June 12, 2015


Fuse's Surfer Blood Tour Journals, Pt. 2: Jersey, Philly, Chi-Town

Courtesy of the Artist
Courtesy of the Artist

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. Read Part One right here.

Wednesday, May 13: Asbury Park, NJ 

The 13th was our day off (kind of), but first we had a radio station visit at WBJB in New Jersey. We managed to navigate the turbulent New Jersey turnpike, but when we got to the radio station we realized the remaining directions were hopelessly vague. I ended up having to walk into the police station and ask for help. One of the cops told us we would never find it on our own and offered to lead the way. He got in his squad car and brought us through a maze of windy streets into the parking lot of a community college. Needless to say, I felt adequately protected and served. 

Up to this point tour had been grueling. It's good to be busy, but so far it had been all work and no play and we were all excited to have some chill time in Asbury Park. We stayed at a friend’s house in Ocean Grove, one town over, in a three-story late 19th-century home. From the curb it looks like an actual dollhouse. The whole town feels like something from a forgotten time; the streets are narrow and the houses are built super close together without garages. On the inside you’ll find antique wooden floors, a claw-foot tub, and sinks in pretty much every room from when it used to be a boarding house. Also, the house is very haunted, I refuse to sleep on the third floor because I’ve had the weirdest dreams of my life up there.

The house is a few hundred feet from the ocean, so naturally, Tyler and Mikey grabbed surf boards, slipped on their Rider flip flops and headed down to the water. The water was murky and the waves were choppy, but they looked like they were getting on all right.

Courtesy of the Artist
Courtesy of the Artist

They were both shivering when they came out of the ocean. Neither had a wetsuit and the water must’ve been cold, like 50 degrees cold.

We helped out with some household chores. I pushed this hundred year old mower around the front lawn while Mikey clipped the edges. We had a great lunch in Asbury Park at an Italian place called Porta in a renovated mechanic’s garage: salad, octopus, and pizza. Then we got to enjoy the peace and quiet—a rare treat while on tour. I was in bed by ten and slept for eleven hours.

Courtesy of the Artist
Courtesy of the Artist

Thursday, May 14: Philadelphia, PA 

Woke up after 10AM and went downstairs, made some coffee on the stove, and read my Kindle for a while.  Kevin and his girlfriend found the local vegan restaurant, Seed & Sprout. Mikey and Tyler rode bikes down to a bagel shop in a strip mall down the street. I had leftover pizza from the day before.

Courtesy of the Artist
Courtesy of the Artist

When we got to Philly, Turbo Fruits were out front sleeping in their van. They had played in Portland, Maine the night before and driven through the night to make the show. Jonas, who had driven most of the way, was visibly exhausted and mumbled something to me when I walked into the room. Those guys definitely are one of the hardest working bands we’ve ever toured with.

After sound check we shot a takeaway video with Free People near the venue. Philly is a very scenic town in its own way, everything is old and brick and looks like it has a ton of history. We found a random alley to set up in, we tuned our acoustic guitars while Jana, Rachel, and Lindsay set up some shots and got audio levels. Turns out that the alley we picked was a residential area, people started poking their heads out their front doors and windows while we were rehearsing. Eventually they came out into the street, some brought their kids, others brought a bottle of wine and some fold-out chairs. Before long we had a little audience. I was pleasantly surprised, I had honestly expected them to complain and ask us to leave. We played two takes of “I Can’t Explain,” and the second take was a keeper. Afterwards we set up a little impromptu interview, we sat around on a picnic blanket playing Cards Against Humanity, which I’ve only played once before, with my girlfriend’s family in Lake Tahoe. If you know anything about the game, you know it's more of a drinking game, and less of a family game. However, it really helped us open up for the interview.

The show that night was a venue called Boot and Saddle, we hurried back to the venue and barely had time to eat before going on stage. After Turbo Fruits’ last song we pushed our way through the crowd to the stage and played one of our more solid sets of the tour. Super crowd. 

We listened to Viet Cong and Marquee Moon in the van after the show and got kind of lost along the way. We made a stop at the WaWa outside of town where I scarfed down a tomato-mozzarella sandwich that was actually pretty good. Got back to Asbury at 3AM. I walked upstairs, shut the door, and passed out immediately.

