September 2024

Kudos Indeed

surf citysurf citysurf cityText: Digby Woods Images: Surf City

New Zealand ‘surf-rock’ band Surf City has had quite an interesting time since their debut EP dropped in 2007. They opened for the likes of Interpol (whom they stole pizza from), Dinosaur Jr (who said they were, to quote Lou Barlow, “good guys”) and MGMT (who apparently are a lot more complex than previously thought), and played a slew of gigs including The Big Day Out, The Laneway Festival and SXSW in the States. Now, this Kiwi foursome is set to release their debut LP, Kudos. If that was what happened after their EP dropped, I’d hold onto your hat for what comes next.

Digby Woods: Was it a bummer having to change your name after the conflict with the Scottish band of same name, or were you not really fussed about it?

Davin Stoddard:Yeah, it was a bummer to change the name because we liked it. Probably the worst part about it was going to the whole process of getting signed to a record label and then getting a lawyer and all that sort of crap, going like, “You gotta change your name, you don’t want them coming down and doing this.” So we were just said OK, just did what we were told like good little boys, and it ended up being Surf City.

DW: Do you ever try and emulate the sound of a certain favourite band or song, like, ‘I really like Animal Collective’s Grass, let’s try and use that kind of melody for Dickshakers Union‘?

DS: Yeah probably, I mean, it happens. You’re just jamming around and it’s what comes out of your mouth, and then you’re like, “Oh shit, we’re going to have to go with it now.” It happens a fair bit. Maybe we’re just not terribly original (laughs).

DW: Do you have any non-musical influences that have had a particular impact on your music?

DS: I don’t know necessarily on the music itself. Myself, it would be skateboarding, doing things like that. Reading, stuff like Robert Anton Wilson and other various pretentious writers (laughs). I don’t know, just like television and films, I can’t think of anything in particular.

DW: Though affiliations with the genre of surf-rock can be literally interpreted from your name, do you identify with the genre at all?

DS: I like the idea of surf-rock, but now it’s become a by-word for whatever’s fashionable at the moment, like you’ve got a thousand bands that are named after surf-inspired somethings. I don’t know, it feels like I wish we had a different name because of that, it’s become so chic. Guitars sound pretty surfy though, so there’s no way of really denying it.

DW: When your EP came out in 2007, everyone proclaimed you as having a stripped-back, lo-fi surf-rock sound. Now with Kudos, there is a distinct element of reverb-driven echo-y sonic-rock, like Spacemen 3 crossed with Sonic Youth, in particular with tracks like Icy Lakes, Yakuza Park and Autumn. What prompted the turn toward this more distortion-y sound?

DS: I don’t know, eh? You’re probably just sitting there and you always wanted to make it sound a bit more grunty. I was listening to a lot of The Boredoms at the time, still am. I think they were one of the bands that as a collective we’d like to sound like, that we were influenced by.

DW: OK, this is an obvious question but necessary. Your style of production, your song-writing process, mixing, etc. How does it all start and then come together?

DS: Pretty much we just do it all at home, we’ve got a computer set-up, we bought a bunch of gear, some monitors, borrowed some mics here and there, and we’d just kind of get together and would do it whenever we could. At the time I wasn’t working, so I would spend a lot of time during the day, Jamie wasn’t working either, but the other two were, so we’d record stuff at night, record some drums on the weekend, work on those over the week. We tried mixing with a few other people but that didn’t work out like we thought, so we just ended up mixing it ourselves and then got some guy to master it.

DW: Was it the same kind of production for the EP as for Kudos?

DS: We used less mics on the EP, which was just because that was all that was available to us. This time we had a little more money to buy a few more things. We had these big ideas of recording an album in a week but we ended up not liking any of the songs we had, so that was aborted. So then we started again with what we had and just built on those.

DW: Why didn’t you like the first batch of songs?

DS: They just sounded too clean, almost too normal, like normal rock songs. Not that I have anything against that, like the structures on this record are definitely normal pop structures. It was just the sound that didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to.

DW: With songwriting, is it a collaborative process or does only one of you write the songs?

