To celebrate the 4 year anniversary of their phenomenal debut album, Astro Coast, we’re happy to bring you our interview with Florida’s answer to modern surf rock, Surfer Blood. We caught up with the band after their set at Riot Fest Chicago back in September, they talked about their first few visits to Chicago, playing festivals, touring with the Pixies and much more.
It’s long overdue, but here it is, Surfer Blood – The Midwest Action Interview with Thomas, Kevin, Tyler and John.
What’s your experience like playing in Chicago?
We played here a few times. Our first time in Chicago, I was just sending people random emails and someone booked us at The Bottom Lounge. We played for 6 people. The really cool thing was the stage manager was super nice, he told us “Don’t worry, I’ll see you guys again”. We came back a year or two later and played a sold out show.
That’s great to see a promoter/club owner appreciated you enough to have you back even if you only brought out 6 people the first time.
How do you feel about playing a festival like Riot Fest? How does it compare to a club show?
Festivals come in all shapes and sizes. I’d say I like the experience of being at a festival and watching all the bands. I like walking around, it’s great for people watching but I think playing a festival is a lot more stressful than a club show, and sometimes a little less rewarding when you get off stage.
But it’s good to come to these things, it’s good to play for people who are watching you for the first time and may not have heard of you. You feel this desire to show them, “No, we’re good, we promise, listen to this riff!” But at a club show there’s more of a feeling of being confident and playing for people that are there for you.
A lot of people are here for just a few specific bands but they might just wander by your set…
And you catch them when they’re burnt out. Playing the last day of a festival, forget about it. People have seen 30 bands at this point, you wonder how they’re still standing up.
It’s a wonder any of us are still standing right now. So, you guys toured with the Pixies right? I read some of the story online, you just met them at an airport one day?
We did actually, we were in Australia doing a festival and then flying to Japan when we met Frank Black and Kim Deal. They seemed like really nice people. They had heard us because they broadcast the festivals in Australia over the national radio station, so on his way to the festival he listened to our entire set.
So it was a real surprise for him to know who we were. We expressed that we were big fans and sure enough they invited us along to come on tour for a few weeks. It was amazing, we got treated like royalty and got to watch them play Dolittle every night.
That seems like a great fit, you guys have a Pixies-esque style to you, I can see the influence.
When we did that tour we didn’t know that we would end up doing our record with Gil Norton (who produced Dolittle). So it ended up being pretty cool that we did that tour because we ended up doing our record with Gil. It all came full circle.
We ended up borrowing some of the Pixies gear. Joey lent us his Marshall and his goldtop Les Paul which we used all over the record. It definitely broke the ice that we toured with them, I don’t know if we would’ve been able to borrow that stuff for so long if we hadn’t.
It’s definitely good to have friends in high places. So your latest album Pythons came out last June, what was the recording process like for that one compared to your first?
We took our time working out the songs more this time around. We knew that when we got to the studio in Los Angeles to record there was going to be a time limit, which was something we were not used to and honestly don’t work well with.
It was about as night and day as you could get. We went and recorded at EASTWEST Studios which is off of Sunset Blvd. right in Hollywood. It’s about as big of a studio experience you could have; Justin Timberlake was recording some of the parts for his record right next to us. Timbaland would come by and we would play him songs, we were constantly surrounded by celebrity musicians and then there was us. It was our first real studio experience.
It was cool being there but I think if we were to do it again we would try to meet somewhere half-way. Maybe not go into as big of a studio. We like it “vibe-y”. Having to round up all the gear to play in there, thank god we were able to call in a couple favors. We walked into the studio the first day and there were no amps, there’s nothing, and it was the size of Indiana.
Being a vinyl nerd, I need to ask the obligatory vinyl questions. In general, what are your thoughts on analog formats making a comeback, I mean, I have a Kanine Records cassette compilation with you guys on it… What are some your favorite records and what do you think about this vinyl resurgence?
I’m definitely way into it. I’m way into analog in general. As far as demoing goes, there’s no better way to do it than on cassette. It’s really stripped down and pure and you don’t get caught up mapping out some crappy drum part.
Also, I can hear when a band has recorded to tape and it sound much better. When people listen to vinyl it’s the truest way their going to hear your band. It’s really nice when people can hear the warmth of vinyl and get geeky about their speakers and amps and stuff.
And invest in some cool high end cartridge and needle…
Yea, it’s like the whole package, you get this beautiful thing. There’s actually some weight to a record when you put it in your hands.
It’s something tangible.
When you put on a record you can physically see the grooves and it’s something that feels like the musician actually touched it. This is an imprint of what they were doing and not some digital interpretation of it. It has this eery connection to it.
The only reason I don’t buy vinyl much on tour anymore is that it doesn’t fare well on a long tour in a hot van where someone might step on it.
You mentioned cassettes too, which is also really exciting to see come back. The price of a cassette has dropped so much that it has basically created a lot of avant-garde and experimental bands that may not have been able to afford to really put out their music. There may not be a big market for their music but they can still create a full package that looks visually appealing.
One of my favorite things in the world are these Mississippi Records compilation cassette tapes that they put out. They’re a record store out in Portland and in my opinion they’re the perfect record store. The owner puts together these mixtapes, I’ll go and buy five of them at once and only recognize one song. It opens so many new doors for me and he sells them for $3.
This is very cliche question but if you had to name one “Desert Island” album what would it be?
That is hard… I would go with Dinosaur Jr.
I would do The White Album.
I’ll go with Pet Sounds.
You guys do have a Beach Boys feel and that surf rock vibe.
Yeah, we like the way he writes melodies and harmonies.
That’d be pretty good if you were stuck on an island.
Yeah, that’s a very literal choice for a desert island album.
Unless you’re stuck in Massachusetts or something, it’s relative to where the island is at.
I was going to say Either/Or by Elliott Smith. I would need some comforting music, I’d be lonely. He sounds like a good comforting person to listen to when you’re all alone on an island and starting to miss people.
Surfer Blood just finished a January tour of the Pacific Northwest as well as a new video for their track “Say Yes To Me”. Keep an eye out for more tour announcements and music from these guys and pick up their latest album Pythons at your local purveyors of fine music.
LIVE PHOTO BY: Catie Laffoon/Red Bull