There are few things worse than interviewing an artist when you’re veritably sick and want to just crawl into a ball… but at least John Paul Pitts of Surfer Blood was super nice through the sniffles and breaks in conversation. In a recent interview with The Aquarian, Pitts shows us that the band has ripened since Astro Coast’s release in 2010. They’ve been through a journey as a band, but more importantly—as friends. Their original guitarist, Thomas Fekete, had left the band due to a diagnosis of a rare form of cancer. In May, their van was broken into, just outside of Chicago. Along with band equipment, cash donations for Thomas were also taken. In the fog of these unfortunate events, fans have remained undeniably devoted to them. Along with Pitts, current members Tyler Schwarz, Mike McCleary, and (newest addition) Lindsey Mills return the appreciation to fans. Surfer Blood is one of those bands that provide purposeful feelings as you listen to them. You not only hear the twangy-surfin’ rock and roll, but their odyssey, as well.
The band had just arrived back from performing overseas, where they witnessed one of the rowdiest crowds ever. “They all went out the window, this last trip,” Pitts revealed. “It depends. In general, the crowd can be a little bit stiffer than they are in America… again I’ve been proven wrong,” he finished. And they have a lot more material to play with their third album, 1000 Palms, released this past summer. After some bumps regarding their sophomore installment, Pythons, the band decided to self-record and produce for the new tracks. They headed back to home base, and even recorded some material in drummer Schwarz’s parents’ basement. Surfer Blood never does the same record twice. “We get restless really easy,” John Paul Pitts explains. “A lot of evolution over the past five years… [we are] not the band that repeats itself too much,” he added. However, punk rock influences stayed with Pitts since high school, revolving his decisions for guitar parts.
Speaking of past five years, one of their biggest and earliest releases, “Swim” was co-written with Pitts’ sister. With the exception of Pythons, she also did the album artwork. “[The] song is about someone swimming across the English Channel… one of those songs I just wrote and didn’t think about it and the lyrics ended up sticking,” Pitts reminisces. Now, the video of their single off 1000 Palms, “Grand Inquisitor,” has its own story. The band met Jason Harvey while on tour, with two of his creative friends. From Berlin, Harvey came up with the concept for the music video. “[‘Grand Inquisitor’ was the] strangest song ever written and thought the video should be equally as bizarre, and Jason came up with the concept,” Pitts explains. “It took him months to do, because to do animation by yourself is really painstaking… which is why it looks so good in a crude way. I really like it,” said Pitts. “If it alienates some people, that’s what happens when you try to do something really different.”
The influence for the third album, comes from Pitts hiking in California. And although he is a spiritual person, he is not dedicated to any school of spirituality or anything of the sort. “Other than the obvious thing that everyone loves nature… [and] things that are vast, that make me feel small… that makes me feel cool,” he explains. “Anything more formal than that, I don’t really get into. But that all plays into 1000 Palms… the hiking in Cali a few years ago was really inspiring to me,” he continues. “[That’s] how I came up with the name…” When naming the band, the inspiration all came from drummer Schwarz. “[It was from] our drummer, who has an interesting way of constructing sentences, haha…” Pitts remembers. “We had packed for a trip and he had a Hurley backpack, and I was making fun of him, because I thought it was goofy that he had that,” he recalls. He continues, “His response was like, ‘Well, you wouldn’t understand, it’s in my blood. I have surfer blood.’ And I was like, ‘WOAH! Say that one more time.’”
For the remainder of the month, Surfer Blood will be on the move. “At this point, writing is something that we are constantly doing. [We] are coming up with new material, even on the road and stuff,” he mentions. “I think we are definitely going to relax and [in] January… get back at it again.” And when Prince or Madonna isn’t playing in the van, Pitts has a handful of unfinished books. “[It’s] rare I finish a book on tour… I get sick. But if I don’t bring books, I feel naked and anxious about it,” says Pitts. “I always bring some on the road, even if I don’t finish it.” Being away from Florida the past few tours, Pitts has started journaling. “I realize, if I look back on tours from three years ago, I can’t tell you what we did on what day. So, now I’m trying to keep track,” he admits. “Plus it’s really good to write your feelings down.” Maybe we can expect a published copy of those journals in the future—filled with some heartache, triumphs, and his regret of ordering a child-sized Garfield costume last Halloween.
Surfer Blood will be playing at Rough Trade in Brooklyn, NY on Nov. 10 and at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ on Nov. 14. For tickets and information, visit their website at surferblood.com. You can donate to help relieve Thomas Fekete’s much-needed medical costs at gofundme.com/welovethomas.