Surfer Blood and Weird Wives guitarist Thomas Fekete got in touch with us and opened up about nearly everything going on with the band and in his own life. This includes getting screwed over on their way up, and enjoying the perks of success, including working with Pixies' producer Gil Norton. Fekete moved to New York, but says he always finds time to practice with his Florida bandmates. If nothing else proves SB isn't a bunch of dicks, it'll be this interview.
Let's start with the basics. What's it like being in a Florida band while living in New York?
I moved up to New York because I needed a change, and I knew I would lose my mind between tour cycles. We finished our record in July and had played a few more shows the following month, but the rest of the year was looking dismal. We were all broke after living in L.A. for a few months and decided we would just hang out in Florida until the record came out in November. I was crashing at my mom's apartment during this time.
Once we heard the news, that it won't be coming out until March of 2013, I packed my things to move to Portland. We had a show in Asbury Park and I decided I was going to stay in New York and make it work. I had to have all my stuff re-routed from Portland but it was worth it. I'm also working for the first time in three years.
It's really funny, we couldn't be happier where we are at as a band, we finally have solid management, and a new record that we love, but I am serving hot dogs at catering events. I recently served a chorizo to a guy in a Pixies shirt and I just smiled to myself. It's fine, if anything it builds character. JP is back and forth between L.A. and Florida and the other dudes are still in Florida. We always manage to find rehearsal time though.
What do you miss the most about home?
I miss my Mom, the weather, the beach. It's very easy for us to live in Florida. Sometimes, I have moments where I think I miss that aspect of it, but I know deep down, I don't. I enjoy how challenging New York is. I am living up here with my wonderful girlfriend as well, so that is a huge plus. Touring can be difficult, being so far away from loved ones can be nerve wracking. Luckily, being in a band with your best friends definitely helps. The guys never fail to put a huge smile on my face whenever I'm feeling low on tour.
What's the best thing about being from Florida? And what's the worst, most shameful, thing?
I spent so much of my teenage years hating the place. It's funny though, leaving for tour really gave me time to reflect on my life in Florida, and I just don't think any of this could have been possible had I gotten out when I wanted to. Floridians are very strange people, I'm from Cincinnati myself, and I remember being completely freaked out when I first moved there. It's funny though, I cannot escape Florida, even my girlfriend who I met up in New York is originally from South Florida. Most of my friends I hang with up here are all Floridians. It's hilarious. I have no plan on returning, but I do have a new appreciation for the place.
How did fans react to your new songs at Fun Fun Fun Fest?
We played a late night show at the Mohawk, and it was nuts. We got a very positive response to the new jams and it was the first time we played a bunch of of them to a proper crowd. We were doing a few of these private events before that, and we were so ready to get back into a venue full of people who were there to see a real show. I cannot begin to explain how good we feel after a show like that, it's the greatest thing in the world and it makes everything we have gone through worth it.
How has it been working with Gil Norton? What's one thing you learned during the experience that you'll apply to future albums?
I have nothing but good things to say about Gil. It's so funny, our first day of preproduction he just shows up to this practice space and sits down at a table with a notepad and has us run songs. I just remember rocking out so fucking hard, all of us had these huge smiles on our faces because we had a whole new batch of them that we loved and we were just blaring them so loud. In between we would look up and he was completely straight faced, taking notes.
After running through the record the first time, we all went on a fake bathroom break and I remember all of us being like, "What the fuck is going on in there? This fucking sucks. Let's just leave and go to the bar. This is too weird." We walk back in and suddenly he's ecstatic. So excited about the songs and telling us how much fun it's all going to be. We all just looked at each other and smiling. We can be so sensitive, it's hilarious. We went out with him that night and I would say by day three or four of preproduction, we had completely opened up to him. There was this mutual respect, it was honestly magical.
I just remember having moments in the studio between takes where I would think, "Man, this guy makes me feel like I can do anything!" And honestly, what more could you want? We had met with a lot of producers, and by the end we were really disenchanted with the whole thing, and that's only because personalities weren't meshing well. So grateful Gil came on board last minute. After that we mixed with Rob Schnapf in L.A. a few months later, and everything I just wrote about Gil applied to him as well. I hope we can make a record with Rob someday. It all felt like more of a friendship, like your good, insanely creative friend suddenly joined your band, and it was amazing.
Nice! You guys called your upcoming album a "rock record" in Rolling Stone. What's your favorite "rock album" of all time?
My favorite rock record of all time is Let It Be by the Replacements. I feel like it was written for me. That's the only way I can really describe it.
When you go to Brazil on your upcoming tour, are there any touristy things you plan to do? It's kind of wild down there. Will you play like bossa nova onstage?
I hope we have time to do some serious sightseeing. I still can't believe we are heading over there. So excited, what a dream.
What's the worst thing about being in the spotlight? Do you get recognized on the street? Is it kinda great or kinda awful?
It can get weird. There's this notion about our band, that we are "difficult," and it bums me out. I remember meeting up with a journalist to interview during SXSW, and we ended up hanging out for a while. At one point she tells us her friend at the New York Times warned her about us being "dicks," and she was laughing because she was actually bracing herself for it before we met up. We had never even met the dude who said it.
Honestly, come up to any of us after a show, and try to tell us that we are assholes. I love our fans more than anything else in the world. Some of my best friends these days are folks I've met at Surfer Blood shows. I love them.
I don't know. When you have a supposed "tastemaker" acting like they know more about your music than you do, you tend to shut down. I've blown off interviews to hang out with friends and fans, and while that isn't nice, these were people who were acting more self-important than our entire band combined. We can be babies, but we aren't mean, nor are we any different from anyone else. We have this self-deprecating sense of humor that probably comes off questionable at times. Everyone has their off days.
I remember back when we used to tweet, we would only do it after we felt that we were getting dicked over in some way. There was a lot of that. Imagine our situation, three guys who were suddenly thrown into this amazing situation, yet none of us had any experience with the music industry. None of our parents were involved with the music industry. This group of people at the time looked at us and said, "Well, here are a bunch of naive kids, let's bank while we can," and that's exactly what happened.
Suddenly we were forced to fire off anyone who wasn't in this little circle. It got really weird. I remember seeing a friends band in Brighton and telling them we had just got off a 70 day tour and our opener made more than we did, and they looked so shocked. We were laughing about it at the time, but we suddenly really started feeling like we were being taken advantage of. Hell, we have never really talked about this, but we had our Warner Brothers contract dropped off by a random person at the airport on our way to Australia. I wasn't concerned with money at the time, but I was in a lot of debt from being in the band.
I'll never forget signing the contract and walking to the plane in silence, like... What the fuck did we just do? I hope we did the right thing? I have no idea what that thing even said. I cannot begin to tell you how left in the dark we were. We would never have thought that anyone working for us would hurt us, but they did. I'll stop there though. Honestly, I am still afraid of some of those people. Luckily, we have been with a new team for a year now and we love them. It feels like more of a family than a business. It's what we needed. And having a label like Warner behind us is exciting.
How do you spend a typical day?
I am the freak who wakes up at 8 a.m. everyday, full of energy. It drives the other dudes nuts. Off tour I generally wake up early, walk around for a while, track down some vegan food for lunch, play a bit of guitar or jam with friends, and fall asleep to a movie. I don't think I've finished a movie in half a year. Or I go to work. I've been really mellow. I have a whole new appreciation for what I have. Two years ago this answer would have looked a lot different.