The Driver Era on Summer Mixtape & Sabrina: "We're not interested in fame”

Ross and Rocky Lynch, aka The Driver Era, have just emerged from a spa treatment at an upmarket hotel in central London. You can’t blame them for grabbing a little R&R – at the time of writing the brothers are part way through a 60+ date world tour. They played London’s O2 Shepherds Bush Empire the night before, and are ready to do it all over again tonight.

“It's nice to get decongested for shows,” says a mellow Ross, the younger of the two by barely a year. “We definitely try to make the most of the experience of being able to travel the world and play music, because we know how special it is.”

The duo (who are also joined on tour by their older guitarist brother Riker, who incidentally is the one that inspired them to form the band in the first place) aren’t new to the industry by any means. Since their debut single Preacher Man in 2018, they have amassed over 300 million streams and boast over 30 million combined followers across social media.

From their beginnings as members of the band R5, the duo are only in their late 20s, but are already veterans when it comes to touring. Known for creating a live show that doubles as a party, The Driver Era has sold out shows across the globe, performing everywhere from Asia to the US to Europe and South America.

“We do have to say that the majority of our shows are quite loud and energetic,” acknowledges Ross. “We're pretty spoiled by our fans to be honest.”

Rocky lets Ross take the lead during the interview, the former helping finish his younger brother’s thoughts when he trails off, and he swears more – likely down to Ross’ media training due to his other life as an actor. More on that later. They’re here today to talk about The Girlfriend tour and their third studio album, Summer Mixtape, which they wrote and produced entirely themselves, as well as using their own mixes.

“All of our albums have actually been written and produced by us, which is fucking crazy,” says Rocky, the fact suddenly dawning on him. “Holy shit!”

“That is honestly kind of crazy,” interjects Ross. “We used to do it in a garage studio, but we just recently moved it into a bedroom and it's much better because it used to have kind of a dungeon vibe. Now there's more lights in the room and more inspiration.”

“We don't mess around,” nods Rocky. “There’s this really magical pocket of rawness, expression and intimacy that should be captured in the studio. When you send it off to someone else, and they make it bigger, it doesn’t have that same essence. 

"There’s this notion that people want perfection but in reality, they want emotion. That’s at the root of our music.”

We tried our best to stay in that moment and that rawness.

If 2021’s Girlfriend is the album that was penned and produced during a time where Ross and Rocky were solely with their loved ones, Summer Mixtape is the record that explores themes of adventure, nightlife and intimacy.

“We always like to express ourselves in a raw, honest way, but this release goes a little bit harder,” says Rocky. “With Summer Mixtape, these are songs that are a nod to that state you want to be in – having fun and enjoying life with the people you care about.”

“We're always focused on exploration, expansion and discovery,” nods Ross. “We can't not make music. We like to play around in the studio, it's a playground for us. 

"Honestly, sometimes we wait for the song to tell us what it wants to be about. We didn't really set out to make Summer Mixtape,” he admits. “We just kept making songs in the studio and eventually had 11 or so of them. 

"The tour was coming up and we were like, ‘Well, we might as well put these out now!’ For this particular release, it was a little bit more…or kind of, less,” he changes tact, “I don't even know how to say it,” he says, looking to his brother.

“It’s just a little more of the raw moment,” says Rocky, coming to his rescue. “You end up going with the most raw and energetic thing that was made. We tried our best to stay in that moment and stay in that rawness and click record.”

I've had my fair share of fame; there's nothing to it that's actually that great.

Ross’ favourite track off the album isn't bouncy lead track, Malibu, but Like a King, which begins, “If I'm just all that I think / Then I'll just think like a king”.

“I hold that one pretty close to me,” says Ross, who shares that when it comes to songwriting, you can pretty much guarantee that whoever you hear singing, wrote those particular lyrics.

“It's a philosophy that I really believe in,” he says of Like a King’s meaning, “and I'm happy that I was able to finally put that into a song to some extent. I think there'll be more songs where I can…” he trails off dreamily.

“Sorry, I'm all spa-ed out,” he says, picking up his train of thought, “more songs where I can clarify some of these philosophies that I'm really into right now. But I think this is a good introduction to ‘you become what you think’ and the law of attraction and some of these universal, more spiritual concepts that are really powerful. 

"I think that song is unique, and I've never really heard anything like it. It's cool, because conceptually, it's really unique. But also, sonically, it's fairly strange. I'm pretty proud of that one.”

Rocky scrolls through their songs on his phone quickly:

“When we were finishing it, I remember really enjoying working on Back To You,” he says. “I remember it would always get to this fucking synth ending part; I always felt like it had a nice peak right there. I actually haven't listened to that in a while…”

I'm more interested in the spiritual aspect of connections with people rather than the exploitative nature of celebrity.