Friday May 15: Asbury Park, NJ 

Breakfast was pretty solid: crab-cakes at the Starving Artist. After breakfast we had the whole afternoon with nothing to do, we rode bikes, put on a load of laundry, and watched a VHS with “GBV vs. the Strokes” written on the label in black Sharpie. I'm not allowed to divulge the contents of the video tape...

Just before our set at the Saint, I got a text from Kevin telling me to come backstage, he said it was urgent. The first thing I saw was Mikey with tears in his eyes, he had just heard that his grandfather had passed away earlier that afternoon. You could tell he was upset, he had been close with his grandfather and we all took turns trying to console him. He got onstage with us and played like a champ. After show, Jonas from Turbo Fruits took him to a bar down the street. We went back to David’s house and went to bed, unsure of what was next.

Saturday May 16: Lancaster, PA 

Mikey looked on Kayak and found a cheap, direct flight out of Newark that afternoon, so he could spend a few days with his family. We said our goodbyes and started the long drive to Lancaster, PA. 

We showed up to the venue late and loaded in the rain. There was a band called Black Stone Cherry playing upstairs and people were lined up around the block to see them at a place called Chameleon Club, we were playing the Lizard Lounge downstairs. Thankfully, the guys from Turbo Fruits are pretty familiar with our songs. We played some shows with them in January, right after we found out Thom had cancer. Being the solid guys they are, they had learned our songs and filled in for Thom on that short run. I asked Jonas if they’d be willing to do it again, he said it had been six months and that the material was hazy, I told him to try his best.

We opened the set with Dave from Turbo Fruits on bass and Kevin on guitar, “Floating Vibes” and “Twin Peaks” were a little rough (again, it had been five months since Dave had played any of these songs), but “I Can’t Explain” went alright. We played “Island” and “Feast-Famine” as a three-piece, then it was Kingsley’s turn. Kingsley, in case you’re unfamiliar with Turbo Fruits, is the shredder in the band, he can play Jimi Hendrix solos note for note, so learning Surfer Blood songs came pretty easy for him. He played “Say Yes to Me,” “Demon Dance,” and one more I can’t remember. He played all the parts perfectly, though not always at the right times, but we got through it ok. Lastly, we had Jonas come up to play the last few songs: “Take It Easy,” “Miranda,” and “Voyager Reprise.” It was a little rough but the audience didn’t seem to mind, if anything it must’ve been entertaining to watch one band teach another how to play their song in front of a live audience. At the end Jonas took the mic and said: “Give it up for Surfer Blood, they could’ve easily cancelled this show. Instead they got up here and worked through it, and put up with our shitty guitar playing too.” 

Afterwards the Turbo Fruits started the drive home to Nashville and we started on our way to Akron, OH.

Sunday, May 17: Akron, OH 

We drove all day through the Appalachian mountains and stopped in Pittsburgh for lunch. We listened to Alex Calder, Women, and Television. We got to the hotel outside of Akron in the early evening, ate TGIFridays, and went to bed.

Monday, May 18th Akron, OH 

The first show as a three-piece band—someone once said that "adversity builds character"?  Musica is an old auto-body garage that was converted into a venue, it’s an all-around vibe-y place. I decided that if we were going to play as a three-piece, I should at least make it interesting and use two amps. I used my normal pedal chain into Mikey’s 2x12 Music Man, and ran a separate cable out of my tuner’s bypass channel, through a polyphonic octave generator, into my Vox AC15. It sounded like a twelve-string guitar, the Music Man was the normal guitar and the AC15 was the octave up. Make sense? 

The opening band was called Herzog, they were from Cleveland and they put on a fantastic show.

I was pretty nervous about the set, I basically had to re-arrange all the songs on the fly while singing and manipulating effects. “Floating Vibes” was rough, but after that everything came together surprisingly well. Kevin used a lot of overdrive and fuzz effects on his bass to help fill out the low end, and the twelve-string effect fattened up my guitar noticeably. There’s no way any of our gimmicks made up for Mikey, but the crowd seemed to enjoy the show.

