The alternative band talks about their change in sound, and the elements that still define their music.
At first listen, it’s hard to believe that the members of Surfer Blood grew up playing in South Florida’s pop-punk and hardcore metal scene. But chronicling the band’s change in sound from their 2009 debut album, Astro Coast, up to their most recent release, Pythons, it becomes clear that the group values guitar-driven melodies anchored by powerful pop hooks.
“We grew up listening to '90s college rock,” says frontman John Paul Pitts. “My favorite bands were Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, Built to Spill.” Pitts also cites their most recent tour buddies, The Pixies, as an important influence. “I had no idea that we would be touring with them. That was an absolute dream come true.” The band comes to New Orleans on Tuesday to play a show at One Eyed Jacks.
Recorded mostly from home or in friends’ apartments, Astro Coast took the indie world by storm, with singles “Swim” and “Floating Vibes” reaching the top of the college radio charts. The album started as a compulsion for the band members to “do something different,” and to begin taking their music aspirations seriously. This resulted in a group decision to quit school and work, which Pitts admits they were never too good at anyway, and to focus on a new project, originally titled Jabroni Sandwich but eventually settling on Surfer Blood. “We had no idea what to expect,” says Pitts. “We were writing these songs and I knew that I wanted to record them. Actually, that I had to. We didn’t know where it stood in the contemporary music landscape.”
Following the success of Astro Coast, Surfer Blood released a four song, 15 minute EP in 2011. Appropriately titled, Tarot Classics, the mini-album revealed a gloomier side to the band. Dark but danceable melodies haunt a majority of the songs, while Pitts’ lyrics express intense paranoia and expose a laundry list of insecurities. 2013’s Pythons, comes off as a refreshing balance between the band’s previous projects, with a studio-enriched clarity. Pitts states, “I definitely don’t want to be the band that puts out the same record over and over, and I don’t want to be the band whose songs sound the same all the way through an album. It’s nice to have motion, high chords and low chords. That’s what we’ve focused on. Every record should be a unique thing and stand on its own.”
While the album strays from the homemade sound that contributed to the success of Astro Coast, Pitts remains confident. “For Pythons, we had the means to record in a studio, to be picky and test new sounds. I think if people called us a lo-fi band, it’s because that was what we were doing at the time. I’ve never been opposed to production and I definitely don’t think that Pythons is a record that was overproduced. We tried to keep all the sounds natural and gritty. So, slicker but not overproduced.”
Still facing backlash after being arrested for domestic battery in early 2012 - charges which have since been dropped - it’s no surprise that Pitts has grown especially fond of some of the album’s sadder songs. “There’s one song, ‘Needles and Pins’ which I really like because it’s not like anything we have done before, driven by an acoustic guitar. It was good for us to write some songs that used different elements from classic pop and rock in a context that we’ve never really explored before.”
Overall, Pitts is proud of what he refers to as the band’s “most live sounding record to date.” “The writing process was more concentrated,” says Pitts. “We had 24 songs written for the studio that we could all play together live. In the past, we’ve done a lot copying and pasting, or we would record a song instrumentally and I would write the lyrics last minute and paste them over. That’s why this record feels a bit more alive, more real and natural - because by the time we went in to record the songs, we had already demo'ed them and learned what was working and what wasn’t.”
We have a pair of tickets to give away to the show; you can register here to enter the drawing. The contest closes October 29 at noon Central.