John Paul Pitts of Surfer Blood recalls the first time he was interviewed by Nardwuar the Human Serviette in 2010. The quartet were reaping the rewards of their critically successful debut Astro Coast, released a few months prior, when the iconic interviewer and media personality approached them. A huge stepping stone for any upcoming artist, the goofball personality was known for paving his way through music journalism with eccentric approaches and intensive research – someone who can make the interviewee more nervous than the interviewer – in this case with Surfer Blood.
“I was so nervous to do that interview. Probably more nervous than anything else because that guy does his research and he is notorious for fucking with people,” the frontman half-jokes.
”But it went alright and afterwards he was so nice. He even came to our show and sent me a package of DVDs and weird zines and stuff that he had contributed to. He’s an odd guy on- and off-camera but off-camera he’s super supportive and nice.”
If you look closely into the 10 minute video, the members are only a few years out of their teens, freshly dropped out of college (which they still agree was the “greatest decision they’ve ever made”), and talking about going to a Diplo party.
It was a time where American indie was taking over the cultural music cycle and bands like Vampire Weekend, MGMT and Grizzly Bear were taking over every teen blogger’s peripherals. Surfer Blood, too, were one of the firsts to imprint their Floridan surf-pop sound, all-inclusive with a charming Twin Peaks reference. They were the first wave of bands from the Internet-bred, late 2000s indie rock current that inspired the cesspool of mediocre indie rock bands to come, jumping on the bandwagon and rushing to meet the casts of the originals.
Fast forward to today where they’re on their first ever UK tour (if you don’t count the London show they did two years back), consisting of a stop at Joiners, Southampton, where the interview is taking place before their set. We talk about the difference in UK and US music scenes, and how smaller venues overwhelm the UK making it easier for smaller bands to get recognised. In contrast, the two members sitting across the table (frontman John Paul Pitts and bassist Kevin Williams) explain how unexpectedly isolated their home state Florida is to the rest of the US, relying on DIY shows at first when “it took a lot of commitment driving 10 hours to play to 10 people in Atlanta when you’re just starting out.”
They’ve come a long way since then, and light up when fan-boying about Mac Demarco and his successes as an indie artist, something they can relate to as a band. But when asked about the current state of indie rock music, they become oddly defensive: “It doesn’t affect us really because we’re going to make the same kind of music and there are people out there just like us who like the same bands that we do. If we play a show to 50 people but they love our music, that’s a great night for us.”
They proudly keep their noses in their own circles, and Pitts continues, “We’ve never really looked to trends in music and tried to latch onto them because that seems a little transparent and soulless to do stuff like that. I write music that sounds like the bands I listened to growing up, and whether or not guitar bands are getting attention this year or next year is probably not going to change our sound.”
The venue is empty except for the opening bands that are sound checking in the next room. The air is a bit tense, as all interviews are but this one in particular is a bit more nerve-wracking.
Audio Addict considers skirting around the elephant in the room, but mentioning Pitt’s arrest in early 2012 following a fight with an ex-girlfriend is unavoidable. All charges were dropped but it left an uncertain aftertaste with their sophomore album, Pythons, eventually leading to the band being dropped from Warner Brothers.
The incident cut short their debut momentum and led to a short break from music.
“I’ve never aspired to write more than catchy, weird pop songs. There might have been a better way to handle the situation and there might have been a better outcome, but I don’t regret anything with the way we handled it but I definitely did not want to be the centre of a media circus.”
Their first album in two years perseveres through the recent uncertainty of their career and returns back to the sunlit charm of Astro Coast. Not only have they revamped their signature sound, but being forced to go back to their original DIY methods actually came as a blessing in disguise.
“It kind of was, in a lot of ways, a fresh start. We were on a major label for our last record, and it was a frustrating experience working with all the different personalities. We had a clean break and we didn’t have a label behind us for the first time in five years. We always had someone putting out our records and promoting out stuff and in a lot of ways it was a clean start for us. And we’re back to a recording set up that we were all comfortable with, that we have more freedom and flexibility with.”
The result is 1000 Palms, a collection of oddball glistering guitar-pop that balances subtlety and spontaneity in just 37 minutes. They’re not starting from ground zero – just going back to what works best for them.