Despite their impressive online following, the Lynch brothers aren’t remotely interested in chasing fame, what’s trending on TikTok, or churning out formulaic singles.

“We're not interested in fame, there's nothing compelling about that,” says Ross. 

“I've had my fair share of fame for some years now; there's nothing to it that's actually that great. It's fun to have cool opportunities, but the best part of what we do is being able to share experiences with people that have related to the creations that we make or feel emotionally connected. I'm more interested in the spiritual aspect of connections with people rather than the exploitative nature of celebrity. 

"There’s such a fine line between those things with social media. It can very easily be exploitative. I'm much more interested in, if we are to have a very prominent success story, that it'd be as a result of good, honest, art and expression that people relate to. 

"It's way more important than having a pop-off song on TikTok. That's not very appealing to me, personally. I know Rocky might have a different opinion," he says, inviting his brother to weigh in, "but I'm pretty sure he thinks similar to me.”

Rocky doesn’t answer, likely sensing at the mention of Ross’ experiences with fame that this is the inevitable part of the interview he zones out for. In addition to being one half of The Driver Era, Ross is an actor, starring as Harvey Kinkle in Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (CAOS) in addition to the 2017 biopic My Friend Dahmer after spending half a decade portraying the fan-favourite Austin Moon in the Disney Channel Original Series, Austin & Ally.

I was telling my CAOS castmates that I had an intuition we weren't coming back.

When they first started the band, Ross had to leave for long stretches to film CAOS in Vancouver, leaving Ross in the studio to work on their music.

“I shipped off to Canada to film that show and I remember asking Rocky, ‘Yo dude, are you cool with this? I'm gonna go up to Canada for 10 months’. It wasn't a short show by any means. It is hard to multitask and to have passion for multiple projects at once. I wasn't necessarily focused on The Driver Era at that time – I was trying to,” he insists, “but there were so many other aspects of learning and growth happening in my life. 

"But everything works out for a reason. During that time, Rocky made some really prominent Driver Era songs that are still some of my favourites to this day, like Low and Flashdrive.”

COAS received positive reviews and rapidly attracted a passionate fanbase. After four installments, it was abruptly cancelled before work on part five could begin – citing the covid pandemic as the reason. 

Shortly after news of the cancellation broke, showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa took to Twitter to stress that, “Part Five, Witch War, would’ve been AMAZING”, while Sabrina actor Kiernan Shipka revealed that the cast did not know when filming season four that they would not be back. Fans were far from keen on the show’s ending and the fate of the characters. Ross says he had a feeling the show would be cancelled when filming part four.

“The last few months I was out there, I actually was telling a few of my castmates that I had an intuition," he recalls. "I was kind of trying to warn them. I was like, ‘I don't think we're coming back, guys. I don't know why, I just feel it’. And then covid hit and they said that was one of the reasons why the show didn't make it, but there are plenty of other shows that made it through covid,” he points out.

“I'm not really sure what the final conclusion was to cancel it. I do know that the creator of the show, Roberto, really wanted to round out the show with eight episodes, and we just couldn't make it happen. It was a great run. I run into people all the time that really love that show, and it's always really nice to hear. I thought it was different. I really liked it.”

Ironically at the time of interview, Netflix’s most watched TV show is Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. Ross also played the serial killer in 2017’s My Friend Dahmer, which focuses on Dahmer’s teenage years, prior to his first murder. Ross hasn’t watched Dahmer.

“I don't know if I will, to be quite honest with you. I heard Evan Peters is fantastic. You know what's funny – I actually don't really like murder documentaries or anything like that. It's not really my style of entertainment, even though I did play Dahmer, but it wasn't the gruesome bits. It was a psychological discovery of how this man became what he did, it wasn't necessarily the cannibalism aspect.”

On whether he feels an affinity towards music or acting, he’s just happy that he gets the chance to do both at all.

“You know, it's funny, I don't even know how I got here,” he laughs. 

“I really love both of them, and at different moments in my life I love the other one more – sometimes it's acting, most of the time it's music. I'm just floating around and just doing what I do…Rocky stop it,” he suddenly says – Rocky is amusing himself by making animal shapes with his hands. “You’re distracting me. He's acting like his hands are a dinosaur," he tells Headliner.

“That was a spider, bro!” Rocky insists, collapsing into laughter.

“I love what I get to do,” says Ross, willing himself to finish on a profound note. “I'm so grateful that I get to live this life. It's so much fun. I'm having a wonderful time and I feel like we’ve grown more this year than any other time in our lives. 

"I’m looking forward to seeing how the work we’ve done unfolds further into our future and, of course, our music.”

The Driver Era image credits: Samuel Fischer

CAOS (in order): Dean Buscher/Netflix and Diyah Pera/Netflix