For the second show in Flying Dog’s Summer Sessions concert series, the brewery is hosting three bands: People’s Blues Of Richmond, Sun Club and Surfer Blood. We spoke with members of each of the bands — the first two via email and the headliner via phone — over the past couple weeks to talk about their upcoming trip to Frederick, what’s in store for Saturday’s show and, of course, what they think of Flying Dog beer. As always, we’ll be at Flying Dog this Saturday, supporting the fine people at Flying Dog and these fine bands (notice the brand new playlist on the right) by giving away koozies, setting up a table, and giving away tickets. Come say hi. Today, we speak with John Paul Pitts of Surfer Blood.
Congratulations on the latest record, “1000 Palms.” You wrote it without a record deal in hand? I didn’t know that. Is that true?
That is true. For the record before this, we were on a major label, which is a deal we signed pretty soon after our first record came out. And we went through that whole major label process, which is the opposite of everything we had done up until that point. Our label sank lots and lots of money into that record, and it didn’t really sell as well as they were thinking, so they dropped us. In December 2013, a few days before Christmas. It didn’t really come as much of a surprise to us. So, we decided we were going to get together and just record the first 10 songs we came up with to keep it really simple and pure. We figured it would be better to just make a record ourselves and see what happened afterward.
How did that influence the writing? Did it have a positive impact on the creation of the album?
I think it did, yeah. I think it’s always better when you don’t have lots and lots of people weighing in on the creative process. We made our first record before anyone even knew who our band was, so we thought it would be good to do something like that again.
I’ve been catching up on your music videos all day, and I’m interested to know your opinion on music videos these days. You guys have some really good ones, and the thing about that is, there’s no real MTV, no real mainstream outlet for music videos anymore. What kind of importance do you think those type of promotional tools have in today’s musical climate?
That’s a good question. I feel like the days of the big single and the big video are kind of behind us. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing because when I sit down and write a song, I never say to myself, “This is going to be the big single, this is going to be the only song that anyone ever knows off this record.” That’s never been my mentality. And I’ve always thought that music videos should be a low-pressure situation that’s just fun for everyone. We’ve made one music video with a decent budget and it turned out really good, but putting that kind of pressure on a situation isn’t … I mean, considering how it’s not 20 years ago, at the very least, it should be just something that’s very enjoyable and feels good.
You guys broke out in 2009 and 2010. You did CMJ in 2009 and 2010 at South By Southwest. Another change in the past five to 10 years is in those music discovery festivals like South By Southwest. I know a lot of people have become annoyed at how corporate those events have become — do you agree with that? Do you think those kinds of outlets and festivals and events have the same kind of impact they once did?
I don’t really know. I’m not an A&R person, and I can’t imagine what it would be like to be an A&R person, but it does seem like every year there has to be a breakout band at South By Southwest and CMJ. Like, “Who are we going to pick this year to be the one.” That being said, I can never say thank you enough to both of those. We went to CMJ in 2009, and people were starting to figure out who we were, but by the time we left, we were on the front page of the arts section in the New York Times. That was pretty much the biggest thing that ever happened to me at that point. We still go and play South By Southwest, but we usually only play three or four shows for our fans who are there. I don’t know what it’s like in 2015, being the band playing 12, 13 shows, in the way we were trying to get someone to pay attention to you.
You guys opened for the Pixies and I read that there’s an interesting story about how you guys got on that tour. Can you tell that story?
I like to think that this is the story. It’s never been confirmed, but we’ve never been shy about the fact that we’re a big fan of that band and they’ve been a big influence on us. We did a cover of their song “Gigantic” for an Internet-type session for The AV Club and when that came out, we had just submitted to be support on a tour with them. Pretty soon after the video came out, we found out that we got the tour, that we were going to do it. So, I like to think that maybe that sort of pushed it over the edge.
That’s gotta be like a dream come true.
Yeah. Yeah, it was a dream come true in a lot of ways. Getting to watch that set every night. Just the honor of opening for them. I watched that set every night and never got tired of it.
Now, you guys are coming here to play at Flying Dog Brewery, so I have to ask if you’ve ever tried Flying Dog beer.
Do you have a favorite?
The only one I’ve ever tried is Raging Bitch, and I remember really liking it.
I also saw that the night before the show here, you’re going to be at Dogfish. So, not to put you on the spot, but is there one you like more than the other?
(Laughs.) Oh, I’m not going to say. I’m going to plead the fifth on that one. But this will be fun. It’s always exciting because people who make beer are usually really passionate about it and are usually not shy about talking your ear off about it. And of all the things in the world to listen to someone talk about, that’s one of the … to me, that’s really cool and interesting.