Courtesy of the Artist
Courtesy of the Artist

Tuesday, May 19: Indianapolis, IN

We woke up early the next day to stop by Earthquaker devices, a guitar pedal company based in Akron. We walked into a warehouse with a dozen or so people sitting at tables with soldering irons, they still put all of the electronics together by hand, it’s pretty amazing. Kevin bought an overdrive and Tyler bought an “organizer” (it makes your guitar sound like an organ). Then we got in the van and started the drive to Indianapolis.

Courtesy of the Artist
Courtesy of the Artist

We got to Indianapolis late and loaded through a freight elevator into Joyful Noise Recordings, our new record label! In addition to putting out awesome records, they have occasional shows in their office space, complete with a stage and PA system. Thanks to Karl, Kiely, Rachel, David, Daniel, and everyone else at JNR! The space is tiny and it was elbow to elbow by the time we went on, I was still nervous about playing as a three-piece, but I slightly more confident having already gotten through one show. We played pretty well, we even had an open ended jam at the end where members of the audience came up and played guitar, drums, and keyboards with us.

After the show we went back to Karl and Kiely’s house, Karl owns Joyful Noise and Kiely is his long-time girlfriend who works with him at the label. We had drinks, played with their dogs and listened to records. I passed out on the couch around 3:30AM and someone was nice enough to throw a blanket over me.

Wednesday, May 20: Lansing, MI

Woke up around 11AM and took a cab with Karl back to the Joyful Noise office. We all got breakfast at a diner down the street called Peppy’s grill, a real slice of Americana, but it was cheap and delicious. We started the drive to Lansing, MI and listened to some of the CD’s we’d picked up at Joyful Noise. There was a band in the pile called Sleeping Bag that I’d never heard; we put them on and I instantly loved it. Really good, home-recorded, classic indie pop, and the singer has a really interesting vocal delivery.

We got to Lansing, parked in the alley behind the venue, and loaded our stuff upstairs in a janky freight elevator (a staple of touring in the Midwest). The Loft is a big venue, we had played it once before with Trail Of Dead back in 2011, and I remember it being pretty empty then. Thankfully, some people came out to the show and we played to a very receptive crowd! By this point I was starting to get used to being a three-piece. I couldn’t actually hear Kevin or Tyler onstage, but I think it was a good show. 

We drove to a hotel about 20 minutes away and waited for over an hour to check in. By the time I got into bed it was 4 o’clock in the morning.

Thursday, May 21: Ann Arbor, MI 

We slept in until the hotel maid came by to kick us out, we were all pretty exhausted from getting to bed so late. Good thing we only had an hour drive to Ann Arbor, we still had time to go by the bank and deposit the money from the past few days.

The show that evening was at the Blind Pig, a legendary venue where, incidentally, Kevin had seen Tortoise play years ago (a lot of Kevin’s family is from Michigan). Ann Arbor is a really beautiful town, after sound-check we all walked around, did a little window-shopping and ate dinner at a co-op. 

We got back to the venue right before doors. This was our first show with Alex Calder, but the promoter still hadn’t heard from him when we got back. They showed up about a half hour before their set time looking exhausted, they had played in New York the night before and had driven 12 hours. We told them they could borrow our equipment if they needed, they got onstage with our equipment and played an amazing short set. I had listened to them on recording a lot, but the live show had a much different energy that I really liked. 

We went on right after, our last show as a three-piece. It went mostly all right, not our best, but not bad either. Afterwards we joined Kevin’s uncle for a drink at the bar downstairs, he’s a schoolteacher in Detroit and he’s come out to most our Michigan shows throughout the years. We said goodnight, got in the van, and drove to the hotel.

Friday, May 22: Chicago, IL 

We got up early to get breakfast with Kevin’s uncle. We met at a deli called Zingerman’s that had a line out the door. Inside it was amazing, pretty much everything was either made by hand on the premises or brought in from local farms in eastern Michigan. Kevin is kind of a tough customer: he’s a vegan with a garlic allergy, making him pretty hard to cook for. They took it super seriously at Zingerman’s, the manager even came out and went through an ingredients list with Kevin to make sure he was okay. I ordered the reuben and it ruled. While we ate we listened to Kevin’s uncle talk history, the frustrating and the satisfying aspects of teaching in Detroit, and baseball.

