Surfer Blood talks new album, SXSW, hanging out with Justin TimberlakeBy Dylan Owens | March 12th, 2013 | No Comments »
It’s been a while since Surfer Blood released their debut LP, “Astro Coast,” back in 2010, but good news, indie rock fans: the wait for their follow-up is almost over.
In the run up until the release of their sophomore LP, “Pythons,” (out June 11 via Warner Brothers), JP Pitts (guitar/lead vocals), Thomas Fekete (guitar), Kevin Williams (bass) and TJ Schwarz (drums) sat down with Reverb before their set at the 2013 SnowBall music festival to talk SXSW, Colorado, recording with a major label and meeting Justin Timberlake.
How long will you be in Colorado?
Thomas Fekete: We’re going right into South by Southwest tomorrow, actually.
What showcases are you guys playing?
JP Pitts: I know we’re doing the Rolling Stone one, a Filter party, a Warner showcase.
Thomas: We’re playing a show tomorrow night, under the radar. Tomorrow we’re playing with Divine Fits. I think it’s like a pre-South By party.
JP: We’re doing 10 shows total. Seven electric and then three acoustic.
Have you done a SXSW like that before, where it’s just constant shows?
Thomas: Yeah, we have. The funny thing is, we were making it a point to avoid that this year. We were like, we’re gonna do three of four shows, tops. And it always ends up this way. Offers start coming in, and you don’t wanna turn it down.
I guess it would be leaving money on the table.
Thomas: Totally. And it’s so fun, man.
JP: It’s good to busy.
TJ Schwarz: It’s like the last day before homework’s due.
SnowBall is primarily an electronic music festival. Do you guys listen to electronic music?
Kevin Williams: Yeah, I do. I’m looking forward to seeing Flying Lotus tonight.
So you guys are sticking around for the festival tonight?
Thomas: We’re sticking around, yeah.
JP: We don’t wanna drive back, with all the mooses and the snow at night. We’ll stay here, have a few drinks instead.
Thomas: At artist check-in, we were like, “I think we’re going to drive back tonight.” And they were like, “There’s traffic and moose and elk. Don’t do it!” (Laughs) And our drive in here was crazy. There was no one on the road, but it was pitch black and snowing. I-70 is so winding. It was creepy. We’re not used to that kind of stuff at all.
We tried doing this drive one time, and we had to turn around. We were sliding around so much, we actually slid into a parked semi, and we were like, fuck it. Let’s just pull over and get to sleep. We went and got breakfast the next day in a little ski town, and overheard them talking about someone who got stuck in the snow.
They have those spikes on the side of the road for deer, so if deer are crossing, they hit them and it kills the deer. Somebody had fallen onto one, and I remember we heard that and were like, we’re turning around. We took a 14-hour detour to our next show in Las Vegas.
Let’s talk about your new album. I read in SPIN that you guys met up with Timbaland in the studio while you were recording.
Thomas: Yeah, we were recording in EastWest, which is a pretty legendary studio. It’s where the Beach Boys did “Pet Sounds,” and the [Rolling] Stones did albums there. It’s pretty amazing.
We’re just hanging out, recording in Studio 2. So there’s Studio 1, a huge room. It has Michael Jackson’s Thriller [recording] console. Basically, [the band] is recording in the smaller room, and Justin Timberlake and Timbaland show up to work on his new record. TJ [the drummer], thank god, had been drinking a little bit, and Timbaland walks by, and he’s like, “What’s going on guys?” in one of [the studio's] amazing little lounge areas. Super swank.
Timbaland’s walking by and kind of waves to us, and TJ’s like, “Dude, come listen to our songs.” And Timbaland obviously loves music, and he’s like, I’d love to. So he comes in and listens to three of our songs. He’s just at the console rocking out to it, and we’re all standing behind him like, what the fuck?! It was so cool!
Thomas: The stuff he did with Lil Kim and Aaliyah is amazing. So, we were all really stoked, and Justin Timerlake was just hanging out. Super nice guy. So, that was a really crazy studio moment for us. We did the record with Gil Norton, who did Foo Fighters and all the Pixies records aside from “Surfer Rosa.”
So it was our first proper studio experience, and it was really cool. We definitely had to step out of our comfort zone.
Was Gil Norton directing you guys in some specific way?
JP: He’s an opinionated guy. He’s not afraid to speak his mind, which is good. We can be stubborn, and we can be in our shell, so it was good to have him at least get [us] to try new things.
Thomas: It’s better than when you write something and you ask a bandmate what they think about it, and they’re like, “yeah…it’s good, it’s good.” To have an outsider come in and be like “That f***ing sucks.” It’s actually pretty cool.
TJ: He’s more critical. Especially because he’s like a 40 or 50 year old English dude.
Kevin: He does have a great ear.
JP: Yeah, he’s got a great ear, and he comes from a different world than us, so if he’s critical, it was always constructive. He can always put things in a way where you never have to take it personally. I think it’s just because he comes from such a different world than we do. It’s sort of just like, okay, well, this English guy doesn’t like our song.
Thomas: He’s such a lovable dad-type, too. It’s like, “I just wanna hug you…”
JP: Yeah, it’s just like, Dad doesn’t like our song.
Thomas: It’s cool because he’d make suggestions, and it’d be like, that’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but I guess I’ll just try it. And then you try and it’s perfect.
Kevin: [He was] definitely an organizer. We came in with like 20 songs we had to whittle through and decide what would make the cut and what didn’t. Then, [for] the ones that made the cut, there was the matter of finding out what was working. Things like adding another chorus made all the difference to a song, or bringing back a motif. Having an extra ear to be like, “that’s a good hook. You should play that more than once in the song. Bring that back one more time.”
It’s really a crazy thing, making a record like this. Especially for a big label like Warner Brothers. There wasn’t too much pressure from Warner—at all, actually. It was pretty surprising. They were really supportive.
I feel like you hear those horror stories all the time.
JP: I don’t know if we were shielded from that or what, but we just sent them demos. We had a really good A&R guy who would write back a few paragraphs about what he thought about the songs, just being honest. Our hand was never forced to go in a certain direction. I feel like it was sort of self-guided the whole way, with Gil steering a little bit. It was a very positive writing and recording experience.
Your music is very summer-y and shimmering. How do you think it’ll translate in the cold weather out here?
Thomas: It’s funny, people say we’re very summery, but “Astro Coast” is very dark to me. When JP was first playing me the demos, way before anybody else had joined the band, I remember being like, “man, these are f***kin’ really dark songs.”
JP: Because most people have heard the singles, and “Swim” and “Floating Vibes” are exactly that, and what people associate our band with. I think our songwriting is a lot more dynamic than that if you listen to an entire record, but maybe one in three people will take notice of that.
Thomas: I think it will translate well. I hope.
Dylan Owens is Reverb’s indie and bluegrass blogger. You can read more from him in Relix magazine and the comment sections of WORLDSTARHIPHOP.