Surfer Blood are enduring a time in their career filled with professional highs and emotional challenges. Between celebrating their new album's release, departing from Warner Bros., and supporting their bandmate during a time of healing, there is nary a dull moment in JP's camp. Stay with Fuse for an intimate look into the life and times of John Paul Pitts of Surfer Blood.
Hello, John Paul Pitts of Surfer Blood here. We’ve been super busy, and it’s been a blur so far, but we’re all in good spirits for the most part. This is the longest run we’ve done without our guitarist Thomas, a founding member and a dear friend who unfortunately, was diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of the year and has been undergoing various treatments since. We miss him every day, his onstage antics, his sense of humor and his in-the-van DJ sets, but we have faith that he’ll be able to pull through all of this with the help of his wife, mom, our friends, and the fans that have been so supportive through all of this. Thankfully, our friend Mikey McLeary has stepped in and worked his butt off to learn all our songs.
Thursday, May 7
So it’s been about seven days, hundreds of miles, and a lot of coffee. The plan was to leave on May 7 around noon, but by the time we did laundry, packed the van, and said goodbye to our girlfriends, we didn’t end up hitting the road until around four. West Palm Beach (our hometown in Southern Florida) is geographically isolated and about 10 hours from Atlanta, so we knew we were going to be driving late into the night. Sure enough, we ended up pulling into a Best Western about an hour south of Atlanta around 2:30 in the morning. We all showered, got into bed and tried to fall asleep, it ended up taking me over an hour with the excitement/ anxiety of starting the tour.
Friday, May 8
I woke up the next day (and by that I mean four hours later), forced myself out of bed, and put on a pair of jeans and a short-sleeved shirt. The weather report said it was going to be over ninety degrees and our set time was at 12:30 p.m., so I made sure to put sunscreen in the backpack which I carry around my entire life (which is named Tyrolia, Tyrol for short). We were playing a festival called Shaky Knees, which I had never heard of, but the lineup was really really good. You can look it up, but our day had the Strokes, Pixies, Manchester Orchestra, Neutral Milk Hotel, Mac Demarco, Tennis, etc. (Sorry for anyone I missed, it was a lot.)
I wasn’t sure what the Atlanta festival crowd was going to be like at 12:30 p.m. on a Friday; turns out that people in Atlanta love to come out and party early. It was a super supportive crowd! I even saw a few “get well soon Thom” signs out in the crowd. By the end I was covered in sweat and could barely open my eyes because I had gotten so much sunscreen in them, but all in all it was a really fun set! Afterwards we had the whole rest of the day to run around the festival and watch bands, meet up with old friends, and have fun. Shout out to our buds the Dewars, the amazing Rebecca Cole, Alex Auxier, and Andy Boay, who just happened to be celebrating his birthday onstage with Mac DeMarco. His mom and dad had drove up from Orlando for the show, how cute! Anyways, we loaded up the van around 6 p.m. and started the drive to Richmond (about nine hours), that night we listened to the Misfits’ greatest hits album twice.
Saturday, May 9
We woke up somewhere in North Carolina, can’t remember exactly but we were still quite a ways a way from Richmond, VA. If this sounds like an exhausting beginning to a tour, you’re right! By the time we got to the Camel in Richmond we were pretty late and barely had time to throw our equipment onstage and sound check.
This whole time we had a bunch of unopened boxes of merchandise in the trunk from our record label; we opened them up and I saw our new record for the first time. It's always an emotional moment when you see the physical incarnation of something you’ve worked so hard on.
The Richmond show sold out! Off to a good start, and we had a guest guitarist during "Take It Easy" who was also named Kevin (like our bassist). He played an incredible solo and I played the floor tom for a song. A lot of people were celebrating their birthdays that night, but I can’t remember all their names. The opening band was called Manatree and they were great. They offered to let us sleep on their floor that night, but we were so tired after a grueling two days, so we opted to stay at the Sleep Inn a few blocks away.
Sunday, May 10
Woke up refreshed after eight hours of sleep! Went to Ellwood Thompson’s for breakfast and had square meal and a green juice. We started driving to Washington D.C. and stopped at Office Depot on the way. I love to shop at Office Depot because we always are losing Sharpie markers, no kidding, every single day we lose a few of them.
