Who Are…Surf City
With the release of their debut EP, the young Auckland quartet Surf City will stake its claim as the latest/greatest young band to emerge from the island nation known for an indie-rock lineage dating back to Split Enz. The band's origins are like many who've come before: singer Davin Stoddard bought a four-track recorder with a grant meant to purchase books, then brought the others along for the ride. Their sound is uniquely their own, an energetic, wide-eyed blend of early New Order and Jesus and Mary Chain (“Records of a Flagpole Skater”) and the Flying Nun bands for which their country is so well-known.
Stoddard recently spoke to eMusic — often simultaneously, finishing one another's sentences in their twangy Kiwi accents — about the band's early days and their skepticism about the group's imminent rise to breakout status.
On having one of the most difficult band names to Google:
The Fibs was, for whatever reason, the first band name we thought up — straight away we all thought it was pretty lame and started casting around for another one, and so we settled on Kill Surf City, after the Jesus and Mary Chain song. But there was already a band in Scotland called Kill Surf City, so apparently they couldn't release our record over there with that name on it without some sort of legal wrangling. So then it became Surf City — I dunno [laughs], it's obviously not the most original idea.
On their community origins:
We're all originally from Auckland — Josh and Jamie have lived about five minutes 'walk from my house all my life. We're a band that's kind of “from the neighborhood.” It all started in 2004 — me and Josh have known each other since school days. I think we kind of bonded over some live shows; we all kept finding ourselves at the same places. The last time Animal Collective was here, there were probably a few hundred people in the audience — that's a pretty big show by New Zealand standards.
On the factoid that New Zealand is the only country in the world in which all the highest offices in the land were held simultaneously by women from March 2005 — August 2006:
At least part of the answer to that puzzle is that our country has about 100,000 more women than men, for whatever reason. So for us, it's not unusual — it's pretty noticeable in school, you know? They use it as something of a motivational tool for us boys. So you should make us sound like rad dudes — that would totally help! We had a photo session recently with some guy who was trying to make us seem edgy, and the guy was just a total asshole. Although we do have good accents, I suppose.
On being part of the storied lineage of New Zealand indie-pop, and the Kiwi scene today:
The hardest part about songwriting is filtering all your influences or record collection without ripping it all off completely, isn't it? [laughs] The Clean is one of our favorites, naturally — but there's not much of a scene or anything over here now, there's not too many bands over here, period, these days. The Datsuns, Flight of the Conchords — they're pretty big, obviously, but they come from a completely different musical place. Most musicians we know over here, their first thought is “get out!” because there's nothing going on. There's absolutely NO money to be made here. We played a show two weeks ago, and came away with only twenty bucks between the lot of us to show for it [laughs]. There's too many nights here like that one, so it's not a very viable way to earn a living. If you get the opportunity to leave, you've got to take it. If you're lucky enough to get funding, it makes it easier to go to Europe — you have to take that decision early on. It's pretty hard over here after a while — we know all the other bands who play here. There's no money, not many fans. So in some ways your decision's made for you.
On Surf City's uniquely laid-back approach to songwriting:
With “Dickshaker's Union,” I think I was trying to do like a Pavement record or something. There's the little line on the guitar, and then we build the song over the top of that — that's pretty much how all of our songs are put together, and then we put the vocals on afterward. I'm actually quite lazy with the vocals and lyrics — I leave them alone for quite a long while before I'm forced to finish them up! [Laughs] I suppose there's always kind of a guide melody to them but I just take a long time before the words sound right. I have pages and pages of notes all over my bedroom that I can't find — just writing things down constantly, words and stuff. There's no presence of mind or “story” behind any of them — just a lot of words strung together. [Laughs] It really doesn't bother me what people think of the lyrics — it's just great that they think of them at all, actually!