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It’s been a challenging few years for Florida’s garage-rock natives, Surfer Blood. The four-piece have been through a lot since the release of their debut album: Allegations of domestic violence hit lead singer John Paul Pitts in 2012, followed by a 2013 label drop from Warner Bros. and band member Thomas Fekete’s cancer diagnosis in 2015. But however rocky the road has been for Surfer Blood, the group — comprising Pitts, Fekete, Tyler Schwarz, and Kevin Williams — has gone back to basics, trading in major-label cred for indie imprint Joyful Noise. The result: a more mature sound and a reclaiming of the band’s DIY ethos on 1000 Palms, Surfer Blood’s triumphant third LP, due out May 12.
Following the warm reception of their debut, Astro Coast, a successful sophomore record seemed inevitable after a few successful festival sets and tours supporting the Pixies and Death Cab for Cutie. But Pythons‘ 2012 release came only shortly after Pitts’s arrest, and that, combined with a break in style, confusing creative direction, and conflicting opinions from their (major) label, all contributed to the album’s flop.
“It wasn’t really a surprise to us,” said Pitts, 28, of Pythons‘ perceived failure. “They threw a shitload of money at [Pythons], and it didn’t sell as many copies as it would have to [in order to] recoup….The thing I want people to understand is that we were so young, dumb, and poor. We did a lot of stuff that proved to not be in our best interest early on. Things started exploding, and then when things started dying down, we felt like we were locked into this big machine.”
Their label drop isn’t the worst thing that could have happened to the band, as the guys of Surfer Blood are enjoying their time back on an indie.
“[Major labels] have a lot of awesome bands, but we get a lot of attention [from an indie], which we kind of need,” adds Pitts. “We like a lot of attention from our label.”
With 1000 Palms, the raw style fans fell for on Astro Coast shines through. Written in just two weeks, 1000 Palms has brought Surfer Blood back into their comfort zone and has allowed them to regain creative control. The influence of indie rock and postpunk from Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, Deerhoof, and music from New Zealand’s Flying Nun Records coaxed the band to get lost in long instrumental sections. They focused on being “guitar nerds” this time around.
“While some of my favorite songs ever written are pop tunes that are three and a half minutes long, over the course of an entire record, that can be repetitive,” Pitts says. “The thing I love about this record is that every song is different.”
Although Surfer Blood have been hit with many waves, the band plans to be around for a long time. Pitts hasn’t taken that for granted: He’s made a fresh start: living in California, being in a happy, healthy relationship, and having a small recording studio in his Los Angeles home. He and the band are grateful for a fan base that comes out to multiple shows, but look forward to expanding it as 1000 Palms takes off, and to supporting Fekete in his battle against cancer. (Of their two NYC dates, the Bowery Ballroom performance will be a benefit for Fekete, and will also feature Julianna Barwick, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Marnie Stern & the Figs, and more.)
“I’m not looking to get out of this anytime soon,” said Pitts of Surfer Blood’s garage-rock reign. “We’ve learned a lot of lessons in five years.”
Surfer Blood play the Music Hall of Williamsburg on May 11 and the Bowery Ballroom May 12.
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