On the way into D.C. we listened to Barack Obama’s speech at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, which I thought was hilarious. We pulled up to the venue in D.C. a little late, but the people at Rock and Roll Hotel were very chill about it.
If you’ve never been to D.C., Rock and Roll hotel is a charmingly dive-y venue. Apparently, it used to be a funeral parlor and is definitely haunted. This was also our first show with our good friends Turbo Fruits. We’ve toured with them a lot before, one time for about seventy days straight. They’ve become great friends of ours and they have a new record out that’s awesome! They arrived ten minutes before the doors opened, loaded their stuff straight onto stage and played an awesome show. They really sounded like a band that had been on the road for a month straight, a testament to the fact that sometimes you’re at your best when you’re tired, homesick, and delirious.
Monday, May 11
Woke up early to get a head start on the drive to Brooklyn; when it comes to New York driving you can never be too careful being that there are a million trillion variables to consider. Also, the drive from Washington D.C. to Baltimore is one of the most congested in the country (I’ve seen it make L.A. rush hour traffic look tame). Thankfully, the Gods were smiling on us and the drive went about as well as it possibly could’ve, props to Kevin for doing the actual NYC driving, its not easy. We pulled up to the venue with time to spare, loaded in, and parked the van on the street.
My sister, Julia lives in NYC. She’s an amazing artist, you might recognize her work on the covers of Astro Coast, Tarot Classics, and 1000 Palms.
The show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg was awesome, I love playing that venue because it sounds amazing and everyone working there is on it. The crowd brought the party even though it was a Monday night.
Tuesday, May 12
We recorded an acoustic session for the website mashable.com, it was filmed at a home studio that apparently belongs to one of the actors on Entourage, explaining why there was so much nice gear there. We were all pretty run down and functioning on very little sleep, but thankfully the film crew brought bagels and coffee for us. Sessions like this are always fun and challenging; it's tough rearranging a song on the fly for whatever situation you’re in that day, but I really enjoy it. I grew up watching “La Blogotheque” videos, and there’s something so cool about taking music out of the context of a traditional rock show. Mikey was a trombone major in high school, and on a whim, he played trumpet. "Feast-Famine" was a tall order for him—it's been a few years since high school for all of us. We did a couple takes of "Feast-Famine" and "I Can’t Explain" before we had one we could live with. Then we packed up our equipment, drank another cup of coffee each, and drove across the Williamsburg Bridge to Bowery Ballroom.
Tuesday was an important day to us for a few different reasons:
- It was the day our new record 1,000 Palms came out, and...
- It was the night of a benefit show for Thomas. It was a lot to be excited about.
The concert had an amazing line-up full of friends. Thank you to all the bands who played! That would be: Andy Boay, Pop Etc, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Cults, We Are Scientists, Marnie Stern and the Figs, Juliana Barwick, and Allen Blickle DJ’ing between all the bands. I wish I had time to go into detail about all the bands and why they rule, but let’s just say it was a crazy night of live music. It also felt like a high school reunion, these are people we’ve met over the course of the last six years at various times, in various places and states of mind. It was crazy having them in one place all at one time. We’ll be forever in debt to every band, it goes way above and beyond the call of duty to get in front of a live audience without a sound check and play on equipment you’ve never seen or heard before. It shows that they’re all not only great, adaptable musicians (duh), but solid people too.
Madeline (Cults) sings "Miranda":
I was asked to MC for the night, and honestly, I was a million more times more nervous about that than I’d ever been about playing a Surfer Blood show. If you’ve ever seen us play, you know that onstage banter is not really my strong suit, so the idea of stepping up to the microphone and giving a big introduction for seven different bands seemed like a nightmare. At the end of the night we turned our song Swim into an eight-minute extended jam with guest vocals, guitar, percussion and keyboards. Thank you to everyone who participated in the anarchy, especially Julianna and Madeline for singing with Surfer Blood.
When it was all over, a lot of us walked a few blocks to a karaoke bar. If you’re ever in lower Manhattan and feel the irresistible urge to sing, look no further than Baby Grand. Drinks were had and songs were sung, a well-deserved end to a long and fulfilling day.
Sometime around 3 a.m., Mikey and I hopped in a cab with Lindsay and headed back to Bushwick. I collapsed on the couch and was asleep 30 seconds later.
To be continued…
Text by John Paul Pitts