We spoke with Surfer Blood members John Paul Pitts, Thomas Fekte, Tyler Schwarz, and Kevin Williams before their midnight show at the TLA on October 4th. Read below to find out about new obstacles they encountered moving onto a major label, their favorite horror movie, and what they’re thinking of dressing up as for Halloween.
Shannen: How did you guys all meet?
JP: Well, we’re all from the same town; we all grew up there at least. We went to high school there, and we were all playing in bands that were a little bit left of center. We all were sort of aware of each other and what we were doing, and yeah, I mean one day we started recording demos of some of the Surfer Blood songs. It wasn’t really serious and I guess Tom heard it and brought it up to me that he’d like to play guitar.
Shannen: Do you remember what some of those first songs were?
JP: A lot of the songs ended up on Astro Coast, our first record. I don’t think it was ever really supposed to be a proper record or anything, it was just something that we started and I felt really, really compelled to finish. So yeah, some of those songs ended up on the record later.
TF: I think the first song that I had heard was “Fast Jabroni”. That was a really early one that you guys had written.
TS: There are some demos that we’ve never even put out that I have on my computer. Well my laptop was stolen, so I must have lost some of them, but we had some kind of pirate-sounding songs.
Shannen: I think you guys tweeted the other day that you recorded on a Dell. Was that the laptop that got stolen?
TF: Yeah, I tweeted a really ridiculous run-on sentence that was ranting about Macintosh, even though I have nothing against Mac. I was just basically saying you don’t have to have a Mac, and we made a record on a Dell.
JP: There is so much digital noise on that record, though. If you listen closely there are so many parts where it’s just like (makes noise).
Shannen: So you started the band in high school then? Or you just met in high school?
JP: It was in college when I was recording that and we all got together, post-high school.
TF: Yeah, I would say about a year out of high school.
JP: Never finished college, so…
TS (laughing): I’ve seen all of these guys turn 21, and you can get a lot older from there.
TF: Right back atcha, except the 21 part. We’re about to see you turn 30. How far away is that?
TS: That’s a few years away.
KW: 30 is getting around the corner.
TF: 30 is 2 years away still, right? That’s not bad.
Shannen: Still young. So you guys are from Florida, do you think that affects your music style?
JP: Probably. I think for one, the reason why we were sort of inclined to play this kind of music is just because we were reacting to a lot of the other things going on around us. There are a lot of scenes in Florida, but not a lot of music like Surfer Blood. So I think there was definitely a reactionary element to wanting to be in a band like this.
KW: Growing up in a place like Florida, there is never really a whole lot to do, necessarily, every night growing up. I think that got a lot of us into music early on because you wouldn’t really know what to do on your weekend. It’s not like a big city or anything.
Shannen: Were you from a small town in Florida?
TF: West Palm Beach is actually big, it just doesn’t have a big, young culture to it. There are a lot of people that go down to retire there, it’s the Florida cliché.
JP: It’s cool though because you end up finding your own ways to play for your friends. When you’re a local band, you’re basically playing shows and your friends come. Whether it’s in a venue or whether it’s somewhere else. So I’m glad we got to play in really dive-y places and places that weren’t necessarily supposed to be for bands. Looking back on it, it was really cool.
TS: You really notice the age difference there, like when you take a flight from New York to West Palm Beach. At least half of the people there have grey hair.
TF (to Tyler): It’s all about age with you today.
TF: But yeah, it’s weirdly inspiring to not have much to do ever. And if you’re not interested in like, the club scene, or if you’re in any way a black sheep type in a place like that, turning to art is, in my opinion, one of your only options. It can be really inspiring just feeling kind of isolated and bored and wanting to be something bigger than what you are at that time and place. That’s a lot of what Astro Coast is about, a lot of those lyrics are about just wanting to break out of the norm, like going to college for accounting or something.
TF (to John Paul): What were you going to college for?
JP: I was going to college for music and education, but I didn’t like studying music in an academic setting. It’s really just like hitting a brick wall every day, you know?
TF: I was like 19 in college, and my dream was to become a literature professor. But even my dream kind of sounded depressing to me. It was kind of like, I guess this is what I’m going to do now because I’m 19 and I can’t really just fuck around anymore. But in a way, going to school in Florida was a huge help because you could kind of slack off and do whatever you want because you’re at some crappy school paying no money to attend these classes. You could put a lot of time into your art and your music. A lot of our friends moved off to New York when they were 17, straight out of high school, and pretty much had to put all of their focus into school. So it’s a good place to kind of just do your thing away from everything else that’s going on in the world.
Shannen: Well contrarily, I think you were in Europe recently. What’s your favorite cities to visit there?
TF: We’ve toured Europe many times and I always to go Helsinki, that’s my go-to favorite European city, I love it. Oslo is amazing too.
JP: I love Barcelona, I think it’s amazing.
TS: Yeah, Copenhagen is incredible. Dublin.
TF: Yeah, Dublin is amazing.
Shannen: Pythons is a really fun album. It also has some slower, sleepier songs that I really like – “Needles and Pins” is probably my favorite – but do you guys have a favorite to play from the album?
JP: Oh, thank you. “Needles and Pins” is probably my favorite song on the record, but not necessarily the most fun to play. I think “Demon Dance” is really fun to play live.
KW: I’ve actually been having a lot of fun playing “Squeezing Blood”.
