Punk outfit Surfbort discuss ‘Friendship Music’, life in New York and political change

In a time when inequity, deceit and egotism cause rifts in our society, damage to our environment and impasses in our governments, bands like the hardcore punk outfit Surfbort — railing with sincerity, guts and energy — are an essential antidote. The New York-based outfit may’ve been called ‘the friendliest punks on the planet’, but they know that there’s nothing friendly about politicians inciting intolerance, corporations polluting the planet and technology harming our wellbeing – plus they know exactly how to express that with hard-hitting records and what NME describes as ‘no-holds-barred, unifying live shows’.

Led by lead vocalist Dani Miller and featuring drummer Sean Powell and guitarists David Head and Alex Kilgore, the band released their debut record, Friendship Music, with Julian Casablancas’ Cult records last year, as well as touring with Wolf Alice and Amyl and the Sniffers amongst others. Considering that the first Surfbort show was approached as a one-time thing (an impromptu house party set for Dani’s 21st birthday) they’ve developed an awesome immediacy and a knack for seeing beyond the superficially shocking, creating explosive music that can inspire people in the same way that the punk music of the first, second and third waves could. Ahead of their headline show at Soup Kitchen on 13th February, we had the pleasure of speaking to the band about the evolution of their sound, their base in New York and the changes they’d like to see in the world this year.

Given that the first Surfbort show was pretty impromptu, how quickly did you find your sound and begin seeing it as a serious project? Did you capture something special right away, or did it take it take time to develop?

Dani Miller: ‘Surfbort’s sound has gone through a couple of different evolving phases, but it’s always been special. First the sound was formed by Matt Picola, a genius songwriter, when Surfbort was at extremely raw beginnings! He would come up with hits — genius songs that sounded like they were written from a wild man screaming from the bushes. Then we would write together with songs like Trash. One of the first songs started with me yelling a poem I wrote, followed by a warrior chant from him. Other early members didn’t write music, but they added a lot to live shows.

I think it was serious for me since week one. Leading up to the first show (a house show on my 21st Birthday where Sunflower Bean was headlining but didn’t get to play because the cops shut it down soon after we played), I thought it would only last for a night. After the first show though, I knew it would last forever. It’s now transformed into something super strong and special in different ways. Without the base realness and feeling that Matt Picola added with his songwriting, it wouldn’t be as strong and special as it is now. I like that all stages of the band have been real and honest as f***. Now Sean Powell is a main songwriter and I work with him a lot on words. Alex Kilgore has brought a ton of great songs to the table as well like Hideaway and Stalker. Dave Head is writing songs for the new record. Hopefully Matt Picola will write new songs for current Surfbort as well. I’m excited for future stages of the band and the continued evolution of Surfbort’s music.’

Who are the bands throughout history that set the precedent for what Surfbort do?

Alex Kilgore: ‘The bands that set the precedent for what Surfbort do, or some big ones that influenced me, are like Scratch Acid, Redd Kross, B**thole Surfers, The D**ks, Negative Trend, Flipper, The weirdos, X, fang, tales of terror, the f**k ups, sick pleasure, Motorhead, avengers, nip Drivers, Flower Leperds, Rites of Spring, a lot of the old stuff I grew up on. Obviously Bad Brains. There’s a million things that influenced me personally from Hank Williams and James Booker, to the MC5, Stones…Black Lips are incredible and timeless. Iceage’s new record blows my mind, I play it so much. Obviously Amyl and the Sniffers, Tropical F**kstorm…’

Friendship Music has an awesome quality of sounding really powerful and well-produced without that detracting from the liveliness and energy of the band. Can you tell us a little about how you achieved that: what kind of environment you recorded in, the gear you used and the people who helped you to create the record?

DM: ‘The secret to the record’s sound is that we don’t know how not to be f**ked up and real. There were points when people tried to step in and carry the sound differently, but in the end we knew we wanted the sound to be super powerful and punch through — a sound we started with on our 7” out on Hozac Records recorded by Jonathan Krenik. For this new record, Jonathan Schenke, Chad Ubovich, and Lucas Carpenter helped with recording and mastering. Honestly, the process was wild and extremely emotional. You would have had to be there to fully understand (Muahahaha), but in the end the record is something I am really proud of. We recorded at Thump Recording Studios on two inch tape.’

Who designed the album cover? Was it an existing piece of work and if so, what attracted you to it, or was it a commission that the band had influence over?

DM: ‘Sean’s aunt, Marie Covalt, painted the album cover in the ‘80s. We love her art — she also paints horses. Sean’s mom, Linda Covalt Powell, is also a great artist. That’s where Sean got some of his painting skills, I bet! The painting of warrior aliens just felt super special. It’s an image and feeling of powerful femme vibes and something we all need in these current times. The back cover was photos taken by Parker Day whose art is super inspiring to us and fills life with bright colors and freakiness.’

What would you like to see change in music and society this year?

Dave Head: ‘In society, I’d like to see our “president” and his gang of racists and grifters destroyed. And I’d like to see the walls between us come down and for us start to address some of the issues that gave rise to this current situation (economic inequality, racial inequality, gender inequality, corporate money warping our politics and government, the disenfranchisement of the poor and people of colour… etc). Artists have an opportunity to show people that there are other ways of living than hating each other and fighting each other… so, in music, it would be cool to see more bands/artists breaking down these walls that divide us by genre, race, etc.’

AK: ‘Yeah, I agree with Dave Head. I’d like Trump and the alt-right wiped. I’d like content to be valued over style in all the arts across the board. More face time less FaceTime, more faces, less screens.’

Surfbort are currently based in Brooklyn, but you individually lived in other parts of the US before you formed. Is Brooklyn the ideal place for the band to be based and has touring changed how you view it?

DH: ‘For me, NYC is a pretty ideal place. The mix of people, music, art, culture, etc. from all over the world makes it endlessly inspiring — I could never get bored here. Touring and traveling around the world, experiencing other places and cultures, that kind of reminds me why I love NYC: because of the people from all over… for the most part getting along.’

AK: ‘I lived in Brooklyn from 92-2001, then moved to Manhattan right after 9/11, but we practice in Brooklyn. Me, Sean, and Dave grew up in Texas and Dani’s from California. New York has always felt like home to me, though. I was born here, even though I grew up in Texas. I always love coming back to NYC…it’s the most diverse city in this country.’

You were really busy in December, touring with Amyl and the Sniffers in Australia and Wolf Alice in the UK. What were your highlights from those trips and is it true that there’s a photobook on the way from the Australian tour?

DM: ‘Picking highlights is too difficult. Every second of that tour was filled with intense, new, exciting experiences. It felt like five lifetimes. All I can say is, it was an honour to tour with Black Lips, Iceage, Amyl and the Sniffers and Wolf Alice. It is a time I will cherish forever! And, yes our super talented friend, Jamie, also known as @sublation, has already made great photo books of us and Amyl playing our first show together in LA. There will also be a new one from this last trip. Hit him up if you wanna see the juicy highlights!’

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Wednesday | 13.02.19

Surfbort + Bleach Boy live at Soup Kitchen

Band on the Wall, Manchester