A COUPLE WEEKS AGO at SXSW, Surfer Blood played a staggering 10 shows in four days. "The whole thing is kind of a blur," explains singer/guitarist JP Pitts. "I can kind of piece it together. We were really busy the whole time, we didn't get a second to breathe."
And while the manic schedule was indeed grueling, Surfer Blood were happy to do it. "You get sort of like a high from playing shows," says Pitts. "It feels really good, and you keep getting that multiple times a day. It's really gratifying." It's also part of a bigger plan.
Two years ago, the New York Times named the feisty, shambolic Black Lips as the festival's "Hardest-Working Band." The distinction has as much to do with the number of shows played as it is a barometer of buzz and media blitz. This year Surfer Blood filled the same role in the Old Gray Lady, as the young Florida five-piece were featured front and center in the arts section. I asked Pitts, who was still touring—at this moment leaving Los Angeles—how many interviews the band did at SXSW. "A bunch," he replied. "I don't even know." There were too many to count. But in a snapshot of the shifting music-media landscape, the more influential nods have come from blogs. Thanks to online hype, Surfer Blood has grown like a flash fire.
Surfer Blood are almost exactly one year old. They formed last April and played their first out-of-state show in July of 2009. "It's kind of weird," explains Pitts. "Last August we were playing for five to 10 people a show and, you know, happy to be doing that." To go from no band at all, to blog sensation, to New York Times coverage in less than a year is impressive, especially for a band from outside the usual hotspots—Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Portland—and one without a gimmick ("Combination Pizza Hut/Taco Bell" this is not). Surfer Blood's fuzzy guitar pop is catchy and pleasant, but brings little new to the table for the media to pick at or sensationalize (in contrast, the Black Lips initially gained notoriety by drinking each other's piss onstage). What got Surfer Blood here, Pitts says, are the people: "The sensibilities and the chemistry, that's what makes it work."
The record that lit the fire, Astro Coast, was recorded mostly in Pitts' apartment. It is full of fuzz, but far from yet another lo-fi, AM radio, chillwave beach party. The band recorded drums and bass in a professional studio, which provides a solid underlying heft to the skuzzy, yet welcoming, guitar rock above. Indeed, Astro Coast is a guitar album—almost a throwback to jangly late-'90s indie rock.
As is the nature of blogs' insatiable cannibalism, there is always the danger of flaming out, as Pitts and his bandmates are well aware. They're combating the potential boom-and-bust cycle in two ways. The first is simple: Work hard and play nice. Appearing cool means nothing, and acting aloof gets you nowhere. Second, Surfer Blood focus on making their shows something special, and more than just a re-creation of the record. "Live is a focus for us," Pitts says. "We try to put our all into every show." Aside from pumping energy onstage, Surfer Blood improvise and tweak songs in hopes of keeping things fresh.
"We want to be a long-term band," Pitts explains. "We want to have a career and the only way we can ever do that is if we keep making good music and working hard at staying on the road—and we're fully prepared to do that."