Surfer Blood: "This album was especially personal for me"
Surfer Blood frontman John Paul Pitts delves deep with his band's new album.
Published: 10:27 pm, February 01, 2017
Surfer Blood’s new album is an important one for the band: following the loss of guitarist Thomas Fekete to cancer in May 2016, it sees frontman John Paul Pitts working through life without him, and introducing new members and schoolmates Michael McCleary on guitar and Lindsey Mills on bass.
Do you feel as though you want different things from your music now than when you released your debut?
Your new album ’Snowdonia’ is out soon, and it sounds immensely personal. Does writing about events from your life change your perspective on them?
At the very least it helps you collect your thoughts. I usually write the song and melodies first and spend weeks procrastinating on the lyrics, writing this record was the first time in a few years I forced myself to sit in a room with a notebook and an acoustic guitar and write lyrics. I wouldn’t say it changes my perspective on events in my life, but it helps make sense of them.
Do you ever worry about songs being too exposing?
Never while I’m writing them, but I always feel insecure afterwards. If I record a demo I usually try and show it to someone as soon as possible, because I’ll end up second-guessing it until I get some outside perspective. So yes, I do worry about exposing myself, but I try not to think about it because if I did, I probably wouldn't end up ever releasing anything.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learnt about yourself over the past few years?
I’ve learned that I’m an introvert, which is not something I never understood about myself when I was younger. Now I realise that I need alone time to process my life, and touring eight months out of the year the way we used to isn't great for me creatively.
I've also learned that if I don't play sports I'll never exercise, so I've gotten really into playing basketball in the past few months. I'm hoping to expand my sporting horizons in the new year.
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Not so much, we've covered a lot of ground and I've learned a lot about recording. There's no question that I've changed through the years, but my fixation with writing music thats cathartic and nuanced at the same time hasn't changed. I'm still trying to make all of my favourite records at once, maybe the main difference is that I've discovered more of my favourite records.
What is music’s most important job in 2016/7?
To either speak out against all the terrible things going on in the world, or to give people a safe place to escape from it. 2016 has been a terrible year for American politics and the need for quality escapism can't be underestimated.
How has the band’s new line up affected the process of creating an album? Has it allowed you too explore any new ground?
Mikey and Lindsey are both love to sing and arrange vocal parts. They’ve helped me arrange a lot of new parts for old songs we’ve been playing live, so it made sense for me to start writing more vocally driven music. Singing harmonies with two other people every night has improved my singing noticeably, and writing all of these interlocking vocal parts for ‘Snowdonia’ felt like the next logical step.
Did you know what you wanted ‘Snowdonia’ to sound like before you set out to make it?
I had some vague ideas, but it took on a life of its own once I started recording demos. ‘Matter of Time’ was one of those songs that was written and recorded quickly. The demo had a really cool vibe, I liked the juxtaposition of the singable melody and simple lyrics with the primal drum beat and blown out production (I had just bought my first analog tape machine). I'm glad we were able to keep a lot of that urgency when we went to record it for the album.
I was listening to Disraeli Gears by Cream a lot, and I wanted to try more dissonant, non-repetitive harmonies and came up with the song ‘Instant Doppelgangers’.
For ‘Six Flags in F or G’ I ended up piecing together some unrelated material that I felt had an interesting contrast to it. That's part of the beauty of writing so much raw material at once is you can choose parts that don't go together in a traditional way. Songs like ‘Snowdonia’ and ‘Carrier Pigeon’ are some other examples of material that were written on different days and pieced together later.
What do you feel is your biggest achievement with ‘Snowdonia’?
I put a lot of myself into all of our releases, but this one was especially personal for me. I wrote it, oversaw every aspect of its production and ended up mixing it myself. There's nothing I would change about it, and thats an accomplishment in itself when you're a perfectionist like me.
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