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It is rare to come across an album as personal, dynamic, and intriguing as Pythons —but then again, rarely do bands these days have a story similar to the rise of Surfer Blood. Originally the dorm-room project of guitarist/vocalist John Paul Pitts, the band—which also includes guitarist Thomas Fekete, bassist Kevin Williams and drummer Tyler Schwarz—quietly released their debut album Astro Coast in 2010 on indie label Kanine Records. It ended up garnering acclaim from nearly every vital music site and put them on the same stage as bands like the Pixies. Now, three years later, they're ready to show how much they've grown, both as musicians and people, during their remarkably organic road to international acclaim.
Produced by the legendary Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters) Pythons maintains the same dreamy surf rock sensibility of the band's debut but sees them buffing their pop gems into dynamic songs that feature expanded arrangements and a more focused approach to their craft that is at least partially due to Norton's input. "We had never worked with a producer before and I think Gil's biggest strength was taking all of our ideas and helping us arrange them in a way that made sense," Pitts explains. "Gil pushed us really hard on this album and there are a lot of really awesome harmonies that wouldn't have been there if it wasn't for him."
Before trekking from their hometown of West Palm Beach, FL to Los Angeles to team up with Norton, the band took time to disconnect from the outside world and hone in on their collective vision for the new album. They took a trip to Chicago for the sole purpose of refining their songwriting together and demoing new tracks, a mature creative endeavor they had never experienced before . "On the first album we were writing songs and piecing them together as we were recording them, but for this one it was a lot different," Pitts explains. "We came up with 20 songs before we even went into the studio and made sure they were great," he continues, adding that it's hard not to romanticize the fact that they tracked Pythons at EASTWEST Studios, where the Beach Boys recorded Pet Sounds. The result is a similarly timeless collection of songs that fit together to create a cohesive album instead of a collection of singles—although to be fair every song on Pythons is the perfect soundtrack to a summer road trip.
From the airy, organ-augmented feel of the opener and first single "Demon Dance" to the sweetly syncopated drive of "Say Yes To Me," Pythons is teeming with infectious hooks. Fekete insists Surfer Blood's ability to eschew the sophomore slump is at least partially due the band's hectic touring schedule over the past few years, which ultimately helped them bond as a unit. "Making Pythons was a really natural process for us. We had all this energy from spending so much time on the road that once we all got in a room together these moments literally just flowed out of us." Pitts adds that "Gravity" and "I Was Wrong" were written a week before the band went into the studio. "Those are two dramatically different songs that sort of happened at the last minute and they add a lot of dynamics to the record that wouldn't otherwise be there."
Lyrically, Pythons is an extremely personal album that gives insight into what the members have experienced over the past few whirlwind years, both from a personal and professional standpoint. "When I was writing this album I didn't leave my apartment for months and stayed up all night just disconnecting from everything and everybody for a while to try to capture exactly what I wanted to say," Pitts admits, citing that the story of his own relationships lie at the core of this collection. "It all just came together and the cohesiveness of it all is sort of an accident," he says, "they are all little snapshots of different days in my life, you know?"
The same can be said for the rest of the band. "JP came to talk to us for ideas and it really felt like collaboration," Fekete explains. "I'd say everyone in the band has at least one song that comes directly from something that happened in their lives over the past few years." That cohesive spirit carried into the studio, where they continued to fine-tune and perfect their songs collectively.
Surfer Blood may have started in a cramped bedroom, but with Pythons it's clear that they have grown into a self-sufficient unit whose potential is limitless. So instead of continuing to analyze where these songs came from and where the band are going, let's step back from the tornado of excitement surrounding the band and just listen. No matter where you are or what kind of day you had, listening to Pythons will make you realize that the sun is shining somewhere. Let's bask in it together.