“Thomas Fekete showed me nine out of ten of my favourite bands. When I was making ‘Snowdonia’, I couldn’t help but think about what would impress him”.
Surfer Blood’s world was thrown into tragedy last year when Thomas, the band’s long-serving guitarist passed, away in May 2016. Although Snowdonia was recorded prior to Fekete’s death last year, his absence still looms over album, with its emotionally-driven indie-rock touching on themes of loss and the fragility of life.
“Thomas was in remission from cancer the whole time he was in the band”, explains John Paul Pitts – the West Palm Beach, Florida band’s lead singer and principle songwriter. “He was the most amazing, glowing person. We all knew he had a history of health problems – at the start of January he told us he had to get off the road, but it took us a while to realise just how serious it was”.
Surfer Blood’s fourth studio album comes less than two years after 2015’s lo-fi effort 1000 Palms. “It was the first album I wrote without him. He was such a wonderful creative influence and I relied on him for validation”, Pitts continues. “The title, ‘Snowdonia’, actually came to me in a dream. I wanted to write really long songs with lots of different, non-repeating parts”.
The band’s second record since they parted ways with Warner Bros (after 1000 Palms), their departure from a major label allowed the band to experiment with their sound in a way they wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. Pitts admits that Snowdonia’ isn’t an album they could have made during their time at Warner. “There are a lot long, non-linear tracks. I don’t think many bands on major labels would get away with that”.
Yet despite certain drawbacks, “being on Warner made us a better band. You learn a lot from being on a major record label. The experience was just what people said it would be – we got thrown into the shitshow that is the music industry. But I wouldn’t change anything – the whole experience was amazing”.
The album’s first single ‘Six Flags in F or G’, one of the darkest songs on the record, when released, was met with mixed responses from fans. “People we reacted to it different, and I figured that would be the case. There are some poppier songs on the album, so I hope it isn’t dismissed as an entirely experimental album. It’s just the song that I wanted people to hear first, hopefully it gives people an idea of the kind of thing we’re going for on the record”.
It’s a record, as well, that is not only more experimental than their previous work, but a natural progression of a maturing band coming into their own. “When we made the first record we didn’t know what people would think,” Pitts explains. “It was made in a complete vacuum thinking that no one would listen to it. We were getting all kinds of advice from everyone. We started by playing 250 gigs a year, which at the time was fine because we were 22 and felt invincible. We wouldn’t have gotten away with what we’re doing now [with Warner]”.
As for his recent listening habits, Pitts namechecks German krautrock pioneers Can as a personal favourite and possible influence on the latest record. “This is an insult to a lot of artists, but they make brilliant background music. I wanted to have that quality on ‘Snowdonia’, we’re still a very guitar-driven band, but that style was something I was personally really impressed by”.
The band return to the UK for a gig at the Oslo in March, and the band have fond memories of playing on British shores. “England was the country where I discovered the prawn cocktail crisps!”
Recalling a particularly memorable at the 02 Academy in Birmingham, Pitts says: “there wasn’t a lot of people that showed up so we decided to send our bassist [Mike McLeary] to perform some stand-up comedy as an encore. He has the voice of a radio DJ – one of those really smooth voices. He was up there for a good half an hour, just with one spotlight shining so brightly on him that he looked like a ghost. I think one of the crowd members tried to take the light out with a beer bottle, but it was a great gig”.
“The opportunity to travel through Europe and play in so many different countries is something I really appreciate. We’ve been blessed by that opportunity and I’m so grateful for it”. With the band continuing to progress, long may these opportunities continue.