I spoke with Surfer Blood’s lead singer, John Paul Pitts about the release of the group’s latest album, Snowdonia. Read the full interview below to find out how the band came up with the name for the album, their advice for young musicians, and Pitts’ favorite burrito spot in San Diego. You can catch Surfer Blood at Soda Bar on February 18, 2017.
You wrote and produced the latest album, Snowdonia. How do you get into the head space to take on that type of feat?
For me, I spend so much time putting one foot in the water, taking it out, and putting it back in. This time I tried something new and I forced myself to write. The inspiration is there you just kind of have to find it. I wrote a bunch of songs when I was 20 years old. I wrote like 40 songs that year. I have been taking a lot of that material and turning it into songs and I pretty much exhausted that batch of work. For this album I was like well, I am not going to worry about finishing the songs or making sure that they are cohesive or the right length or that they even sound good. I’m going to dedicate all my time to just coming up with raw material. I pretty much just sat in a room with an acoustic guitar and notebooks full of verses. Some of them didn’t go anywhere and by doing that I realized that a lot of the stuff that has happened in the past few years was really crazy – with a lot of ups and downs. It was therapeutic process for me and it actually ended up helping me wrestle with a lot of things going on in my own head that I was aware of but maybe I had not fully thought through. I guess once I turned the faucet on, it all came out. So that’s how it happened.
What was your main inspiration for this album?
I was looking back to our older material and in particular there is one song off of our older album called ‘Anchorage’ which has been a fan favorite for years and a personal favorite of mine. Up until now it’s been one of our best songs. I like how structure-wise it doesn’t make much sense. I decided that was where I wanted to start from. I wrote songs that had a bunch of different parts that didn’t necessarily fit together and that’s how I came up with lots and lots of material. I recorded 20-something demos for this record and once we all got into the rehearsal room and started hashing stuff out together – you know making certain parts longer – everything came together so nicely and fell into place. That was really cool.
You mentioned your favorite song that you’ve written so far, but what’s your favorite track off of this new album?
That’s a great question. I like them all for different reasons but I’m going to go with the title track “Snowdonia.” Not only is it the title track because it goes with the artwork on the record, I thought it was a really nice centerpiece for the entire album. It’s a really ambitious song and it’s really long for one of our songs. I think it sums up in one song what I was trying to do with all the songs on this record.
You mentioned the artwork. So, what came first – the artwork or the name of the album?
Honestly, I’m always procrastinating with artwork and I got lucky with this one last minute. My friend Deborah is a sculptor and she is very into geology. She went to Antarctica with her family one year and took all these pictures of these glaciers. I already had the name Snowdonia in my mind. I actually had this dream because I was reading an Scott Fitzgerald novel at the time – The Beautiful and the Damned, which is actually really sad, but it’s a beautiful book. I just love the way he writes and I always feel so inspired. He makes me want to emulate that and in the first scene, the female character – I forget her name…she’s not born yet in the beginning of the book and she’s in heaven or wherever you are while you’re waiting to be born. She is this muse of beauty and charm and she’s about to be born into the jazz age of New York City – which is a great time to be beautiful and charming and fun. And she is sort of supposed to embody all of these things and I thought that was a really clever device and I had this dream of a muse of my own and she was floating and her name was Snowdonia. I woke up and started writing lyrics to the song. Like I said, once the raw material is there it just fell into place. And then I found out that Snowdonia is the name of a national park in Wales, which is just a coincidence – I didn’t know that before, but now I have to go there sometime.
Yeah, you guys should play a show there.
Yeah, we should!
Is there anything you would want people to know about your work?
This sounds like an oxymoron, but I’m serious about convincing people that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. I think our music has some more sinister stuff but there is happy stuff at the end that ties it all together. At the end of the day we’re just 4 kids who went to high school together and are from Florida and that’s really all there is to it. Come talk to us, we’re friendly – we won’t bite!
What can we expect from you this year?
We’re going to play a bunch of shows, and we have more tours lined up. Other than that we are probably going to have some time to write more songs, but mostly more live shows this year.
What advice do you have for young kids living in Florida or California or wherever who look at you guys and want to pursue a music career?
Kids in high school are the thing that really keep me going, honestly. Being in a band is great for that hour a day when you’re on stage and you’re connecting with the crowd. That is just the best feeling in the world. But it’s also a lot of hard work – there is a lot of driving and being on the road, but I love seeing kids who remind me of myself or people I knew at our shows. They are just so happy to be there and perhaps we are to them what Built to Spill was for me in high school. My advice is that If you want to be in a band and you want to do this, play as many shows outside of your hometown as possible. You can be the biggest band in your hometown but you’re never going to bring more people in if you don’t travel. Plus, it’s fun – you get to travel while you’re young and you’re not old and broken yet. That’s the best way to grow as a musician.
We’re excited to see you here in San Diego.
Yeah, we love coming to San Diego. I’d also like to give a shout out to Jalapeños – my favorite burrito place in the world. I’m going to force everyone to go there when we’re in San Diego because they don’t know what they’re missing.
Interview by Lauren Villa