This chat took place outside Waterloo Music in Austin, Texas this past March at sxsw. When we caught up with JP (Surfer Blood frontman), the band had just finished one of 10 shows they were playing at the festival. Forming as a band just over one year ago, these Floridians have managed to stay incredibly busy and garner much well-deserved attention (NY Times, Pitchfork, NPR, many more).
By the way, in the background of the below video, you can hear Chicago’s The Smith Westerns, who also played several great sets as well at sxsw. At one point during this interview, JP stopped himself momentarily to sing along with half of a verse, before answering a question.
What’s your favorite drink?
J.P: Drink? A mojito. A mojito at a bar on South Beach.
The songs on Astro Coast have a finely developed sense of how melodies work together. Can you think of any particular music or records that might have informed you all’s ear for melody?
J.P.: I’d say I draw a lot of influence from Pet Sounds and Beach Boys Records. Beatles Records because, — I don’t know those are just incredible songs I grew up listening to them. But yeah, obviously our sounds is really guitar driven. I would say it’s an interplay between vocal melody and the guitar line. — But as far as melody goes, basically you come up with a nice chord progression or a nice riff and just hum stuff over it until something works. And then just fill in some lyrics. And, you know, get the phrasing right.
Is there a moment when you were a kid and you heard a particular piece of music and the idea of a pop song kind of clicked into place for you — or maybe you thought you understood it for a minute?
J.P.: I still don’t understand the pop format. If you listen to most of our record, I mean the formula is, well.. some songs are verse/chorus/verse/chorus, but for the most part even songs like “Floating Vibes” and “Swim” or just some of the songs that people have picked up a lot — don’t really follow any format. I do look at them as cohesive pieces, but the structure is not a traditional pop format. I’m actually a sucker for long alternate B sections sandwiched between two A sections, you know what I mean? And I think that I used that a lot on Astro Coast, even unconsciously. So I think that is a format that I look to a lot.
Who are some lyricists you admire?
J.P. : Isaac Brock I admire a lot — and Jeff Mangum is one of my favorite lyricists.
When you all sit down to write a song are you thinking in terms of crafting an album together, or do you usually just write what comes out?
J.P: It’s more whatever comes out, honestly. I mean, sometimes a song like “Catholic Pagans” is written like verse/chorus/instrumentalverse/ chorus/ outro, you know what I mean? So sometimes it just falls together like that. When we were writing “Harmonics” and “Take it Easy” everything just all came together, in one night. And some of the songs like “Floating Vibes” and “Swim” are pieces of material that kind of got like worked together, and like woven together and we tried to make a cohesive plot and stuff. But, yeah, I mean, there’s no formula for writing a great song. I think that’s why our record is so diverse also. It’s because the songs were all written at different times and all with like three different ideas in mind. Some songs were just me sitting around with an acoustic guitar forever, trying to, like, figure it out, you know what I mean? But it’s really beautiful when a song like “Take it Easy or “Harmonics” writes itself.