Surfer Blood, Interview
Interview with Surfer Blood
Surfer Blood hail from the dusky coast of Florida, and while their name may suggest their sound to be akin to a heinous noise implant somewhere between the ears and eyes, they're actually one of the most exciting exponents of melodic pop to emerge from the US underground scene in months.
The band's first long player 'Astro Coast' was released earlier this year to almost universal praise, and with a seemingly never ending tour schedule that takes them all over the world via several UK festival dates not to mention two weeks solid opening for The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart next month, expect Surfer Blood to become something of a household name on both sides of the Atlantic over the coming months.
Contact caught up with main singer, songwriter and guitarist JP Pitts and fellow axe man Thomas Fekete from the band during their recent jaunt to the UK.
I saw your set last night, and it seemed to be very well received. How do UK audiences compare with those back home in the States?
JP Pitts: We're still trying to win people over. We haven't really spent that much time in Europe yet so people are still seeing our band for the first time. Back home we've toured quite a lot, so we've kind of picked up a steady fan base there, but so far so good. People last night seemed to be really into it except for one guy who heckled us, but no, that's fine, he's paid his money is entitled to his opinion I guess.
Did you expect to attract the levels of attention that have already come your way at such an early stage?
JP Pitts: Honestly, I had no idea what to expect over here. We don't even have a European label at the moment so everything's come as a pleasant surprise so far. Tonight will only be our third show in the UK.
Thomas Fekete: I definitely had confidence in the music, so it is really nice to see people appreciating it the same way as we do, and dancing at our shows too.
What are Surfer Blood's main influences?
JP Pitts: I like all kinds of music but with this band, I think we all share a love of guitar-driven melodies. All of our songs are either built around guitar hooks or vocal hooks or both; we tend to work within the capacity of a traditional set-up. I know a lot of bands that try to incorporate a lot of extra elements too and maybe that's something we'll think about in time.
You have two drummers though, which is not conventional unless you're Pavement.
JP Pitts: (laughs) Yeah I guess that's true.
Thomas Fekete: I think it goes without saying that most of the nineties alt-rock and indie bands are a huge influence on us. Built To Spill, Dinosaur Jr, Pavement, Pixies, all that kinda stuff. Outside of the music I think the other reason we formed this band was because none of us wanted to just settle down into normal lives with boring day jobs.
JP Pitts: We were so bad at school and work. We'd always take time off to go to shows outside of town or practice.basically anything other than attend for class or work!
Thomas Fekete: Requesting two weeks off work every other month never goes down well with many employers!
Your album 'Astro Coast' came out at the start of the year to a wave of critical acclaim. How did you all react to so many glowing reviews?
JP Pitts: We think it's incredible. I mean, it was so unprecedented and for that we're all really grateful so many people appreciate our music. At the same time, we try not to lose focus on why we formed this band in the first place which explains why we're constantly on tour or writing new material. We don't ever want to be seen as a buzz band. All that stuff is wonderful but if you go away tomorrow the chances are you might disappear for good. If we keep playing shows to more people and building the fan base that way, that should keep the band alive.
Does it worry you that because of all the attention so far people may get bored and move onto someone else?
JP Pitts: It does, and that's exactly what we don't want to happen. That's why we continue to work hard rather than rest on our laurels and think about past accomplishments.
JP, I know you are the main songwriter but do the other members of the band contribute in any way to the writing process?
JP Pitts: They do, I mean it's not just a case of me saying to the other guys "Here's a song, come back when you've learned how to play it." I write the main structure and then everyone else adds their own bit. I wrote the bulk of 'Astro Coast' with TJ Schwarz (Surfer Blood drummer) and the rest of the guys came on board pretty much towards the end of it. I think that's why it was so easy for us to mobilise so quickly because we already had a record to go.
Thomas Fekete: I guess we're kind of lucky in that aspect because we've achieved as much with this album as so many bands do after five or six records so again, its something we want to hold onto rather than just take for granted.
