Surfer Blood

The Long Way Round

Mar 07, 2017 Photography by Joaquin Anico Issue # 59 - 15th Anniversary
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It's been a circuitous route for Surfer Blood since their auspicious 2010 debut album Astro Coast. Their following LPs, 2013's Pythons and 2015's 1000 Palms, were received less enthusiastically by their previously fervent audience, with lesser sales and generally tepid responses from live show attendees waiting to hear favorites from Astro Coast. It's also been a very tumultuous couple of years for the band, most notably with the death of guitarist Thomas Fekete from cancer in May after his initial diagnosis in 2015.

But on Snowdonia, Surfer Blood's John Paul Pitts, despite his personal struggles, went to the well and wrote and recorded songs in a similar vein to Astro Coast, recording and producing them himself. The jagged pop hooks and sparkling surges feel ebullient and carefree, no longer conjuring the idyllic imagery akin to the first half of the act's name, but rather a darker, more wizened side that's no less melodic.

"We are a pop band at our core. The sad songs that feel real and honest, those are the songs that we aspire to write, ones with meanings in grim situations," says Pitts, and Snowdonia is rife with songs with this level of depth. The band, now rounded out by founding drummer Tyler Schwarz, Lindsey Mills on bass, and Michael McClearly on guitar, are a taut unit according to Pitts, but he still misses Fekete dearly.

"It was still very much a shock," says Pitts of his death, despite his resignation to it. "He was so young and there were so many close calls. He pulled a miracle out of nowhere once. But when we were all sitting there together at his memorial, we realized he wasn't on some retreat getting care. He was really gone."

Fekete's passing informed the creation of the record, if only by the impact he'd had on Pitts as "a human being who loved people," and the bands he exposed Pitt to.

"'Six Flags in F or G,' that song's completely a nod to Thomas and the bands he showed to me. He was my helper, my sounding board," beams Pitts. "It's a lot of Swell Maps, and Can also. I didn't know what Kratutrock was before I knew Thomas, and he'd blown my mind with it. Just so rhythm driven, and that song reflects all the great music I know of thanks to Thomas."

Pitts hopes Snowdonia captivates fans in the manner Astro Coast did, but adds, "You always hope for the best and it's almost greedy for me to say, 'Why didn't my most recent album touch people the way the old one did?' That said, I'd love it [on our next tour] if people were singing along to 1000 Palms songs," he laughs.

Emulating career models, Pitts aspires to that of the exceedingly prolific Robert Pollard. "We just got back from being on tour with Guided By Voices, and he was swinging the mic, three LPs released in a year. That's what I would love for my life to be like. He didn't start until he was my age," laughs Pitts. He also recounts the first time he met Pollard, supporting Guided By Voices at a festival. "He was in a good mood, and was in a dressing room next to ours. We started talking, and as I was leaving, he said, 'I'm your idol. Admit it!'" Pitts pauses and confesses, "Yeah, he is kind of my Springsteen."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Under the Radar's Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue (January/February/March 2017). This is its debut online.]

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