"This album deals with a lot of new responsibilities and a lot of tragedy" - hmv.com talks to Surfer Blood
Florida indie rockers Surfer Blood have had a rotten couple of years. Their founding guitarist Thomas Fekete, who had departed the band to get treatment for sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, after completing work on their 2015 album 1000 Palms, sadly succumbed to the disease earlier this year, leaving them utterly broken-hearted.
After taking some time to grieve and regroup the band - who now have a new bassist in Lindsey Mills, adding female vocals to their mix - headed into the studio and have come out with a brand new LP, a tribute to Fekete.
We spoke to frontman John Paul Pitts about life without Fekete and why F. Scott Fitzgerald inspired their new album...
When did you start work on the songs for Snowdonia?
"I started a new batch of songs in December 2015, it was the first time in a few years I’d sat down with an acoustic guitar and a notebook and written songs alone. I ended up writing over 20 songs for Snowdonia, some got merged together and others got broken up into shorter songs. I had bought my first tape machine and was messing around with analog tape for the first time and having a lot of fun recording demos in my apartment."
How did you want this album to move on from 1000 Palms?
"1000 Palms was written and recorded right after we were dropped from Warner Brothers in 2014. We decided to take the opportunity to explore some of the weirder ideas we’d put on the back burner once we signed that deal. In hindsight, I think we were trying to be impressive, we’d grown so much as musicians and were all speaking the same musical language and we were trying to make a record that would showcase how far we’d come."
"Instrumentally, it was a challenging record, but after touring on it for a few months I missed the immediacy of some of our older songs. It felt good to write some four-chord pop songs like 'Matter of Time' and 'Dino Jay', the songs on Snowdonia would end up taking on a life of their own, but it started with the search to write pure pop music."
This is your first album working without Thomas, how did that affect the writing and recording process?
"It was difficult at first, Thom was fighting for his life while I was writing the material for this record, and I’d become used to having his input on most of our stuff. I’ve always trusted Thom’s musical instincts, he introduced me to so many bands I would’ve never heard of otherwise, and he helped me finish a lot of the songs on the previous two records."
"I decided to write as much as possible and worry about editing the material later, that way I wouldn’t have a chance to be a perfectionist. I’ve always worked and re-worked my songs to death, and Thom was always the one who would tell me when a song was finished and it was time to move on, so I had to give myself time limits and to not overwork the material."
What was the song on the album that took the longest to get right?
"They all came together pretty quickly, once I had made some rough demos it was just a matter of moving parts around and arranging them with the band. The end of the song 'Doppelgangers' really came to life once we started all rehearsing together, we extended the guitar outro and arranged a lot of interlocking parts that make the song. It was originally a much shorter song but I’m glad we had the opportunity to have one extended instrumental outro on the record."
And which came together most quickly?
"I wrote 'Matter of Time' in a few hours, I had just purchased my first tape machine and was really excited about recording something with it. I had come up with the chord progression and melody earlier, and I wrote the lyrics in the morning and recorded the demo in the afternoon. I really loved the contrast of the sweet and simple lyrics with the primal drumbeat and blown-out analog production."
What kind of album is this lyrically? Does it have a common theme?
"A lot of these songs have to do with ageing, I turned 30 recently and the last few years have been less carefree than when the band first started. This album deals with a lot of new responsibilities and a lot of tragedy, but also enough time to reflect on how amazing and crazy my 20's were."
When did you settle on the title of Snowdonia? And why?
"The idea for the name Snowdonia came to me in a dream. I was reading The Beautiful And The Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald and in the first scene the female character is the muse of beauty and charm about to be born into Jazz-age New York City. That night I had a dream where I met a woman named Snowdonia who was probably, on some subconscious level related to the character in the book."
"I had been working on the instrumental parts of the title track the previous day, and I started combing different bits of material together and everything started falling into place. I liked the name a lot, and when I saw the photo that would eventually become the cover image, which taken by my friend Devra Freelander, I knew it had to be the name of the album."
Were there any other titles in contention?
"I was thinking of calling it Bobo, or possibly Jimbo. I got the idea from our guitarist Mikey, he has some cousins with some funny names, and I just found those two in particularly inspiring."
What are your plans to take the record out live?
"We’re out on tour right now across the US. We just announced a tour of the UK and Europe, and are excited about playing some shows overseas for the first time since 2015! The new songs have been translating well live and are getting better every night. Looking forward to playing a lot of shows in the next few months!"