This West Palm Beach quintet is the missing link between the Beach Boys and Weezer; their debut LP is out now
Kim Taylor Bennett
Summer’s up! This West Palm Beach quintet is the missing link between the Beach Boys and Weezer; their debut LP, Astro Coast, is out now. We talked to 23-year-old frontman John Paul Pitts to get the lowdown on the band.
Their tale begins like the plot of a John Hughes film. Surfer Blood singer/guitarist Pitts and drummer TJ Schwarz started off in opposing high-school cliques. Little did they know they’d be firm friends in the future. ‘We weren’t rivals but we definitely didn’t love each other. My friend spilt nachos on his friend’s sweater and a food fight erupted. I thought he was a pop-punk jerk and he thought I was a snobby crusty. Our best friends openly didn’t like each other so we were like, “Yeah, we don’t like each other too,” but that’s in the past. Where are those friends now? They’re still around. They’re fire-fighters and insurance representatives.’
They pretty much owe their first-born kids to The Drums. Fellow Floridian Jacob Graham, guitarist with The Drums, was instrumental in helping them get that all-important record deal. ‘I knew Jacob back in Orlando – I’d see him around at shows and he contacted me years later after he moved to New York and he was like, “Hey, Surfer Blood rule, I’m going to recommend you to my friend, he runs a small label and he’s really good at putting out up-and- coming bands.” He introduced us to Kanine Records. They must have liked us because they came to our show and signed us the next day.’
Their first touring van was a gift from the dad of a drug addict. It seems when they were first starting out the boys shared a warehouse space, which was all fine and dandy until their equipment started going missing. Turns out one of the kids sharing the space was pawning their gear for drugs. ‘His dad said, “What do I have to do so that you don’t press charges?” And we said, “We really need a van.”’
Their sound is lo-fi in part, but solely due to lack of funds. ‘We get lumped into that and we’re not really a lo-fi band. It’s not like we’re recording it in a studio and putting it through a lo-fi filter. We recorded it with US$200. We were all so broke.’
They suffer for their visual art. Their video for ecstatic anthem ‘Swim’ features the assault of a pensioner by Minnie Mouse and Pitts running through the streets of NYC in a pair of tighty whities. ‘It was rough, I’m not going to lie. The video was supposed to be all the Florida clichés because we’ve been patronised a lot being from there, honestly. People from New York were like, “You’re from Florida? Nothing happens there! It’s just a bunch of retirees and Disneyworld.” It was self-parody – the burning palm tree and Brian [Black, bass] dressed as a manatee were my favourite. Watching Brian walk around in the costume was priceless.’
Their songs are upbeat, but the lyrical inspiration comes from a darker place. Before the band, Pitts followed the traditional high school then college path, but his heart wasn’t in it. ‘I was in this place in my life where I was stuck in Florida and all my friends were going to college in the north-east and California and they’d come back and have these great stories and I was like, “I’m just screwing around in college and playing in a band.” Plus I had some people who were really close to me who things really hit the fan with. Lyrically I was getting perspective on that, analysing it in hindsight.’
If you deep-Google Surfer Blood – as in click past the first results page – you may come across some revealing snaps of the boys. ‘Let’s just say we were really wild on the first few tours. We were stupid. There are pictures of us in rivers. It was fun, but having these pictures of yourself on the web is not always the coolest thing.’ Astro Coast is available online now.