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30 Jan 2017

The Vibes Keep Floating: Surfer Blood, Playing at Pappy's, Has Endured Trying Times—Including the Death of an Original Member

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Surfer Blood. Surfer Blood.

Surfer Blood has endured a lot of hard times since the band began in 2009—including the death of guitarist Thomas Fekete in 2016, after a two-year battle with cancer.

Nonetheless, the band has kept going—and will be stopping by Pappy and Harriet’s on Saturday, Feb. 4, just one day after dropping a brand-new album, Snowdonia.

During a recent phone interview with frontman John Paul Pitts, he explained how Snowdonia was made differently than the group’s previous records.

“I think we knew exactly what we wanted to do,” Pitts said. “It’s kind of a different record. I’m usually recording parts and writing lyrics at the same time and figuring it out on the fly. For this one, I spent a lot of time writing and doing demos for it. We recorded all the instrumentals in two days. I guess the mentality was we’d rehearse, have all the parts written, and go in there and crank it out really fast. Apparently, it’s really fun that way.”

Pitts also served as the producer of the album, the group’s first without Fekete, as well as a couple of musicians who had left the band.

“It’s the first time we recorded with a few new band members,” Pitts explained. “We’re on a small label now and don’t have a big budget, and I love being in that role. It was fun for me to produce and engineer this record on my own.”

While it was fun, Pitts said there were some moments when producing was a struggle.

“We’ve only worked with a producer once before, and it was a really crazy experience with objective outside opinions from someone who has a different musical background,” Pitts said. “The downside to doing it yourself is you get too zoomed in, and it’s hard to zoom out of it sometimes. … I had three other guys I was playing with for years and years who spoke the same musical language that I did who I could bounce ideas off of, and this was the first time I was doing it on my own without a lot of help. While it was really fulfilling, there were times I felt like I was going crazy. It took me a long time to make decisions and decide where things needed to go. (This record) might be a little all over the place, but I like it.”

The death of Fekete in 2016 was devastating to Pitts.

“I mourned that I had lost my writing partner before he actually passed,” Pitts said. “We knew he wasn’t going to come back on tour anytime soon. He had to worry about his health more than anything. He fought for his life for a year and a half, and it wore him down and got the better of him. I feel like mourning the loss of Tom and mourning the loss of my bandmates were two different things happening at the same time. We’d been plowing through, and I found another guitarist to play in the band, so there was no questioning that the band was solid. The new lineup was working, and everyone was getting along. But nothing can prepare you for the death of someone you did so much with.”

While Surfer Blood has a following that is the envy of most indie bands, Pitts said he doesn’t know what the future holds for Surfer Blood, although he’s happy where things are at currently.

“I try not to get my hopes up about stuff. I’m just happy to be able to wake up in the morning and focus on writing and recording music,” Pitts said, “It still brings me joy more than anything else. … I’d like to find a routine of writing more consistently, even when we’re not writing a new record. I feel like we’ve fallen into a good stride where it’s been a lot easier than it has in the past, and I like the rhythm right now. There have been so many ups and downs that things being predictable and normal feels good and fulfilling.”

Surfer Blood played at Pappy and Harriet’s in 2016 for the first time, and Pitts said he’s looking forward to coming back.

“I love the whole desert region. It’s so unlike where I grew up,” he said. “I still remember the first time I went to California when I was a kid. I live in Oakland now, but I remember driving in from Arizona and through Eastern California and seeing all those windmills outside of Palm Springs. I was struck by how vast it is and how far apart everything is. It’s like outer space.

“Pappy and Harriet’s … had been on my bucket list forever, and people told me since we started touring that it was something we had to do. Being up in Pioneertown, you can see all the stars at night, and you feel like you’re in the West—what you thought the West was as a child. That’s pretty magical for me.”

Surfer Blood will perform at 9 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 4, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $13 to $15. For more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit www.pappyandharriets.com.

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