A conversation with John Paul Pitts and Kevin Williams of Surfer Blood
Surfer Blood have had a tough time since lead singer John Paul Pitts’s arrest in 2012. Now the charges have been dropped, the band have signed to Warner Bros and released their follow-up album Pythons earlier this month. JP and Kevin took some time to chat to The Upcoming before their in-store performance at Rough Trade East.
JPP: We were signed to Warner Brothers and the songs were pretty much already written when I was arrested – so I’d say it factored into it very little. Sometimes I read the lyrics and it seems prophetic, but I it really didn’t affect any of our decisions.
So how did the deal come about?
JPP: Well, there was this A&R guy there, he was about our age and he had really good taste in music. When we talked to him we got a lot less apprehensive. We realised this was our opportunity to make a big sounding record and to be picky.
Pythons and Astro Coast were made in quite different ways. When and how were the songs for the new album written?
JPP: With Astro Coast we had ten songs, we recorded ten songs and it all just happened to be good. After it came out, we didn’t know what we were doing so we said yes to every show. So for Pythons we came up with ideas on the road a lot.
KW: It dépends, too. Some songs came together really fast, while others were a long time in the making like Prom Song. That was an idea we’d been working on since Tarot Classics.
Songs like Gravity or I Was Wrong from the new album discuss being apart from a loved one. In Gravity the singer describes a force keeping him and his distant lover together against all odds. Was this inspired by being on tour?
JPP: Yeah, distance is a theme. We grew up in a small town (West Palm Beach) and the music community there is really tight. We’d lived in that world for a really long time and then we went on tour for two years – it was strange.
There’s also a lot of hope – no matter what they’ll stay together.
JPP: Yeah, I guess I was in a particularly optimistic mood that day.
The album cover features a young boy flexing a bicep that simply isn’t there. Do you see him as a dreamer or a fool?
KW: Childlike escapism, of sorts. It’s not really about the strength. The image is more about what he’s thinking in his head.
JPP: That confidence and that sense of invulnerability.
How did Gil Norton get involved?
JPP: Working with a producer was something totally new to us.
KW: We talked to a few producers to get to Gil. Then Gil struck us immediately as the most enthusiastic. We’d been hearing good things, and that we should work with Gil. It definitely solidified it to get on the phone with him and hear how interested he was.
JPP: He’d digested all the mp3s I’d sent him the night before in less than 12 hours and he had notes, and was ready to talk about the songs. If you listen to the demos, the songs are there, but they got this whole new energy once Gil got his hands on them.
What’s the indie scene like in South Florida? We don’t hear about many bands coming from there.
JPP & KW: Well, there’s not a lot of bands!
It’s just such a different story from the normal thing we hear about bands starting in Brooklyn…
JPP: Sometimes I don’t envy bands from New York though. You form a band, you want people to like you. You play one show in a small venue. Someone trashes it because everybody sucks at their first show – it’s just a fact of life – and suddenly everyone will remember you as that band that sucked at their first show. We had a lot of time to grow as a live band and playing for eight people in a bar definitely makes you grateful when there are people coming to your shows.
You’re playing Reading this August. There’s a rough rep at those festivals – people getting bottled off stage and stuff.
JPP: Oh my god, I’ve had nightmares about it. I’ve seen videos of what happened to My Chemical Romance. Not that I have any affinity for that band, but I hate to see anyone have urine thrown at them.
Photo: Charlotte Bruning
Read about Surfer Blood at Rough Trade East here.
For further information about Surfer Blood and future events visit here.