TS: We kind of went back to how we originally wrote the song, which is something we’ve been doing because we went to the studio with a producer, which is cool, but the songs did kind of change. In some ways, they were really changed last minute in the studio. So we went back to how we originally wrote it, which is how we’ve been playing it live now. It’s kind of exciting.
JP: We finally got a chance to take the songs on Pythons and give them more space, and sections where there is room for improvisation and just jamming, which happened naturally with a lot of the songs from our first record. Jam sections and things like that happen just from mishaps live that we sort of liked and kept. Playing the new songs at first sounded really mechanical because we were playing them exactly how they are on the record. So this is the first tour where we’re trying to make them different and make them stand on their own live and make them longer.
Shannen: Do you think a lot of that got cut out moving on to a major?
TF: Some of it did.
JP: We felt a need to be concise, just because we walked into the studio with so many songs. Only 10 of them ended up on the record but we had 25 or something. I don’t think we wanted to make anything too, too long.
TF: Being on a label that size, you’re definitely making some compromises whether you like it or not. If you just imagine having ten people working on your record, fifteen including the band; each and every one of them have this idea for how a certain part of the album should present itself. In a way you don’t have to do exactly what they’re saying, but you do want to keep everyone around you happy, and you do change these little things to keep them happy. It sounds sad, but it’s also just how it works. Sometimes it works out great and sometimes it’s like, well that’s fine that we did that but we’re just going to go back and do it the way that we want to.
JP: It’s just a lot different. You know, everyone around us had heard the songs before we went into the studio. With out first record, we were a band and we recorded the first ten songs we wrote, so. It’s definitely a much different experience having studio time booked and you know when you’re going there and it’s in a different state and there’s planning involved. It’s definitely a lot different.
Shannen: Who are some of the bands you’re listening to right now, any recent albums you like?
JP: Tom is always listening to Conan Moccasin, that guy from New Zealand.
TF: Yeah, his album came out in like 2011 but I discovered it way late. There’s also a new Twin Sister album, I know they’re working on that. I’m looking forward to that.
KW: I was listening to the new Oneohtrix Point Never record. Temples as well.
JP: Yeah, they’re cool.
TF: We played Yeezus out for sure. There was like a month where we listened to way too much of that.
Shannen: Big Kanye fans?
TF: Yeah, definitely.
JP: Heard it a few too many times probably. You feel kind of crazy after.
Shannen: So I heard your van go broken into. That happens to you a lot! And someone’s mom made crackers that got eaten!
TF: Yeah, my mom made us flax crackers.
Shannen: Oh, it was your mom? Does she do that a lot?
TF: She does, she makes us healthy snacks in her dehydrator. She’s a raw foodist. Whoever broke into our van angrily took a bite out of one of the flax crackers and threw the crackers across the van because there was nothing to steal.
TF: And they also punched our TV. We rented the van that had a TV and an Xbox. None of us are gamers but JP discovered this Tony Hawk game in there.
JP: Oh, it’s so great.
TF: And he became so addicted to it. He only got to play it for one drive because it’s always the first night of tour that our van gets broken into. They stole the Xbox, vandalized my mother’s flax crackers, smashed the TV…
Shannen: That’s awful. What city was this in?
JP: Atlanta. But we’ve been broken into everywhere, it’s not that city. It’s just us.
TF: Our reaction was like: oh yeah, well it’s the beginning of a tour so of course we got broken into.
JP: It could have been a lot worse. It’s the second time this year.
Shannen: Halloween is coming up and you guys are playing a show in Los Angeles on the 31st. Are you going to dress up?
Shannen: Do you know what you’re going to be?
TF: We were talking about going as Mumford and Sons, I’m yet not positive though. That’s kind of just an idea that was thrown around. We’re trying to turn this tour into a haunted house tour, because we love going to haunted houses around Halloween so much. They’re really fun, but we just don’t have time. I believe we’re going to go to Rob Zombie’s haunted house though. Joey, our driver over here, recommended it.
Driver: No that was Kelly. (Kelly is SB’s tour manager)
TF: Kelly, sorry.
JP (laughing): Kelly probably knows Rob Zombie.
TS: Kelly probably eats dinner with Rob Zombie.
TF: Have you ever seen “House of a Thousand Corpses”?
TF: Well you know, you’re not really missing much. But if you ever get a chance, you should watch it because it’s so fucking ridiculous and so bad. There was a guy who would hang around our practice space – I saw him maybe three times and it would always be when we were leaving super late – and he would be walking around with no shirt on and have a crowbar. I guess he would be there working late at night, but he was straight out of a Rob Zombie movie, he was the scariest guy.
JP: Our practice space, where we wrote a lot of the songs for this record, was actually in this warehouse district and a lot of people would be there but we never knew what exactly they were doing because they’d just bring in old cars and take them apart and they would never explain where they get these cars from or anything. It’s great though.
KW: The cops showed up once or twice.
JP: Yeah, but never for us. We can do no wrong there. We can play as loud and as late as we want.
Shannen: So just random people bringing illegal cars?
TF: Yeah something, I don’t know. They’re all doing something really crazy in there.
KW: No one knows or anything.
Shannen: Is that why you like the space?
TF: Well, it’s gone now.
JP: Our lease was up and we didn’t renew it.
If you haven’t heard Pythons yet (released this past June) you can check it out here: http://www.surferblood.com/album/pythons.
Photo courtesy of surferblood.com