The pandemic forced bands to find different ways to express themselves—and that led to different ways for bands to gain popularity.

Take Surf Curse, the recording project of drummer/vocalist Nick Rattigan and guitarist Jacob Rubeck. They have been crafting a signature fusion of pop, indie rock and punk for nearly a decade, and gained a solid following with hits like “Freaks” and “Disco.”

“Freaks” was originally released in 2013—but exploded on TikTok in 2020 and 2021, catapulting the band to a whole new level of success. (“Freaks” currently has more than 432 million streams on Spotify). Surf Curse is in the public eye now more than ever—including a return to Coachella on Sunday, April 17 and 24.

I talked to the duo over the phone about playing at Coachella for a second time, after first performing there in 2017.

“It feels more official,” said Rattigan. “The first time we played was through our buddy … and we got asked post-lineup-announcement. Another band was having trouble with their visas, and my other band, Current Joys, got asked to play as well, almost the weekend before. We were kind of slapped on, so this feels more official. It’s not any less special, but we’re on the flier this time, so that’s pretty cool.”

Added Rubeck: “It’s so nice to be back; we’re more prepared. The last time was like a whirlwind of just chaos and emotions, and a lot of beautiful moments, and a lot of fun times. It was a good show.”

Chaos may be an understatement when describing the band’s experience at the Empire Polo Club in 2017.

“Last time, we were camping in the staff parking lot,” Rattigan said. “That was horrible.”

Rubeck explained that they didn’t have the proper credentials. “We were just going around, trying to get somewhere with our wristbands, and then they kept telling us it was the wrong wristband. We were locked out for hours.”

Added Rattigan: “We were screaming at people like, ‘We are playing! We have to play the stage!’ And they weren’t letting us in. It was pretty crazy.”

While some bands playing at Coachella this year are holdovers from the cancelled 2020 schedule, that’s not the case with Surf Curse.

Surf Curse. Credit: Julien Sage

“I didn’t expect us to be asked in 2020,” Rattigan said. “If you look at the lineup, it’s a lot of bands that blew up on TikTok. It’s cool, because everyone is seeing the lineup, and they’re like, ‘Who the fuck is this?’ These are all people who have made it in a different way, and these are all people who have blown up outside of industry standards. Some people are like, ‘Who the fuck is this?’ But some people are like, ‘That’s my favorite fucking band.’”

Rubeck added: “Especially during the pandemic, a lot of people, including me, lived our lives watching a lot of TikToks. That wave of intake of people’s music, and putting them in the algorithm in some sort of way, is actually such a sweet thing. It’s an ode to the people who are there to entertain you while you’re locked up in your place.”

Surf Curse’s career journey has been unconventional all along.

“We’re very lucky and fortunate,” Rattigan said. “(TikTok) is kind of like the new way people are breaking; it’s like having a single on the radio. It’s like that movie Airheads, where they busted into the radio station with fake machine guns, trying to get them to play their song on the radio, because that was how they would break back then. We didn’t need to hold up any radio stations; it just sort of happened naturally. It’s very surreal, but it’s also how our music has always functioned, at least from my perspective. The more we try to play the game, or have PR or labels or anything—none of that stuff really works. It’s more like this organic growth that happens naturally through Tumblr, or Vine, or Instagram, or now TikTok. … We’re just lucky enough that a lot of people want to experience our music.”

Rattigan and Rubeck said they’ve both put in a lot of hard work to go along with their luck and food fortune.

“There’s definitely still a grind. We’re still working hard; you’ve still got to make the records; you’ve got to tour—but that’s all the things that you should be grinding on,” Rattigan said. “We’re not thinking of marketing strategies, or how we should promote this thing, because it’s more about putting all the energy into the thing itself—the music, and letting it go and seeing what happens to it. We made “Freaks” 10 years ago in a basement when we were living in together in Reno. There was no intention. There was no anything—and it’s given us the most success that we’ve had so far.”

Rattigan offered some advice to other bands.

“Just think about what you’re grinding on,” he said. “The grind is real, but you should be dedicating it to the art, and not the business. There’s this great scene in Only Lovers Left Alive. These vampires go into this cafe, and they’re watching this woman perform. These vampires have seen all of time, all of music, because they’re thousands of years old. They’re watching this beautiful performance by this girl, and one vampire says to the other, ‘She’s so amazing; she should be famous,’ and the other vampire says, ‘She’s too good to be famous.’ I think about that all the time. Not everybody gets their credit, but it doesn’t mean that they’re not a genius. It’s just random.”

Surf Curse’s live show is a thing to behold, as their two-minute ragers become even more raging when a crowd is moshing and screaming along. They almost tore the house down, literally, when I saw them at Pappy and Harriet’s in early 2020. There was no railing separating the crowd from the stage, and once the music started, bedlam ensued.

“We got banned,” Rubeck said. “They won’t let us play there anymore. … We got banned from playing inside. It’s like, how did they not know that was going to happen? I was like, ‘Jesus, this is gonna be bad, and pretty rough to the walls and everything’—then we got booted.”

Added Rattigan: “We love playing Pappy’s and would love to play there again, but they won’t let us. Open invite (from us) to let us play there again.”

The band members are looking forward the release of their new album, created entirely over the pandemic. In fact, watch for that album to drop very soon.

“It’s probably going to be something that comes out before Coachella,” said Rattigan. “We’re both really excited about it, and I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever done. Everybody’s going to like it.”

Added Rubeck: “We love it, and that’s what matters. We’re excited to set it out in the world.”

Matt King

Matt King is a freelance writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. A creative at heart, his love for music thrust him into the world of journalism at 17 years old, and he hasn't looked back. Before...