Neither the topic nor the process of death are easy. As such, there’s no right way to deal with the darkness. Some shine a light in it, and some wear it like a blanket. On their new album, “Snowdonia,” Surfer Blood treat death with a rebellious familiarity -- skirting it, prodding it, teasing it like the friend they lost.
On May 31, 2016, the band’s guitarist, Thomas Fekete, died of a sarcoma that invaded his lungs and spine. While every band has its ups and downs, as frontman John Paul Pitts put it to me over the phone last week, this was a different sort of “down.” He didn’t say much else about it, but he didn’t need to.
Surfer Blood are known for their scaled back, surfy sound, which they don’t stray from on the new album -- in fact, they embrace it head on -- but if the album artwork is any indication, there is something different about the mood and headspace of this collection of songs. Where other albums, like their critically-acclaimed debut, “Astro Coast,” or their Gil Norton-produced (Pixies, Foo Fighters) follow-up, “Pythons,” are angular and youthfully passionate, “Snowdonia” is smoothed out, present and serene. Where “1000 Palms” invokes the communality of the tropics, “Snowdonia” operates within a solitary geography -- that lone, blue glacier between the clouds and the Arctic.
“It’s definitely not something we were expecting. This is our fourth record, and it’s the first time without him [Fekete] there. We were creative partners for a lot of songs … I just decided I was going to write a lot of songs,” Pitts said.
Originally from Florida (where the rest of his band still resides), Pitts now lives in the Bay Area with his girlfriend (who, coincidentally, went to high school in San Diego). He’s still coastal, but he’s able to explore different topographies: “I love being able to see for miles from the top of a mountain,” he said.
The band has 60 or 70 shows lined up for this tour. They’re going to Europe, the East Coast and everywhere in between. And while he’s not as invincible as he used to be -- and certainly now more aware of that fact -- Pitts is just grateful that he can wake up every morning and play music.
“I’m taking it one day at a time,” he said -- not with sadness, but with a sense of optimism and the affirmation of life.
Passionate routine, new geographies and presence -- that’s how Pitts faces the darkness of loss.
Surfer Blood play Soda Bar on Saturday, Feb. 18, with Prism Tats. Get tickets here.
Rutger Rosenborg was almost a Stanford neuroscientist before he formed Ed Ghost Tucker. He now plays in the Lulls and makes music on his own when he's not writing. Follow his updates on Facebook or contact him directly.