2016 Artist Survey: John Paul Pitts of Surfer Blood | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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2016 Artist Survey: John Paul Pitts of Surfer Blood

Pitts on 2016's Best Albums, Trump and the Election, Protest Music, Memorable Fan Encounters, and Scary Movies

Feb 13, 2017 Surfer Blood
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For Under the Radar‘s 14th annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to 2016. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2016 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions. Here are some answers from John Paul Pitts of Surfer Blood.

Surfer Blood released a new album, Snowdonia, on February 3 via Joyful Noise. Snowdonia is the band’s first album since the death of guitarist Thomas Fekete, who passed away last May after a hard fought battle with cancer. Understandably, the band now has a new lineup, with frontman John Paul Pitts and drummer Tyler Schwarz remaining and being joined by their high school friends Michael McCleary on guitar and Lindsey Mills on bass. Former bassist Kevin Williams previously left the band in October 2015. Snowdonia is the first album since the Florida band’s 2010-released debut, Astro Coast, that Pitts has written and mixed alone.

For our annual Artist Surveys we emailed the same set of questions to musicians about Trump and the election, 2016’s deaths, self-driving cars, Stranger Things, first kisses, scary movies they shouldn’t have seen as a child, which Friends character they are most like, and much more.

Pick up or download Under the Radar’s Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue for Artist Survey interviews with Amber Arcades, Austra, Faris Badwan of Cat’s Eyes and The Horrors, Boxed In, Caveman, The Charlatans, Cursive, Lucy Dacus, The Dears, C Duncan, Sadie Dupuis of Sad13 and Speedy Ortiz, Dutch Uncles, Ezra Furman, Robyn Hitchcock, The Invisible, Justin Lockey of Editors and Minor Victories, Lost Under Heaven (LUH), Lush, Midlake, Phantogram, The Range, Springtime Carnivore, Sunflower Bean, Surfer Blood, TEEN, The Thermals, Nick Valensi of CRX and The Strokes, Jenn Wasner of Flock of Dimes and Wye Oak, and Yuck.

A shorter version of Surfer Blood’s survey appeared in the print version of Under the Radar’s Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue, this is the full unedited version.

Top 10 Albums of 2016

1. Mitski: Puberty 2
2. Whitney: Light Upon the Lake
3. David Bowie: Blackstar
4. Alex Calder: BEND
5. The Avalanches: Wildflower
6. Sound of Ceres: Nostalgia for Infinity
7. Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial
8. Angel Olsen: MY WOMAN
9. Parquet Courts: Human Performance
10. Kendrick Lamar: untitled unmastered.

2016 was regarded by many as a fairly tough and negative year. Was it also a hard year for you personally? If so, how? And also what were the high points for you?

2016 may be the worst year I can remember. We lost our guitarist, Thomas Fekete, to cancer earlier this year and that was just the worst. I had never lost anyone so close to me before, and am still grappling with how to deal with that loss. On top of all of that, obviously everything is going to shitI can’t believe who our next president is going to be. Can’t even bring myself to say his name yet.

What are your thoughts on how the U.S. presidential election played out?

I didn’t see it coming, I had been watching the polls and feeling confident that everything was going to go the other way. Now I feel kind of guilty for allowing myself to believe any of it, when I saw Michigan and Wisconsin go red I knew it was over. I wonder if those people who wrote in “Harambe” are still laughing.

Lets discuss Donald Trump. What does the rise of Trump tell you about America in 2016? What concerns you most about a Trump presidency? How do you think his presidency might personally change your life? What message do you have for those who voted for Trump? What actions will you take over the course of the next four years to either protest a Trump presidency or support it?

The idea of a Trump presidency is scary to me. We were so lucky to have Obama, and I realize that now. I honestly didn’t know what a kleptocracy was before this election, but it looks we may be backsliding into one. It’s crazy that he spent months talking about Hillary Clinton and “the politics of personal enrichment.” What concerns me most are healthcare and reproductive rights, civil rights, and climate change: three things we can no longer afford to take for granted. I feel like now is the time for everyone to keep their eyes open, this new administration is going to have to be watched constantly and challenged often. I’m afraid of what he’ll do to the Supreme Court. I am really worried about the way his election galvanized his supporters to believe that white supremacy is okay. I think the best we can do for now is try to reinforce the fact that what he believes, and what his supporters believe, is wrong.

