Surfer Blood’s breakout debut album, Astro Coast, was born in bits and pieces, recorded over a couple of years in singer-guitarist J.P. Pitts’ bedroom in West Palm Beach, Florida, and given away at shows for months before its early 2010 release.
The indie rock band’s sophomore effort, this time on major label Warner Bros., couldn’t have come together more differently.
“We wrote twenty-something songs for this record but had no idea when we were recording, and we were just waiting,” guitarist Tom Fekete says of the still-untitled record, which was produced by Gil Norton.
“We were basically all sitting at home waiting when one day we got a call from someone at the label, and they asked us if we were ready to go to L.A. the next week and spend eight weeks recording this record. We were like, ‘Yeah, we’ve been waiting.’ Then it was, ‘Great. I’ll book your flights.’ Click.”
Fans all over the world will get to hear the product of those sessions when the new record is released next spring, but last weekend in Austin the band previewed three new songs – “Demon Dance,” “Weird Shapes” and “Gravity” – at a pair of shows at Fun Fun Fun Fest. While the new songs are sonically of a piece with the soaring, hook-y rock from the acclaimed debut, there’s also an obvious new momentum and directness that Fekete said he and his bandmates picked up from working with Norton, the man behind the boards for classic albums by the Pixies, Foo Fighters, Echo and the Bunnymen and Jimmy Eat World.
“This guy can criticize and critique our songs and we respect what he’s saying,” he said. “He’d make these suggestions that were no-brainers, but that we ourselves would never have tried to do. He’d suggest a change in strumming pattern or whatever – it’d be like, ‘That sounds so stupid,’ but then when you’d try it, it would make so much sense.”
Though strings and other production flourishes entered the mix during the band’s time with Norton at the legendary EastWest Studios in Los Angeles, Pitts said there were no big stylisitic leaps this time out.
“We figured this wasn’t the horns-and-strings record. That’s down the road. There’s guitars all over everything because that’s kind of what we do,” he said. “This was the first time where the writing process was a more collaborative one. ‘I Was Wrong’ is the best song we’ve ever written, and another one, ‘Demon Dance,’ is one of the strongest songs on the new record. As we were writing that one, the looks on our faces were like, ‘This is it. This is a good one.'”
Again, Fekete says, Norton’s veteran hand helped keep the band focused, pushing boundaries and dealing with the possibilities available by being on the same label as ex-indie heroes both new (JEFF the Brotherhood) and old (the Flaming Lips).
“When we started writing we said, ‘Let’s get weird with it and whip out some synths,’ but when we got with Gil he was just, ‘You guys are ridiculous – these are great rock songs. You don’t need to hide anything, just make a rock record.'”
The next few months will be relatively quiet for the band before next spring, when it heads all over the world, including their first trip to Brazil.
Many of those dates will include festival appearances in front of thousands of people. While Fekete says the larger shows have let the band realize teenage daydreams such as opening up for the Pixies, it’s the packed club shows that still make sweat the most.
“After a certain amount of people, like a few thousand, it stops feeling real,” he said. “It’s just a sea, and I don’t feel intimidated by that like I do if we play a club show to, like, 200 people, when I get freaked out and so nervous. I love our shows in clubs, because it’s so exciting when they’re there just for you.”