JP Pitts: We're still pretty new to the whole business. Our first tour, which we booked ourselves, absolutely sucked. There were hardly any people at the shows and at times we questioned why were doing this but we believed in the music so much that we just kept on going and after that first tour we got a review in Pitchfork and I guess that kind of made us think something good would eventually come out of all this.
Thomas Fekete: Even things like going on our first European tour seem like a dream to us. I think we've exceeded our expectations so many times now that whatever happens next will just seem like another fairytale to add to the adventure!
You're touring with The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart in June. How did that come about and are they fans of Surfer Blood?
JP Pitts: We share the same booking agent, and so we got to meet each other at South By Southwest and really got along, and Kip Berman from The Pains. said he really liked our music with was a massive compliment as I've been a huge fan of theirs for a while, asked us if we wanted to do two weeks on tour with them and without hesitation we accepted. I don't understand bands that are envious of each other's success and really competitive because there's so much more you can do working with other people. We've had bands deliberately try and block opportunities for us in case we upstage them or whatever, which I think is really sad, whereas bands like The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart have always been openly supportive of other bands and taken new artists on tour with them whenever its been possible.
I think there are many similarities between Surfer Blood and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, none more so than the fact you've both built up your reputation via word of mouth and playing live rather than press hype, despite the positive reviews after. Does it worry you that there may be a backlash against you at some point?
JP Pitts: I've already experienced a backlash. Our first show at the Bowery Ballroom in New York got a couple of bad reviews, and at first it did upset us, but then we realised that we had to stop living on what the press thought about us, whether it be good or bad. I don't want this band to be seen as reactionary. I'd rather us just write and play in our own way away from the constraints of the media spotlight whether or not it suits the needs or expectations of a journalist somewhere, because believe me, there are certain bands who actually do that.
Thomas Fekete: I could never imagine Surfer Blood to be one of those build-them-up, knock-them-down bands but if you get complacent that can happen quite easily, so we don't want to be seen as just a blog band either. We appreciate what these people have done for us so far and if they want to keep writing about us that's great. Its not like we're trying to be elitist; I mean, if we get offered a show or tour with a band who the blogs deem as being uncool but we think we'd connect with their audience then we'll play it without hesitation.
JP Pitts: I definitely wouldn't allow a journalist's opinion to influence our sound.
Thomas Fekete: That's right; journalists come and go whereas bands are there for the long haul.
One advantage you have is your sound transcends several genres and is therefore difficult to pigeonhole. Was that a conscious move or just something that developed naturally as the songs progressed?
JP Pitts: Thanks! I think because of the way the record is structured it is kind of timeless, but it wasn't a conscious decision to make an album in any particular way.
Thomas Fekete: We are very influenced by bands that we love; we have no shame in admitting that, and I think that comes through on the album. I see it as a very honest record, straightforward in many ways and that's probably its most everlasting quality.
JP Pitts: Sometimes we maybe tried to do too much with the record when we first started recording it but when we took a step back and took things simply it all came together nicely. I think we're slowly developing our own sound but for now, 'Astro Coast' is a pretty accurate representation of where Surfer Blood are at.
Thomas Fekete: When I first heard JP's songs I found it so refreshing to hear a new songwriter creating these songs that in time I'm certain will be compared to people like Built To Spill, Modest Mouse and Pavement, all timeless artists.
What's the weirdest comparison you've ever had regarding your music?
JP Pitts: We once had a guy come up to us and compare our sound to The Pogues which I can't see, but I guess you have to let other people perceive the music for what they want.
Thomas Fekete: Sometimes we get "jocks" with baseball caps on the wrong way round at our shows - you have them over here right, chavs isn't it? - and you kind of wonder if they've misread the sign on the door or something but then once the show starts they're singing along to every word so I guess you shouldn't always judge anything on first impression.
JP Pitts: Exactly, one thing about Surfer Blood is we'd never shut people out because they do or don't fit certain stereotypes and we hope people don't feel the same way about us.
The album 'Astro Coast' is out now on Kanine Records.
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