Interview Surfer Blood: ‘I Definitely Think We’re Still Underdogs’

As Surfer Blood return, music isn’t the first thing on the agenda.

How do you separate music from the people who make it? In an age where we can usually look up the backstories of a band’s members in the blink of an eye, can music really be anonymous? Should it be? For John Paul Pitts, it’s actually not something he’s struggled with. Well, as a music fan, anyway. “I’ve never really been that curious about the people whose music I really admire,” he explains. But as lead singer of Surfer Blood, he’s more than aware that people will be listening to their new album and trying to glean from it more context and information surrounding his arrest last year, following an argument with his then-girlfriend, for domestic battery.

“I’m resigned to the fact that people will try to pick it apart, and analyse it,” he admits. “But the songs are their own thing. I don’t look back on them as an extension of that relationship, or that incident. They’ve taken on a life of their own, and after recording them and playing them live, they mean much more to me than one particular time in my life.” Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t seem like something he’s fond of remembering. “It’s really emotional to talk about,” Pitts notes. “It takes the wind out of my sails every time I do. I’ve done a few interviews regarding it before. Out of respect for the situation, I didn’t want to have all the details of my personal life aired out in public. But I wanted people to have a better grasp on all the facts and what actually was going on.”

Since the arrest, Pitts has been in anger management; it seems to have been a positive experience for him. “Honestly, I was kind of sceptical at first; I was willing to co-operate with suggestions made but I didn’t expect to get as much out of it as I did, really,” he says. “The group setting was really productive, hearing other people’s stories and realising that a lot of these people are just good people who’ve made mistakes, and just have problems. It was really helpful.” It’s not the cheeriest thing to talk about, but Pitts’s still very open and honest about the “incident”, as he calls it, and doesn’t deny its part in ‘Pythons’. Although a lot of songs were written before his arrest, he explains, “There’s no way something like that is not going to work its way into your songwriting, somehow.”
Pitts mentions that much of the album is about “distance, unrequited love, longing, that whole thing.” He laughs. “I’m a sucker for that. It’s all based in real romance, friendship and relationships.” So if songs are based on real events, why should you remove the person who wrote them from that? A good counterpoint is the fact that fans will also take a song and make it their own, thinking about their own break-ups and unrequited loves. They also might just get the meaning wrong, as Pitts confesses: “I’m really bad at misinterpreting lyrics, honestly. I’ve often misconstrued the meaning of a song, and then listened to the lyrics and realised it’s about something completely different.”

“If music is infectious enough, maybe you can enjoy it in spite of whatever context you frame it in,” Pitts ponders. That seems to be the spirit in which Surfer Blood make their music. Between their 2010 debut album ‘Astro Coast’ and ‘Pythons’, he states: “We’ve definitely become much better songwriters, much more creative musicians. The songs are more concise, more hard-hitting, but they still have that unhinged character that makes us unique, makes us not sound like other bands. The main difference is that now we’re a band who have songs, instead of a lot of cool ideas stuck together.”

He’s certainly not complaining about Surfer Blood’s new home: “It’s been good so far; while it sucked waiting around for so long, they also put us in a real studio for the first time. We’d never really done that before. Recording in that environment was really fun and inspiring. I enjoyed it, personally. It’s a lot different from trying to record yourself in an apartment or something.” As well as describing the studio’s décor as “really swanky”, Pitts also adds that “It’s hard for something to not sound good in those rooms. It’s really pleasant when you don’t have to work really hard to get good sounds, and you just sound good right off the bat.”

Pitts still sees the band as fighting to get noticed. Talking about the cover art of ‘Pythons’, he explains: “We came up with the name and the cover image at the same time, one night when we were hanging out in Texas. I really liked that it embodies the idea of escapism, vulnerability, you know. I thought it was a nice, endearing concept that makes sense with our band because we’ve always sort of seen ourselves as underdogs, coming from Florida, so we presented our ideas to our friend Esteban who lives in Boston, and he came up with all the sketches and the little illustrations. And it looks cool.”

Even now they’re signed to Warner, they still have that mentality. “I definitely think we’re still underdogs, we still tour in a van with one or two people, and we can still barely pay our rent sometimes. I mean, we’ve come really far, it’s been a really nice run, but I would like to keep growing as a band, as musicians. I would like to play to more people, that’s something we aspire to. That feeling of being underdogs never really goes away for us. Or it hasn’t yet, at least.” Maybe it will, one day. Pitts points out that Surfer Blood are “pretty much in it for the long haul,” when asked if the band were supportive around the time of his arrest. “We’ve known each other for so long, we’ve seen each other at our very best and our very worst,” he jokes. “We’re still together after 40-something days on the road with Foals.”

Surfer Blood’s new album ‘Pythons’ will be released on 17th June via Sire.

Read the full interview in the new edition of DIY Weekly, available from iTunes now.

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