Longform

Relentless stickering and guerrilla marketing have made Digital Summer one of the Valley’s hottest bands

It's a warm night in March, and the city of Scottsdale is under siege. Under cover of darkness, a fanatical force more than a dozen strong moves through the suburb, with the intent of converting others to their cause.

Terrorists? Hardly. More like sticker-wielding supporters of local hard rockers Digital Summer, who plan on affixing hundreds of black-and-white rectangular decals emblazoned with the band's name to street signs, drive-thru menus, phone booths, bus shelters, and numerous other public objects.

It's all part of the madness of "Sticker Night," when, almost every month, band members and their devoted fan base cover Valley landmarks with 700 to 1,000 of the nine-inch-long adhesive advertisements in order to increase Digital Summer's visibility. But it's not just during the one-night promotional paste-ups, as vocalist Kyle Winterstein says — their followers are on a seemingly nonstop, 24/7 quest of "stickering the entire city."

Winterstein's constantly amazed at the creative locales that have been hit.

"We were in the middle of Lake Pleasant wakeboarding one weekend, and there was a buoy that had a sticker on it," he says. "We always hear there's some on Hoover Dam."

Digital Summer stickers can also be found in some not-so-public places.

"We've got pictures of our decals covering genitalia, yeah," says Kyle, laughing. "The girls are nice with stuff like that."

Besides getting its cult-like fan base to plant stickers on their naughty bits, the band's been successful at gathering and mobilizing a large audience, utilizing resources from their day jobs for their videos, packing shows, and getting local radio airplay. Digital Summer's radio-ready, melodic hard rock in the vein of bands like Staind and Linkin Park has really caught the ear of fans across Phoenix, and they're helping to lead a guerrilla marketing blitz for the band. It's just one of many things that set Digital Summer apart from other local acts.

From the beginning, Kyle Winterstein never wanted Digital Summer to be just another rock band, endlessly toiling away at local clubs before self-destructing.

He'd already been through that experience with Shaded Grey, the five-member rock outfit he'd formed with Digital Summer guitarist Johnmark "Fish" Cenfield in the mid-'90s. They'd landed some killer gigs opening for groups like Bionic Jive, Disturbed, and Grey Daze, but eventually folded in 2004 because of band drama.

"A lot of stuff happened with Shaded Grey," Kyle says. "Somebody in the band had a kid, somebody got into some drugs, and we all just kinda split ways."

So from Digital Summer's inception in the spring of 2005, Kyle wanted the band to have a different fate. He sat down with his brother, guitarist Ian Winterstein, and plotted out a business plan to take the local music scene by storm: They'd record a tight, three-song demo with local über-producer Larry Elyea, get tattoo parlors and other alt-businesses to help fund it, and relentlessly promote their debut gig months beforehand by giving away 35,000 burned copies of the disc.

"It sounds really exaggerated, but it's no joke," Kyle says. "We literally pushed the demo down everyone's throats for months at every major concert, event, party, you name it. Cars next to us at stoplights got copies."

It must've worked, as more than 300 rock fans jammed into Alice Cooper'stown in January 2006 for Digital Summer's first gig, which venue promoter Leslie Criger says was "a good showing" for a band nobody had heard of before.

It was an impressive debut for a band that's made a habit of doing things in a big way over the course of its three-year existence. Case in point: the blockbuster production behind Digital Summer's first music video, "Rescue Me." The 3½-minute affair, set to a tortured nü-metal-style ballad off their new EP Hollow, is filled with fire trucks, ambulances, and even a HALO-151 rescue chopper responding to a gory (but staged) car accident.

It's the stuff of some million-dollar MTV-style spectacle, but it came at a bare-minimum cost, thanks to the Wintersteins' co-workers at the Avondale Fire Department and Southwest Ambulance, who've also supported the band in other ways.

"All the guys I work with are big fans and a ton of them come out to the shows with their friends," Kyle says. "Firefighting's like this big brotherhood and they've all got decals on their cars."

The brothers aren't the only members of the family who've possessed dual passions of saving lives and rocking out, however. Christopher Winterstein, their 50-year-old father, worked a guitar for several local rock bands in his high school days but hung up his six-string after graduating and eventually became a firefighter. (He's currently a captain in the Glendale Fire Department.)

Interestingly enough, his sons almost turned their backs on rock and followed a similar path. Kyle had been in the rock 'n' roll lifestyle since age 15 (when a female friend taught him Nirvana's "Come As You Are" on guitar), but following Shaded Grey's breakup, he felt somewhat jaded and joined a fire academy in 2004. Ian enrolled in an EMT program after his band A.D.L. (which also included Digital Summer bassist Anthony "Guido" Hernandez and drummer Chris "Cooter" Carlson) bit the dust around the same time. It wasn't surprising, as he's been trying to be like his big brother for years.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.