What reality TV star would you have rather been elected president?

Maybe Tim Gunn or Gordon Ramsay, but I’m open to ideas.

If you were president, what would you try to accomplish in your first 100 days in office?

I don’t think I’d make a great president, that’s a lot of pressure and criticism. If I could wave a magic wand I’d get rid of private prisons, get the U.S. on a single-payer healthcare system, and abolish ATM fees. Also, I’d make all airlines board the back of the plane first.

What are your thoughts on Brexit and the future of the European Union? To what extent do you think the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump were motivated by the same factors?

A lot of people are scared because the world is changing rapidly, and a lot of politicians are using that fear for their own advancement. Its easy to blame refugees and immigrants for all our problems since they can’t always speak up for themselves, I’m just disappointed to see that so many people are buying into that narrative.

We lost three highly influential music icons in 2016. What are your thoughts on the passing of David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen? And what are your favorite albums by each artist?

They’re all incredible. Thankfully all three left us with decades of great records. They all lived rich, colorful lives and influenced generations of musicians. I’d have to go with Songs of Leonard Cohen, 1999, and Hunky Dory, although Blackstar is great and gave me chills when I first heard it.

What do you think Prince and Bowies afterlife project sounds like?

I’m sure the live show is awesome! Probably a lot of guitarmonies and soft piano interludes, I think Freddie Mercury and Phil Lynott are there too. Hopefully they can collaborate on a movie, I loved Purple Rain and Labyrinth.

Which Friends character are you most like?

I still haven’t watched Friends.

What scary movie did you see way too young as a child, howd you end up seeing it, and does it still scare you now?

Poltergeist really shook me up, for years I was afraid that a ghost would come out of our TV. I think my parents thought I was ready when I was really young, but I wasn’t. Then I saw The Ring and that just reinforced all my fears.

Are you ready for self-driving cars and a more automated future?

I feel like automated cars are going to do just as much harm as good, and I don’t know if I’m at a point where I trust a car to drive me around. That being said, computers and smart phones are amazing and have changed my life (for better and worse).

Tell us about the most memorable fan encounter you had this year.

One of the most rewarding parts of making music is hearing that it actually helps people get through tough times in their lives. Through the years I’ve heard “your music got me through high school” or “your music helped me get through my divorce.” This year I heard “your music got me through my tour of duty in Afghanistan.”

Tell us about your first kiss.

It was at the mall…

Under the Radar has been around for 15 years now, since December 2001. How do you feel the music industry has most changed in that time, both for the better and the worst?

Well, digital technology and the Internet have made a lot of things possible. When Surfer Blood first started we would book entire tours through Myspace, it was a way for us to share our music with a lot of people before we had a label. Keep in mind, we weren’t “discovered” through the Internet, we played tons of shows all over to empty bars before people took notice of us, but it was an invaluable tool when we were just starting out. I also spend hours on Bandcamp every week, the Internet is great for discovering new music. The downside is money. All that stuff you hear about it being harder and harder to make any money from your music is mostly true, at least in my experience. Record sales are down all around and more independent labels are having to scale back their operations. I guess if people are buying your album at Target you’re probably okay, but independent releases are suffering.

Which Stranger Things character do you most relate with? Why?


2016 saw a resurgence in protest music, with many musicians writing protest songs in response to Donald Trump. Were you tempted to write a Trump protest song and do you see protest music remaining vital throughout the Trump presidency?

I think protest music and art can be a great counterweight. The music of Bob Dylan outlived Vietnam and the Cold War, I just wish the boomers had kept more of that spirit alive. Hopefully our generation will have their idealism in tact four years from now.

Which teacher from your youth made the biggest impact on your life?

Mr. Ruth, he was my government and European history teacher, as well as my soccer coach. High school was a tough time for me, and I don’t know what I would’ve done without a strong role model.

Which fictional post-apocalyptic world (such as Mad Max, Terminator, The Walking Dead, etc.) would you most want to live in and why? Which one would you least like to live in?

They all sound pretty bad, I would like to live in the Star Trek universe please.

Which musical genre features the best fashion styles?

That band Temples dresses awesome.

What was the best Christmas present you received as a child?

My beloved iPod.

What song, past or present, best sums up 2016?

LCD Soundsystem: “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” or David Bowie: “Five Years.”


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February 16th 2017

Surfer Blood for ever!