There are a number of signs indicating you should not take Surfer Blood seriously.
You can start with that name, which I suppose is still better than original moniker Jabroni Sandwich. But it’s not like Surfer Blood spared us completely: we still have to utter song titles like “Fast Jabroni” and “Slow Jabroni”.
Then there’s reverence with which it sticks to the indie rock playbook. The band’s Astro Coast has shades of Pavement and Modest Mouse and The Shins, but let’s be honest, subconsciously or not, it prays at the altar of The Blue Album.
While plenty of bands have drawn from these influences though, few have pulled it off as confidently and convincingly as Surfer Blood does on Astro Coast. Nine months after its release, the album continues to sound better with each listen. Perhaps it’s a reaction to the glut of bloated statement records that have been shoved down our throats this year, but there’s something refreshing about ten rock songs executed proficiently without pretense. In other words, to quote Chet Betz: “Well, then, I guess I still care about indie rock.”
So, just because Surfer Blood doesn’t take itself seriously, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.
I chatted briefly with frontman JP Pitts at the outset of Surfer Blood’s month long trek with The Drums. We talked about growing up on tour, their co-headliners, and what the future holds for Surfer Blood, before the death of his cell phone put an abrupt end to the conversation.
Surfer Blood and The Drums play 9:30 Club on Sunday. (win tickets here)
BYT: You guys have been on the road for a good part of a year. Has experience of playing night in and night out brought any changes to the band?
JP Pitts: I think it’s definitely changed us. We’re all much better musicians. We’ve learned a lot from touring. There’s much more discipline within the band than there was before.
BYT: Discipline where?
JP: To be honest, when we first started out we had no idea what to do and what to expect or how to do anything, and now we do. I think we all kind of understand our role within the band, what we need to do, and what our strengths and weaknesses are. We know what each of us need to do to make a tour successful.
BYT: Most of the songs you’re playing were written years ago. Do you still get a thrill playing them?
JP: Oh yeah, I think the songs take on a new life when you play them live. We have been playing them for a really long time now, but it’s still exciting to see people in the crowd singing along to the words and getting really excited, because it’s their first time seeing us or whatever. I think seeing people that sort of excitement on other people faces is enough to keep it feeling really awesome for us.
BYT: Are you writing any new material?
JP: I guess we have a lot of ideas, and a lot fragments that we’ve been throwing around for a while, that we’re going to start demoing soon. And we’ve been playing two new songs live. Both are really cool. It’s just a matter of taking all that material and giving it a direction and just trying to tie it all together and really hash it out. That’s something we’re going to work on, probably this winter.
BYT: Astro Coast was recorded on the cheap. Is there any desire to get into a kind of a nice, proper studio, or are you going to stick with what works?
JP: Not necessarily a nice studio, but I think we’re going to have more resources for the next record, I think it would be a shame to overlook that, or turn your nose up at that. I’m not opposed to work with nicer equipment and having more resources, it’s just a matter of being in a comfortable environment and working with people that we like and trust. I think that’s the most important thing for any project.
BYT: It’s obviously pretty far ahead if you’re not even at the demo stage yet, but do you anticipate staying on Kanine Records? Have you been approached by other labels?
JP: We actually just signed a deal with Warner Brothers International.
BYT: When did that happen?
JP: It happened really recently, so I don’t think there’s been a whole lot of press about it yet.
BYT: You’ve referred to your co-headliners The Drums as good friends. What’s your history with the band?
JP: Actually we kind of owe a lot to them. We found Kanine records through The Drums. Jacob, who plays guitar in the band – I’ve kind of known him for a really long time. He was in Orlando when I was going to college in there. I’d see him at shows all the time, and we talked. And then he moved to New York and I didn’t really hear anything about him for two years or so. And then one day – this was when Surfer Blood was almost finished with the recording and starting to put things up on the Internet – I guess he managed to hear some of the song, he contacted me via The Drums e-mail. And, I’m like, “Oh, dude, how’s it going?” And he’s like, “Great, I really like your band. I’m going to send this stuff to over my friend, Leo, who runs this label called Kanine Records. They’re really good with bands that are new and up and coming. And sure enough Leo came to one of our shows in New York and pretty much signed us the next day, because he liked what he saw.
BYT: You’ve played with The Drums before this tour, right?
JP: Oh yeah, lots of times, especially overseas, since they’ve been touring overseas for the past six months solid, touring Europe and the rest of the world. And we’ve been played with them a few times in New York. We’ve also seen them around festivals all over the place. We’ve been through the rounds together.
BYT: The last time Surfer Blood came through DC, you were another headlining tour, opening for The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Is there something about sharing a bill that relieves some pressure?
JP: I think it’s a cool situation to be in. A lot of the time, you have different fan bases, but touring with a band like The Drums or Pains, there’s bound to be a lot overlap, so either band is going to end up making new fans off of a tour like that. And, it’s kind of cool to hang out with bands who are in a similar situation as you are.