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Indie Rock

Interview: Surrogate

I just recently had an interview with Daniel, from the band Surrogate. They talked about releasing the new Diamonds and Pearls EP, fun concert stories, the band’s future, and more. Check out the interview below.

LitS: First of all, how are you guys doing?

Surrogate: Good; busy. When we’re not doing this whole band thing, we all work, go to school, some of us are married and have families. All that real life stuff. So there’s definitely not a lot of down time.

LitS: How did you guys all meet?

Surrogate: We all live in Chico, which is a small college town in Northern California, and we basically knew each other from just being in bands and playing shows together over the years. Chris Keene and Jordan used to play in a band called Number One Gun, and when that band parted ways, they started working on some music together and started playing around Chico with Daniel Martin on keys and a couple of our other friends, Trevor, who was also in Number One Gun on bass, and Chris Armstrong who was in a band called Sherwood on guitar. This was 2006 or so. When Trevor had to split to go out on tour with another band, I took over on bass, in the early part of 2007, a couple months before Love is For the Rich came out. Michael took over for Chris A. right before the next record, Popular Mechanics came out in 2009 and we’ve all been playing together ever since.

LitS: What genre would you guys consider yourselves to be and what bands influences your music?

Surrogate: I tend to tell people that Surrogate is a melodic indie pop band, which is something of a cop out, the usual platitudes. But it gets the point across. You can’t really say that youre an “indie” band anymore, because that really doesn’t mean anything. And “indie rock” at least to old folks like me sort of recalls bands like Fugazi or The Dismemberment Plan or bands that were more on the loud side. So melodic indie pop seems to work, at least in so far as it lets people know that we’re definitely not yelling, or playing crazy riffs, but we’re not Ke$ha or some overly tuned radio garbage.

We all have pretty disparate tastes in music, but the Surrogate sound, at least as much as you can call it a general “sound” would definitely seem to fit pretty squarely in that pantheon of post-shoegaze bands like Pedro the LionStarflyer 59Rogue Wave or even Death Cab for Cutie. We’re all constantly trying to dig new music, though, so it’s sort of a constant evolution.

LitS: What’s your songwriting process like? What was the recording process like for the new EP? Was there much difference in recording as a full band?

Surrogate: The songwriting process is typically Chris coming up with awesome songs and all of us being super stoked to be in a band with an amazing songwriter. I’d highly recommend it. For the first couple records it was just Chris and Jordan hashing out the ideas in the studio, tracking the songs and then bringing them to the band to perform live. For the newest EP, however, Chris would bring his song ideas into practice, or just send around some rough ideas, and we would all work through them, adding and subtracting and sort of trying different thing, which sometimes took probably a lot longer than it otherwise would have, but in the end, seemed to help the songs find different identities than probably anyone would have thought initially. For example, the song “Settle Down” on the EP, was a song that we fucked around with for more than a year, which went through all sorts of different versions, fast, slow, midtempo, stripped down, loud, before we finally sort of gave up and just started tracking it and let it kind of come to life spontaneously. And now that song seems to be one of the songs people like most on the record.

LitS: After leaving label Tooth & Nail, what was it like to independently release Diamonds and Pearls?
Surrogate: It’s certainly been a learning experience.  Trying to get our record posted to all the various digital outlets has been a lot more of a trying task than we had imagined, whereas before, it all kind of happened magically. But on the other hand, it’s been liberating to be able to do things without having to “clear it with the tower” so to speak. And besides having amazing distribution and the novelty of being part of a label that has released so many great records over the years by bands we all listened to, being on Tooth & Nail really ended up being sort of negative for us, in that it turned a lot of people away from ever listening to our music who probably would have dug it. It also promoted certain inferences about what our band might be all about or sound like, that were pretty far from the reality. It was definitely cool to be able to call your friends on release day and tell them to buy your CD in Best Buy, but ultimately being able to sort of choose our own adventure on this record has been a definite plus.

LitS: What’s the best part about playing shows? Any fun/interesting stories?
Surrogate: We’re lucky enough to have a pretty diehard group of friends in our hometown, who double as Surrogate fans when we play shows, who come out and sing along to our songs and make playing shows in Chico always a great time. Likewise, we’re lucky enough to have friends in cities like Portland and Seattle who always offer us their floors and spare bedrooms and talk all their friends into coming out and checking out the show when we come through town that has helped those places feel like our second and third hometowns too.

There are always good stories when we make it out of town, mainly involving alcohol and the abuse thereof. There have also been many tales of relative woe. Like when we did a cross-country tour in the middle of the summer in an old van we borrowed from our friend Ben with no A/C, and no trailer. Six guys in a van packed to the ceiling with amps, drums, merch and our clothes, sweating profusely, hungover, trying to do a 10-hour drive to the next show after sleeping in a Wal-Mart parking lot. That’s when you know you really love being in a band, because if you didn’t, you’d be utterly miserable. Also, we learned on that trip that setting your GPS to “shortest available route” is not always the best choice when navigating through the midst of rural Mississippi. I can remember waking up in the middle of the night from sleeping on the floor of the van while everyone took turns driving, and looking out the windshield to see nothing but pouring rain, a one-lane road covered by trees and overgrowth and thinking to myself that I was gonna end up hanging by a meathook in some backwoods basement somewhere. But I lived to tell the tale.

LitS: If you could play with any band at any venue, what would you choose?
Surrogate: We’ve actually been lucky enough to play with some of our favorite bands at some amazing venues over the last couple of years.  We got to play with one of all of our favorite bands, Mew, in San Francisco last year at a place called the Mezzanine. They were playing a handful of shows in America and were looking for local openers for all the shows, so they put out a call online for bands to submit music as sort of a contest, with the band choosing a band for every show. And even though Chico is about 4 hours north of SF, we sent in our music and the band apparently dug it enough to ask us to open the show, which ended up being probably one of the top 2 or 3 shows I’ve ever been a part of. We also had a chance to play with another one of our favorite bands, mewithoutYou, in Seattle last year, which was a big deal for us. I guess, a lot of the bands most of us daydream about playing that “dream” show with aren’t even bands anymore, which certainly makes it difficult. As far as venues go, however, there’s lots of places, not to mention cities, that we’d love to play that we haven’t, a list which we can hopefully start chipping away at soon.

LitS: So after releasing Diamonds and Pearls, what else will be in the future for Surrogate?

Surrogate: We’d definitely like to get out of town and come play these songs live for people, but that’s a tougher task when you’ve got no financial backing from a label or anyone else, and 5 guys worth of jobs, families, rent, bills and obligations to try to plan around. Sort of to that same end, we’d also love to hook up with another label, just to kind of help us get our music out to as many people as possible. But that’s one of those things that sort of happens at it’s own pace. So for now, we’ll probably just play around Chico, work on some new music and hope that we can keep the fire burning for as long as possible. And whatever else happens, happens.

LitS: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there anything else you guys would like to add?Surrogate: I’d just like to say thanks to anyone who takes to time to check out our music. If you like it, share it with your friends. If you don’t like it, share it with someone who you think might. If you don’t think anyone you know will like us, drop us a line and tell us that, so we know that maybe we should find something more productive to do with our time.

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