Saturday, Jan. 28, at 9 p.m.
The Merry Widow, 51 S. Conception St., www.themerrywidow.net
Tickets: $13 advance/$15 day of show, available at venue and its website
West Palm Beach’s Surfer Blood used its 2010 debut “Astro Coast” to gather a devoted nationwide audience. As the indie pop revival gained momentum, “Astro Coast” represented an up-and-coming band that preferred to stick to the rock side of the indie world.
While indie pop inched forward into the mainstream, Surfer Blood maintained its own style with the sophomore effort “Pythons.” While the band compiled the songs on “Pythons,” frontman John Paul Pitts says he and his fellow bandmates wanted to experiment with their sound.
Their departure from Warner Brothers left the members free to create art on their own terms, but Pitts says the new sounds that were surfacing did not coagulate with the other songs on “Pythons.” They were consequently placed on hold until after its release.
Pitts says the band then revisited the new material, “fleshed it out” and molded their sonic experimentation into the 2015 release, “1000 Palms.” While this album was undeniably Surfer Blood, it was filled with indie pop overtones that were an obvious departure from the band’s previous releases.
“Thinking about it today, it’s like the mushroom risotto of Surfer Blood albums,” Pitts said of “1000 Palms.” “A lot of skill and thought went into it. I think it’s really an impressive record, but it’s not what you want to eat every day.”
Pitts admits he and his bandmates were quite satisfied with “1000 Palms.” However, he also admits he missed the band’s trademark indie rock. As the band toured, he began penning songs that would become the band’s upcoming release, “Snowdonia.”
Though Surfer Blood’s new material marks a return to its groundwork in indie rock, fans are already expecting the unexpected — largely due to the absence of the late Thomas Fekete’s guitar and creative influence.
In 2015, Fekete was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that cut his life short the next year. When Fekete revealed his tragic diagnosis to Pitts, the band was preparing for a world tour in support of “1000 Palms.” Fortunately, high school friend Mike McCleary volunteered to fill Fekete’s spot on the road.
“He learned the songs in the back of the van on the way to SXSW,” Pitts said. “We didn’t know how it was going to go, but we were going to fulfill our commitments. We were freaking out on the inside. It was tough at first. We have definitely fallen into our own now.”
During both touring and composing the songs for “Snowdonia,” Pitts not only missed Fekete’s guitar, but also Fekete’s influence on his own writing process. Pitts says Fekete and former bassist Kevin Williams were sources of input for his song ideas. With both absent, he was left to compose songs on his own. But Fekete’s creative spirit lived on. As he wrote the tracks for “Snowdonia,” Pitts would consider what Fekete’s opinion of a song might have been.
Even though he succeeded in compiling eight songs for “Snowdonia,” Pitts says this process was new and sometimes difficult, both creatively and emotionally.
“It felt like a different band at first,” Pitts said. “That was really heartbreaking for me to lose someone who I could bounce things off on the stage, someone to help me finish my songs and someone to show me new bands. That’s someone that Tom has always been for me. To learn to do without that was really difficult for that 2015 year.”
Songwriting was not the only task Pitts took on by himself. The frontman decided he would also be solely responsible for engineering the album, marking the first time he wrote, recorded and engineered an album since “Astro Coast.” He is the first to say he used “trial and error” during the creation of “Astro Coast.”
Since then, Pitts says, Surfer Blood has had the opportunity to record with many great producers and engineers. This experience gave him the knowledge to both produce and engineer “Snowdonia” with confidence.
“I feel like I’m becoming a better producer than I used to be and a better engineer,” he said. “This album is so personal to me. With me writing everything again alone and having so much control over every step of the process, it just seemed right to try exploring other options.”
Fans who have followed Surfer Blood from the beginning will be pleased with the overall sound of “Snowdonia.” From start to finish, this album maintains a classic indie sound forged in the fires of alt. rock when it was still alternative.
“Six Flags in F or G” could be considered one of the album’s most interesting tracks. Described by Pitts as a “dark polka,” this rollicking anthem begins in a world of surf rock riddled with reverberated vocal work. A little over two minutes in, the track trades intensity for rock ‘n’ roll serenity. This single track began as two songs, which explains its abrupt change in style and attitude.
“I wanted to marry that idea, that was something so rigid, with the next part that was really loose,” Pitts said. “I was listening to The Breeders a lot when I was writing that part. I wanted to take those two aesthetics and make it one song. They weren’t working as individual songs. I’ve always been a fan of the false ending.”
With “Snowdonia” going public on Feb. 3, Surfer Blood’s audience at The Merry Widow is sure to sample the new material in addition to past favorites. Ultimately, Pitts says, he’s very proud of this “proper full-length,” which clocks in at 42 minutes. He hopes Surfer Blood fans will appreciate the album’s flow, as well as its various dynamics. Listeners shouldn’t expect what Pitts describes as “the verse/chorus tied up in a package.”
“I’m really, really proud of the movement on this record,” Pitts said. “I think it’s great to listen to as an entire piece of music. I hope people give it a chance. I think they’ll be rewarded when they try it.”
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