Interview: Surfer Blood

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Over the past two years Pop-Break has been trying to secure an interview with indie rockers, Surfer Blood, and needless to say it hasn’t been an easy feat but for the best kind of reasons. Since they broke onto the scene in 2009 with their stellar debut the band have been busy traversing the world on headlining tours as well as a plethora of support acts for many of their own heroes. The band’s traditional blend of 90s alternative and indie surf style music has made them quite popular with the likes of The Pixies, Pavement, and Built to Spill all of whom have invited them on tour over the past five years.

In 2013 they released their long-awaited sophomore effort Pythons amid a flurry of publicity surrounding the 2012 arrest of lead singer John Paul Pitts. Almost a year after the release the band is still touring and making waves despite this and are making a stop at The Saint this Thursday night in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Despite long drives, icy road conditions and the loss and recovery of some of their equipment on this recent run of tour dates the band was able to find time to answer some questions for Pop-Break about handling PR nightmares, the effects of lengthy touring on an album, and just when does the creative process kick in again after a new record has been recorded, pressed, and sent out to the music world.

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Pop-Break: First things first, after almost three years of trying I’m happy that we were able to secure an interview with you guys. You are a very busy band (laughs). Secondly, how has 2014 been treating you so far? I picture right now you guys are all huddled around a laptop in the back of a tour van, something of which I heard you guys have really taken to.

John Paul Pitts: Tour has been great so far we are out with Fort Lean from N.Y. and Wake Up from our hometown [West Palm Beach, FL], both have awesome music and both are super easy to get along with. The weather has been a little brutal though, snow looks magical at first but driving with ice on the road is scary.

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Pop-Break: As a fan, I think Pythons was a great step forward for you guys. You kept the best aspects of Astro Coasts and the Tarot Classics EP but also eliminated certain elements like the African influences. Plus you had a fuller sound thanks to being a full blown studio this time. Is that something that just comes with the writing process? Like just sitting there and saying “Well, let’s do something different this time.”

JPP: I’d say we were ready to try something different this time, we had released a home-recorded full-length and an EP recorded in a friends guest house. I still love both of our former releases, but there were a lot of bumps in the road along the way. The idea of going into a big studio with an experienced producer/engineer seemed appealing, although that comes with its own set of pros and cons.

Pop-Break: Was touring and promoting on this record a bit tough? For obvious reasons this was your first big test at dealing with PR considering how the arrest was kind of a hot button of topic for journalists when this record came out. I didn’t see too many reviews or interviews that didn’t mention it or ask you guys a question about it.

JPP: Touring is touring and it can be challenging for a host of reasons. It was definitely hurtful to see my character attacked on the Internet so much, but If anything I think it made the actual shows that much more rewarding. Seeing people at shows singing along and having fun is something that I’m sure a lot of bands take for granted, but I’d say I found a new appreciation for our fans and playing live in general after everything I went through personal and public.

Pop-Break: I assume with having to answer personal questions like that it helps in the writing process?

JPP: I can’t definitively say yes or no, only that it’s important not to let the opinions and expectations of others interfere with the writing process.

Pop-Break: You have been touring off this album for almost a year now. How does the touring cycle for an album change over time as you continue for months on end? You start out promoting it right before, upon, and after its release for months but eventually you are reaching that point where people start asking about the next record?

JPP: We are all very excited to record new songs together, the fact that there was a three year lag between Astro Coast and Pythons was just as frustrating for us as it was for our fans. Part of it was our label pushing back the release 10 months, part of it was us saying yes to every show in 2010 and 2011 and not giving ourselves enough time to finish our new songs. Now that we are no longer with a major label I think we all feel a little bit more freedom to write record and release, despite the fact that we probably won’t be back in a studio as fancy as the one we recorded Pythons in for a while.

PB: How do you measure the personal success of a record since we live in a day and age where album sales aren’t as important as they once were? Does it come after so many months of promoting it?

Photo Credit: Bobby Keegan
Photo Credit: Bobby Keegan

JPP:I’m proud of everything we’ve done up until this point, but I’ll know we’ve really made it when one of our songs in on FIFA, the video game. I feel most culturally relevant bands end up with a song or three on FIFA.

PB: The next obvious question is what is next on the agenda as far as a new album is concerned? Does that train of thought start early or do you wait awhile before proceeding with writing new songs and deciding on the next record’s direction?

JPP: We are already in the process of writing new songs and I’d say it’s going swimmingly. We’ve never really discussed any particular direction openly, we all understand each other enough musically enough that we can see where one of us is going with an idea. I’m sure the next record will be different from Pythons or Astro Coast based solely on the fact that we are older, writing and recording under different circumstances and have more collective experiences.

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PB: When do you feel is the best time to start recording a record? Do you prefer fresh off of touring or do you like to unwind for a bit before commencing on the next one? I imagine that can sometimes be a daunting task constantly touring then going right into the next thing.

JPP: “I like living, breathing better than working…my art is that of living. Each second, each breath is a work which is inscribed nowhere, which is neither visual nor cerebral, it’s a sort of constant euphoria.” -M. Duchamp

PB: What about where to record the next record? It’s known that you recorded Astro Coast in a bedroom, Tarot Classics in a guest house and then you moved up to a real recording studio when you signed to Warner Brothers. Any thoughts on where next? House boat perhaps? Or is it back to the studio to keep the authentic feel in place?

JPP: “If I lose the light of the sun, I will write by candlelight, moonlight, no light. If I lose paper and ink, I will write in blood on forgotten walls. I will write always. I will capture nights all over the world and bring them to you” -H. Rollins

Surfer Blood performs tonight, February 27th, at The Saint on Main Street in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Click here for tickets.

Related Articles:

Review: Surfer Blood, ‘Pythons’ (Jason Stives)

Pop-Break Live: Surfer Blood, Brick+Mortar at The Stone Pony (Joe Zorzi)

Pop-Break Live: The Pixies, Surfer Blood at Convention Hall (Jason Stives)

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