DS: Sometimes it can be one person, but a lot of it is just me and Jamie doing quite a lot of the songwriting and the structures, but then a lot of the time we can take that and put it on the computer and then work on it as a band.

DW: What about with lyrics?

DS: I’ll usually just sit down with a tune and just mumble stuff into a microphone and then listen back to it and try to make words out of it. Sometimes I write them beforehand, but not too often.

DW: The lyrics seem to be clearer on the EP compared to Kudos. Was this intentional?

DS: I don’t think so, although I did listen to it the other day and thought, “Oh shit, you can’t hear a word I’m saying (laughs).” I don’t know if it was a mistake or not, but there’s the possibility I would’ve turned up the vocals a little more had I listened to it now. But I’m still happy with how it sounds.

DW: Are lyrics then of secondary importance compared to the songs’ melodic and rhythmic structure?

DS: Yeah, it probably would be. Melody and rhythm is where it’s at.

DW: Are there any bands or musicians or even things in general at the moment that you think are particularly damaging to people’s ears and/or minds, maybe like Kesha or something?

DS: (Laughs) I don’t know if I should even say this, I’ll probably get in trouble for it, but things like Vampire Weekend, I just don’t really understand why they’re so popular. The blogosphere can be quite harrowing at times if you look. It’s one of those things where I should really try not to do it, but then sometimes you go have a look at this blog or that blog, and you look at the comments section and you’re like, “Oh my god!” (laughs). I’ve decided with this record I’m going to do my best not to look at any of the reviews whatsoever, because you’re either going to get real pumped up on yourself or real down on yourself and it just seems pointless.

DW: MTV described your sound as “surf, rock and electro with a smidgen of MGMT-style complexity”. Are such descriptions accurate in your eyes, or do you think they’re simply over-analysing?

DS: (Laughs) Yeah, it must be over-analysing. MGMT complexity sounds pretty funny. I heard their last record and it was pretty all over the place. Hopefully we’re not that complex. I always thought we were just ‘verse, chorus, verse, chorus’, you know, not that complex.

DW: Not that New Zealand isn’t an awesome place, but given the state of the indie music scene there at the moment, is it a scramble for bands like yourself to try and escape and make a viable living elsewhere?

DS: Yeah, that’d be right, definitely. It’s just such a glass ceiling there, you get to a certain point and it’s like, “What are you supposed to do now?” For ourselves we’ve never garnered that much of an audience, we’ll get maybe a hundred people in Auckland and that’s the top amount we’ll get there. There aren’t enough people over there, just not that much room for it.

DW: Have you found Melbourne crowds to be much more uninhibited than Sydney crowds, that they get way more into the gig?

DS: We did play a good show in Melbourne, we’ve played some shockers though too. The first we played it was all our own doing, we got way too drunk, acted like wankers pretty much. It was just one of those nights that we’d rather forget and that people who saw it won’t ever forget (laughs). And then the last time we played there, we were playing with Songs from Sydney, and there was a huge storm warning telling people not to come into town, so we had about 30 people at our show, and it was a huge venue too, and then after this guy came up to us and said, “The first time I saw you guys you were really good but this time you sucked?” (laughs) We were just like, “Yep, cool, sweet.” We’ve never really had that much of a crowd in Sydney either, so I couldn’t really offer an opinion either way. Brisbane though, we’ve played some of our best shows there.

DW: You’ve played support slots for Interpol, Dinosaur Jr and MGMT, coincidentally enough. What were they like to play with?

DS: Interpol were really private, they had this huge manager standing outside their door, just glaring at everybody. They had lots of pizza so we took some of their pizza and then got told off straight away. Dinosaur Jr were cool. Lou Barlow came into the studio, said we were good guys. We’d only played fifteen shows by that stage and were still finding our feet, we hadn’t even recorded anything, so that was pretty cool.

Surf City’s debut LP, Kudos releases nationally on September 3 through Popfenzy Records and Inertia Music.

Tour Dates:

Wednesday September 8 at the Beach Road Hotel, Bondi
Friday September 10 at Spectrum, Sydney
Saturday September 11 at the Workers Club, Fitzroy, Melbourne

For more dates, check Myspace.

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