Surfer Blood Are Vunerable and Euphoric on ‘Pythons’

Later this month, Floridian indie-rockers Surfer Blood will start playing some of the songs they wrote for their forthcoming second album and major-label debut, Pythons at their concerts. It’s an LP that’s been in the works  a long time, and the process of making it found Surfer Blood whittling down 24 demo tracks to the 10 that made the cut. “Compared to our past records, the songs are less ADD, in a way,” frontman JP Pitts tells Hive. “It’s not just us throwing every good idea that we have into a song just because we can.” Some of the highly refined songs he and his bandmates recorded, under the supervision of producer Gil Norton (Pixies, Jimmy Eat World), include the lead single “Weird Shapes,” “I Was Wrong,” which Pitts describes as “one of the heaviest and slowest songs we’ve ever written,” the “waltzy, acoustic” “Needles and Pins,” and “Say Yes to Me.” Of the latter song, Pitts says it “comes right at the beginning of the B-side, after you flip the record, and might be the most perfect pop song we’ve ever written.” In anticipation of the album, Hive caught up with the frontman, who was taking some time off in London to spend with his girlfriend, to find out about just what got Pythons slithering.

So Pythons, huh?

The concept for the artwork and the title came at the same time. A lot of the songs on the record are really vulnerable but some of them have a sort of euphoric, invincible thing to it. So we were talking about imagery, and TJ [Schwarz, drums] liked the idea of a really skinny, scrawny-looking kid flexing his muscles in the mirror, living in a fantasy world where he’s really strong. We were like, why don’t we call the record “Pythons,” because it’s like, “Show me your pythons.” It has a sort of eerie feel, with us coming from Florida, and it just sort of made sense.

How long has it been done?

We finished tracking it in mid-July, and it’s been done completely since Halloween. We’ve been playing a few songs live. “Weird Shapes,” which is one of my favorites on the record, is one of them. Our upcoming tour is going to be the first time we’re playing a lot of songs off the new record. We’ve been doing “Demon Dance.” And we’ve been playing a song called “Gravity,” the second song on the record.

You’ve said that you were listening to a lot of Beck when you recorded “Weird Shapes.” How did his influence come through?

That’s where I got a lot of ideas for the distorted kick drum, the janky-sounding tambourines in the middle sections and the sort of plunky acoustic guitar sounds. The vocal distortion was inspired by Beck and his production.

What inspired the lyrics?

It’s about someone who’s about to experience sort of a manic episode. It’s about one of those nights where you turn off your phone and go with the flow. There’s references to Icarus and that kind of stuff in there.

Do you mean manic like “bipolar” or manic in a Jeff Spicoli “Let’s party” kind of way?

I think they’re one in the same. I’ve always thought that I could be characterized as manic sometimes. My moods change a lot with the seasons and the phases of the moon.

Your screaming on the song sounds quite visceral.

Well, thank you. I’ve been working on my scream a lot in my room at my parents’ house.

You were using some of Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago’s gear in the studio. How did that come about?

Since Gil [Norton] did so many Pixies records, him and Joey are really good friends and drinking buddies. And we toured with the Pixies in October and November 2011, so we knew him personally, too. And I remember he bought our record on iTunes, so I assume he liked what he heard. So you can never have enough gear in the studio, and Joey actually loaned us his gold-top Les Paul that you see him play with the Pixies live and his Marshall stack. So on a few of the songs on the record, the guitar tones sound a lot like [Pixies album] Doolittle.

I also read that Timbaland stopped by the studio.

Our drummer just walked up to him in the kitchen after two drinks and said, “Man, you have to come hear my fucking band, man.” [Laughs.] So he actually listened and went into the control room and gave us production advice, which I know didn’t make Gil too happy. But it was a crazy moment.

You recorded the album at EastWest Recording Studios in Los Angeles, where everyone from Johnny Cash to Christina Aguilera have recorded. Did you uncover any archeological artifacts from past sessions?

The small studio in there is where [The Beach Boys] Pet Sounds was recorded, so it was real special to see that. Apparently, we made a lot of the same effects choices as the Red Hot Chili Peppers. We have similar tastes in compressors and equalizers as those guys.

Surfer Blood’s Pythons will come out this summer via Warner Bros.

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