Surfer Blood matures into a sweet spot
After a brief stint as the indie buzz band of the moment and a major-label deal with Warner Bros., Surfer Blood is finally finding its sweet spot by going back to basics.
John Paul Pitts is the frontman of the Florida-bred group, which plays the Blind Pig tonight. Pitts says the years immediately following the release of the group’s 2010 debut “Astro Coast” were a “whirlwind” that he’s glad to have moved beyond.
“When we were traveling the country and it felt like we were the ‘it’ band there for a minute we weren’t necessarily listening to each other or playing off each other well or understanding each other’s musical sensibilities,” Pitts says. “And that took us years.”
It also took a less-than-ideal arrangement with Warner Bros., which released the group’s 2013 sophomore LP, “Pythons.” Pitts expresses gratitude for the extraordinary experiences Warner’s money made possible, like recording at EastWest Studios with Pixies producer Gil Norton. That’s the Hollywood facility where “Pet Sounds” was tracked. However, he says that’s not something the band “needed or asked for.”
“We’re dorks about home recording and we’ve all been playing in bands for years,” Pitts says. “That was the first thing we’d ever done that wasn’t home-funded self-recording in our entire lives. It wasn’t the most natural fit for us.”
So for Surfer Blood’s new LP, “1000 Palms,” the band went very much back to its roots. The group rehearsed and wrote material in a friend’s basement, then recorded it in drummer Tyler Schwarz’s parents’ house and Pitts’ home studio.
“We got our first chance to breathe and reflect since we first started doing this,” Pitts says. “We kind of just realized that you have to make this all fun. If anyone’s going to make you happy it’s yourself.”
Although some reviews have cast “1000 Palms” as a sonic return to form after the more refined pop production of “Pythons,” Pitts says he sees the album as a “completely new direction.” While the warm hooks and subtle surf-rock influences that defined “Astro Coast” are still there, “1000 Palms” has a sense of maturity and relaxation, even sobriety, that’s certainly fresh for Surfer Blood.
“The songs are written by a band who’s older, have learned a lot about life and about music and about each other, and is at that point where they can just bounce ideas off each other and make a record,” Pitts says.
Despite the rejuvenating recording process, the band suffered a major setback last month just before “1000 Palms” debuted. Guitarist Thomas Fekete announced his departure from the band to treat an aggressive sarcoma that had spread to his lungs and spine. Pitts says the band is taking Fekete’s absence “day by day” and planning on his eventual return.
“He’s just this healthy, positive guy, like this glowing, radiant force,” Pitts says. “We all knew this was a possibility but it was kind of in the back of our minds.”
Surfer Blood’s setbacks would be enough to break many bands. But Pitts says he perseveres because “this is what I’ve wanted to do since I was 13 years old.”
“At the end of the day, when you take a scrap of an idea and turn it into a song with your friends, it’s the best feeling,” he says. “And when you play that song for people who understand it and really like it… that’s a great feeling and it makes all the other stuff that’s less than fun worth it.”
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
with Alex Calder
9 p.m. tonight
The Blind Pig
208 S. First, Ann Arbor