We drove three hours to Chicago listening to Sleeping Bag, Sebadoh, and a really good This American Life.  Mikey had flown into O’Hare early that morning, and had been killing time in the city all day. He had taken a train to the Chicago Music Exchange: possibly the most amazing guitar store in the world. There are thousands of guitars in that store, many very rare and very expensive. They had been kind enough to allow Mikey to sleep on their couch all day, his grandfather’s funeral had been the previous evening and he hadn’t slept since. We picked him up around four and headed over to Lincoln Hall.

Courtesy of the Artist
Courtesy of the Artist

Lincoln Hall is a killer venue with amazing sound and a wonderful staff. The show was a blast, Alex Calder and his band killed it, and we put on one of the best performances of the tour so far! The light show was awesome. Afterwards we hung out with some of our friends for a while, and headed to a hotel in Schaumburg, IL, a peaceful suburb of Chicago. What could possibly go wrong?

Saturday, May 23

Woke up and went to Whole Foods, I came out to the parking lot to get something out of my backpack Tyrolia, and when I couldn’t find it, I started to panic. Had I left it at Lincoln Hall the night before? Tyler was the next one back, and he couldn’t find his backpack either; that’s when we realized we’d been broken into. Sure enough, on the passenger’s door there was a slit under the lock that had been made with an X-Acto-knife and a screwdriver, the thief had managed to pop the lock open (apparently this is really easy to do with Ford Econoline vans) and grab the bags. 

Everyone was upset, we were missing laptops, iPods, phone chargers and prescription glasses. Even worse, they had taken Kevin’s bag which had had all the checks from the shows, and about six or seven hundred dollars in cash donations that we had collected for Thom's cancer treatment. We couldn’t believe it, we had been parked in front of a Whole Foods, right between a Crate & Barrel and a Barnes & Nobles in the middle of the day. We called 911 and waited twenty minutes for an officer to show up, he explained to us that it was extremely unlikely that we’d every see any of our belongings again. Somehow I’d figured he’d say that.

Courtesy of the Artist
Courtesy of the Artist

This isn’t the first time we’ve been broken into. I lost a laptop in Seattle and my favorite guitar in San Francisco. One time in Atlanta someone broke into our van and didn’t find anything but Thom’s flax crackers, so they threw them all over the van out of spite. Thieves can be assholes. 

Theft is closely tied to our band’s history, here’s the story of how we got our first van: we were sharing a practice space in Lake Worth, FL, and everything had been pretty amicable up to this point. The landlord said he was going to bring another band in to split the rent with us, he said he’d known them forever, and we believed him. Turns out, one of the guys in this new band had a drug problem and was in the middle of a relapse. Our PA mixer went missing one day, we assumed the other band had borrowed it for a show and forgotten to tell us. We were annoyed, but not alarmed. The next day my amp went missing and we got all of our stuff out of there in a hurry. I had a friend of a friend at the Palm Beach Sherriff’s office, and a search of their database showed that equipment with matching serial numbers had surfaced at a pawn shop called Fast Eddy’s.

I drove down to Fast Eddy’s the next morning, and immediately saw our mixer and my amp. I took out my phone to get a picture, and Fast Eddy jumped over the counter and grabbed me by the collar. I forget exactly what he said, something about kicking my ass I guess, and I was pretty shaken up after. I walked outside and called the police, there were two officers there within an hour. Fast Eddy changed his tone, all of a sudden he was apologetic and confused, he swore on his life that he had no idea any of the equipment was stolen. The officers asked me if I wanted to press charges and I told him I needed some time to think about it. The thief’s father called me later that day and asked if there was anything he could do.The father was a lawyer living in New York, and had apparently had to deal with this same scenario before. I told him I’d seen an old van on Craigslist for $800, and that we needed a van for our upcoming tour. He was happy to help and keep his son out of trouble, and that’s how Surfer Blood got its first van!