Surfer Blood's John Paul Pitts Opens Up About Thomas Fekete and Breaking Out of Florida
In just seven years, Surfer Blood has become a household name in American indie rock.
Photo courtesy Surfer Blood
Recognized for its surf-rock appeal, West Palm Beach-based Surfer Blood boasts international acclaim, but the recent passing of bandmate Thomas Fekete has brought them back home.
The former guitarist passed on May 30 after a long battle with sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. In honor of Fekete’s life, the band will perform in Jupiter on Saturday, the day before his family and friends will gather in his name.
“A lot of people are coming to town for his memorial, so the show is just something for everyone to get together on the day before,” Surfer Blood frontman John Paul “JP” Pitts said in a phone call on Sunday.
Widely known for its guitar and vocal hooks, the band’s dynamic sound quickly resonated both away and at home. The group’s last show in South Florida was in November at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach.
“I’ve been going there since I was too young to go there,” Pitts said, recalling a memory many South Florida showgoers can relate to.
While the band has earned some of its greatest support at home, Pitts attributes their success to constant touring. Before the release of their first album, 2010's Astro Coast, Pitts was just recording songs in his apartment and uploading them to the internet for people to hear. It was Fekete, who Pitts met at an Ultra Music Festival after-party, who pressed touring when he became part of the band.
“I think I would’ve done that forever,” Pitts said, “but when I met Thomas, he was the one who really pushed me to expand my horizons and to go places outside of Florida.”
Now, the band is heading to China on July 7, where they will play six shows – each in a different city. Like most musicians who didn't grow up either in the industry or rich (or both), though, Surfer Blood paid their dues playing relentless small tours before going international.
Photo courtesy Surfer Blood
Pitts remembers a tour during the fall of 2009, when the band was traveling from Iowa to Philadelphia. When their trailer’s tires began wearing off on the sides, the group labored together to get through the eight-hour car ride.
“The tires would wear through pretty much every other hour, so we just went to a junk tire shop and borrowed dozens of tires we kept in the trailer,” Pitts said, laughing at the memory. “We would just hop out every two hours and change them.”
Once they arrived at the venue in Philly, two of the members who were under 21 at the time were told they had to leave after their set. Naturally, the band did what any other South Floridians would do: avoid the snow at all costs. They extended their set on purpose, taking Fekete's bit and running with it as he played out an extended rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
“He dragged it out for like five to six minutes 'cause he knew the second we were done, those two guys would be literally out in the cold while we were waiting for the show to end so we could get paid,” Pitts said. “Just making the best of a bad situation in such a funny way.”
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That’s just one of the hundreds of tour memories the band shared with Fekete.
Like most locals, Surfer Blood also knows the struggle South Florida bands face to get their name out. To Pitts, a huge part of it is geography.
“I don’t think it’s an easy thing being a band from South Florida,” Pitts said. “We’re just kind of geographically isolated from the rest of the country. It takes you 10 hours just so you can get to the next state.”
But Surfer Blood is proof that if you’re willing to hit the road and consistently produce material, you could end up on tour with the Pixies someday.
“I’ve been a huge Pixies fan since I was 10 years old… so getting to meet them and play with them was one of those completely life-affirming moments,” Pitts said. “We were all just so excited.
From recording out of Pitts’ apartment to recording with Warner Bros. to going independent again, the band has had a full life cycle in just seven years. Though Fekete had not been touring with the band for about a year, he was a huge part of its foundation and was present throughout their latest album, 1,000 Palms.
“At the end of the day, I’m just so grateful for all the amazing experiences. I’m so happy I got to experience that and experience that with Thom.” Pitts said. “I got to see that guy in his best, at his happiest. We know that he had the chance to really enjoy himself when he was with us.”
Celebrating the life of Thomas Fekete. 9 p.m. Saturday, July 2, at Guanabanas, 960 N. Highway A1A, Jupiter. Free show, 21+. Call 561-747-8878, or visit guanabanas.com/live-music.
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