Indie rock band Surfer Blood (it would be too easy to call them surfer rock, apt as that might be) are currently touring following the release of their 4th studio album, Snowdonia. I caught up with frontman John Paul Pitts, better known as JP, during their tour. The night we talked, they were at Toast in Norfolk, Virginia. “I don’t know the place, but I looked it up and the food looks delicious,” he said with a laugh. His energetic, friendly tone made the conversation easy.
Following a stint in Europe and along the west coast of the US, they’re currently doing a lot of small shows along the east coast. “We’re covering quite a lot of places over this tour, including Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto in Canada.”
When I asked if he was planning on going to Snowdonia too (it’s better known as a national park in Wales, featuring Wales’ largest mountain) he laughed. “It’s mostly British journalists who ask me that.”
Although he thought Wales looked “cool, rugged and strange”, the park hadn’t been the inspiration for the album. “The name actually came to me in a dream. There was an ice woman named Snowdonia, who was beautiful and comforted me in a time of distress.”
That’s part of the theme for the album, as well as how he feels about music in general. “That’s definitely something I feel writing-wise—I always try to work in that bittersweet territory, where it’s a little sad and sentimental but also uplifting and carefree.”
With the difficulties Surfer Blood has undergone since their last album—from the death of founding guitarist Thomas Fekete, to the departure of long-time bassist Kevin Williams—it’s unsurprising that this album tries to focus a little more on the sentimental side. “It’s a hard thing to aim for, but it’s definitely something I tried to capture in the music.”
Throughout their live shows, the band members take turns choosing their favourite songs to play. “We switch up the setlist night by night, or we’d get bored. We also rotate it so that everyone gets a chance to choose their favourites—it gets harder the longer we play and the more albums we have,” he says. “We do have rules about it, but I don’t want to give up the secret.”
And what’s his favourite song to play live from the new album? “Instant Doppelganger,” he replies without hesitation. “The recording is great, but doesn’t do justice to the full sound.” Although he had initially thought it would be too technical to be played well live, he’s found that “a lot of the more nuanced guitar translates more to a live setting. We don’t play with any backing tracks or synths, but it works out well without them.”
Check out the band’s video for their song “Matter of Time”
They were in Europe in March, touring with Pip Blom, a 19-year-old songwriter from the Netherlands. “She’s really awesome.” (In Toronto and throughout the States, they’ll be touring with Katie Von Schleicher, a singer-songwriter from Brooklyn.) “It had been a dream of mine ever since I started playing guitar at 14 to tour in Europe, so it’s amazing to be able to do that now,” he says.
The differences between touring in Europe and North America were quite clear. “The first time we played in Manchester—which I guess won’t be part of Europe soon—I felt like it was such a tough crowd. It’s like that all over the UK—they’re very still, and watch with pouty faces, so I assumed it was going horribly. But after the show, when we were at the merch table, people had really great insights to share about the music and they clearly knew all our songs had had digested them.”
In parts of the States, he finds the opposite. “At one show in San Diego, kids were climbing walls and jumping everywhere, but when we talked to them later they didn’t know any of our songs so it was clear they would have done that for anyone.”
He’s played in Toronto a few times, and is happy to come back. The best part, though, is the Korean barbeque, he says with a laugh. “I lived in LA for a while so I’m a real snob, but Toronto is as good or possibly better.”
That’s the kind of praise we like to hear.