Music can create powerful emotional reactions—and nobody is really sure why. Simple guitar chords and pedals can cause a wide range of emotions with no true explanation, and indie-rock band Surfer Blood is a prime example of this musical conundrum.
Surfer Blood is set to perform at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace on Saturday, Aug. 21. Worn-Tin will open.
“Pappy and Harriet’s is one of the most magical places on Earth, as far as I’m concerned,” said John Paul Pitts, frontman and guitarist of Surfer Blood, during a recent phone interview. “Joshua Tree is an amazing place. I used to live in California, and we’d go out there on the weekends. I just love it.
“It’s been a weird year. It’s exciting to get back on the road and play a bunch of shows, and Pappy and Harriet’s is the cherry on top of the sundae.”
The month-long tour which includes the stop in Pioneertown will comprise the band’s first live shows in front of audiences since Surfer Blood released its newest album, Carefree Theatre, last September.
“We expected to be touring it back in May 2020—and that obviously didn’t happen,” Pitts said. “This is the first time we’re going to be playing these songs on the road, so I’m super-excited.”
The band members are hopeful that the new tracks will quickly come back to memory.
“We’re now shaking the rust off, but I’m sure two or three shows in, it’ll all fall off,” Pitts said. “That’s the way it usually works, right? A show on the road is worth five practices. Don’t see our first show, because we’re going to be garbage.”
The pandemic didn’t cause the band to completely step away from performances. A glance at Surfer Blood’s YouTube channel reveals some quarantine covers and revisits, as well as a few in-person live sessions.
“I always want to stay busy,” Pitts said. “We’ve done some web concerts, which are fun, but they’re kind of hard to do. You have to get really good at video editing and mixing and stuff, as opposed to when there’s a show, and you just have to show up with your equipment. We edit and mix everything ourselves. But there’s nothing like playing to a crowd, and getting that energy off of people, you know?”
Pitts said he learned some new skills during the shutdown—and he’s looking forward to not using those new skills for a while.
“You naturally get better at things like video editing, for example,” said Pitts. “It’s something that I’ve never really cared for that I’m now kind of good at. But … just not the same, so I’m super-excited to get back on the road and play for people in real time.”
Carefree Theatre marks a stark contrast when compared to the sounds Surfer Blood explored previously.
“The new record is like, if I had to compare it to our other records, a lot more up front and a lot more poppy,” said Pitts. “It’s just short, compact, two-minute songs, which I’m really excited to play live, because it’s just very immediate.
“I feel like you’re always reacting to the last thing you did, which in our case was a record called Snowdonia, where all the songs were, like, 7 1/2 minutes. I love that record, and I’m really proud of it. It was an album like Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth, and the newest one is more like Alien Lanes by Guided by Voices.”
Pitts said the variance in the band’s albums offers him some perspective.
“Every night, when we lay out the seven different full-length vinyls on the merch table, I’m like, ‘Wow, it’s been a crazy time,’” Pitts said. “It’s a different chapter in the life of the band, and I’m excited for people to hear some extremely punchy music.”
I was curious if the experimentation between the different albums had anything to do with the longevity of the band, which released its first music in 2009.
“Never let yourself get bored—I think that’s the most important thing,” Pitts said. “We’ve made five or six records that all sound radically different from each other. This way, you never have to go back in time. … You can’t make the same record over and over again, because it’s boring for you, and it’s boring for your audience.”
Most fans agree that despite the changes in sound, every release from Surfer Blood still somehow sounds like Surfer Blood.
“I think that part is unconscious,” Pitts said. “You put your fingerprint on every record, whether you know you’re doing it or not. I love that. It doesn’t matter how much I’ve tried to defy what Surfer Blood’s sound is; people recognize it. That’s how it goes. You can’t help it, as much as you would love to break outside of that box. At this point, the Surfer Blood sound is something that we can’t escape. I’m sure it serves as a negative somehow, but I wouldn’t really worry about it. What we do, we’re really good at, and we love it. It brings us a lot of joy, and apparently, people aren’t that sick of it.”
We ended our conversation by talking about how music and culture vary by location. Pitts, who has lived in both California and Florida, said he looks forward to traveling again.
“I can’t think about how different Carefree Theatre, the newest record (made in Florida), sounds compared to 1000 Palms, or Pythons, records made while I was living in L.A.,” he said. “I think these things get inside of you, and again, are out of your control.
“I’m super-grateful that I was able to travel all around the world in my 20s, with my best friends, with Thomas (Fekete, who passed away after a bout with cancer in 2016), with the band, with Mikey (McCleary) and Lindsey (Mills). I wouldn’t trade that for anything. There’s something different about traveling and meeting people who are fans of your band, who will talk to you about their actual lives instead of just viewing you as a tourist. It’s opened my mind to a lot of shit.
“I’m just excited that it’s all happening again. It’s been a year since we played a show. It’s not optimal.”
Surfer Blood and Worn-Tin will perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 21, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $20. For more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit the ticket website.