Summer Hymns was formed in 1997 by singer/guitarist Zach Gresham and drummer Philip Brown, who previously teamed in the group Joe Christmas. Masters of the Hemisphere guitarist Bren Mead completed the original lineup, with Of Montreal's Derek Almstead and Dottie Alexander soon joining on bass and keyboards, respectively; multi-instrumentalist Adrian Finch, also of Masters of the Hemisphere, signed on prior to the release of the debut Summer Hymns single, the Made in Mexico release "Half Sick of Shadows." The group's first full-length effort, Voice Brother and Sister, followed in 2000. Celebratory Arm Gesture appeared in spring 2001, their second for Misra. A year later, Summer Hymns became a quartet with Gresham, Brown, and Matt Dawson (bass, banjo, mandolin, keyboards) and Matt Stoessel (pedal steel, guitar). With a new lineup, Summer Hymns joined Lambchop's Mark Nevers for the recording of a third album. The glossy country cheer of Clemency arrived in mid-summer 2003 while stateside shows kept the momentum going until the year's end. When the band wasn't scheduled to perform, Gresham kept busy by writing new songs; those sessions were collected for Summer Hymn's first EP, Value Series, Vol. 1: Fools Gold (2004). Two years later, with a second shift in band personnel under their belt, Summer Hymns released Backward Masks. It featured the debut of ex-Pine State bassist Chris Riser.