome thing to do.
Do you guys actually have an RV or are you sleeping in hotel rooms? What’s the sleeping arrangement?
Austin: We have days off sometimes. Like a day to get there and maybe just go stay in a hotel. Sometimes we’ll stay at a hotel if we have the time. But most of the time we’ll stop at like a Flying J or something and stay in the RV. In the RV we have bunk beds.
Ram, you were mentioning the fact that Austin can’t always get into the venues. I had read that recently Austin wasn’t even allowed into a venue because he wasn’t 21. How are the venues handling that issue, considering Austin is somewhat of a key component to the band?
Ram: Some of them they don’t allow him, but they’ll let him go in and play the set and then has to go out afterwards. But some of them they just say look we can’t, we understand the situation and we’d love to, but we just can’t. I believe Illinois was caught up, it was a no way. But like in Lafayette it’s a 21 and up, but they would allow him to come in and hang out as long as he wasn’t near the bar. It boils down to the bar owner.
You go out with Digital Summer again here in a couple weeks with the Nonpoint tour? When does that start?
Ram: We leave the 16th, but it starts the 18th.
They tour for a month?
Ram: That’s 30 dates of playing. I think it’s around 35 days with the days off.
Any plans after that yet?
Ram: No. Just some hearsay from Kyle. He’s talking about some different bands probably go with afterwards. It just all depends if it works in their favor. About April me and Austin will start planning for those camps if Digital don’t have nothing coming up.
Austin, what would you like to do with your music career?
Austin: I would like to have my own band. Try to get out there as much as I can. Maybe even get a little famous. If this drumming business isn’t working out, I’d kinda want to go into the drum making business. Like making drum sets for people. Kinda like the sponsorship I have now from Seven DrumWorks. They made me a drum set. Now I have my own custom kit, which I got to customize. I would like to go into that if my drumming career doesn’t go all the way.
Well those are all the questions I have for Unsung Melody today. I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
Austin: You’re welcome. Any time.
Watch a video of Austin performing Whatever It Takes with Digital Summer:
Check out the video to Forget You by Digital Summer below: