Interview: Upbringing: Surfer Blood

Frontman John Paul Pitts tells DIY about his first gigs, albums and early musical obsessions.

The two founding members of Surfer Blood, John Paul Pitts and Tyler Schwarz, met in West Palm Beach, Florida. Growing up on a diet of traded CDs and recommendations nabbed from film credits, Jabroni Sandwich was soon born, and then re-named. Fast forward to 2015, and Surfer Blood are amping up to release their third album; one that sees them go back to their DIY roots by self-producing and recording themselves.

With their new album ‘1000 Palms’ out on 18th May, we decided to quiz Surfer Blood frontman John Paul Pitts about his early musical obsessions. We established that he has an exemplary taste when it comes to choosing first gigs. It also turns out that Surfer Blood learned the hard way about keeping guitars clean.

What was the first gig you ever went to?

No Doubt on their ‘Return of Saturn’ tour. It was the first time I ever saw people smoking pot and it really scared me.

Were there a good supply of venues in your hometown, growing up?

Not really, South Florida is pretty geographically isolated and a lot of touring bands skip over that part of the world. As a result we all spent our high school years playing wherever we could; coffee shops, sports bars and warehouses. We would also put on a lot of our own shows, one of our friends had a PA and nice parents who owned a dance studio, they’d let him put on shows there at night and our friends’ bands would all play for each other. It was the same thirty people every time, but it was still a lot of fun.

What was the first song you developed an obsession for?

‘The Presidents of the United States of America’ by Peaches.

What’s the story behind your first instrument?

My first instrument was a hand me down from my dad. It was an old nylon Epiphone guitar that I learned to play on. The first time I opened the case a roach crawled out of the sound hole. I don’t think it’d been played in twenty years.

What’s your worst musical habit?

When I’m nervous I forget to breathe sometimes and my voice cracks like a teenager. There are times when I have to remind myself to breathe on stage!

What was the first album you ever bought with your own money, and why?

The Pixies, ‘Doolittle’. I saw Fight Club in the eighth grade and the scene at the end with ‘Where Is My Mind’ blew my mind. This is before there was such a thing as internet on your phone, so my friend and I watched the entire credits of the movie to see what that song was. We agreed the next day that we’d take our limited funds and go to the mall and each buy a Pixies CD, and then we’d trade when we’d gotten sick of our respective CD’s. He bought ‘Surfer Rosa’ and I bought ‘Doolittle’.

What inspires your songwriting, outside of music?

Literature, travelling, relationships, being in and out of touch with people, nature, food.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given as a band?

“Drink plenty of water” – Ian MacKaye
“Do not fear mistakes, there are none.” – Miles Davis
“You can get away with a lot of shit if it looks like all you know how to do.” –Henry Rollins

If you could be any band from the past two decades who would it be, and why?

Yo La Tengo: their output is consistently amazing and they keep things interesting. I’ve always wanted to be a band where every record is different from the last and Yo La Tengo is a band who’ve done that well. They’ve scored films, released some lo-fi sounding records and some glossy ones, and they are compelling in any incarnation. In my opinion they’re one of the most interesting and versatile bands of the past few decades.

Surfer Blood’s new album ‘1000 Palms’ is out on 18th May, via Fierce Panda Records.

Tags: Surfer Blood, Upbringing, Features

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