While some folks fondly recall favorite college classes and professors, 23-year-old John Paul Pitts barely remembers his. Sure, the Surfer Blood frontman kept busy majoring in history and teaching, but he never made it to graduation, he explains, "because I always wanted to be in a band, pretty much more than anything."
During school, Pitts began making music in what was essentially his dorm room — a tiny campus apartment where he set up his guitars, pre-amps and Pro Tools to home-record what would become Astro Coast, the surf-twangy debut of his then non-existent band Surfer Blood.
"I'd never done anything like that before, so there was a lot of experimentation involved in the whole process," confesses the singer/guitarist. "I spent a lot of time tweaking stuff, a lot of time getting guitar sounds and mixing them, and even more time finding the right way to record vocals. I think that's probably why the record came out sounding so unique."
One track — the clanging Link-Wray-meets-New-Order-ish "Neighbor Riff" — sums up Pitts' situation in title alone. Working so methodically in his tiny digs, he often lost track of time. "And I was lucky in the sense that most of my neighbors were either college students or new immigrants," he says. "So for the most part, they kind of understood. I mean, I only had the police come to the door one time." Given the loudness of his finished, multi-layered product, he says, "I think I had very gracious neighbors."
Astro Coast — and its signature tracks like "Floating Vibes" and "Swim" — took a full six months to perfect, DIY style. Pitts admits that he used a Mexican Fender Cyclone axe and a basic Fender amp, but he obsessed over every last tone. "Because the guitar is pretty much crucial to the record — that's really what drives a lot of the songs," he says. "I've always been a key proponent of loud guitars in the mix, so getting a meaty guitar tone was something that was really important."
After the set's completion, Pitts gradually assembled a full group to take his Surfer Blood concept on the road. And he swears his band name bears no malice: "Surfing is fun, but South Florida isn't the best place for it — there are no real waves down here. And I have nothing against surfing or surfers — it's just something I've never really gotten too far into."
Of course, the name only fueled critics labeling the music as surf rock. "I think we used a lot of '60s elements and a lot of '60s pop recording techniques, and when people hear that, they immediately associate it with the Ventures or something like that. Which is a fair assumption. But I think there's a lot more to Astro Coast than that."
While his curricular memory may have faded, Pitts says he still misses the dinky dorm that launched his career. The lease expired and — out of money from recording expenses — he had to move back in with his parents in West Palm Beach. Will he ever return for that degree? "Maybe some time in the future, it'd be nice," he reckons. "But for now, being in Surfer Blood is just awesome. And I hope to keep doing this for years and years to come."