Surfer Blood’s
Thomas Fekete

One of the best parts of being a record collector is getting to cherish every piece of vinyl you own. VNYL’s #FirstSpin is about sharing those histories . We’re telling the stories behind the first albums and music memories of your fave artists, bands and fellow vinyl lovers. This week we chatted with Thomas Fekete, the guitarist for alt-rock band Surfer Blood.

We love records; you love records — let’s talk records.

Name: Thomas Fekete
Band: Surfer Blood
Hometown & Current City: West Palm Beach, Fla.
First Concert: Naples Philharmonic when I was two.

What was the recording process like for the upcoming Surfer Blood EP? The record is called 1000 Palms, a play on an actual city in California called Thousand Palms. Between recording, mixing and playing shows, we’ve spent the majority of our time over the past few years in California. Whether we like it or not, the state has had a huge influence on us creatively. In fact, our singer, JP Pitts, left Florida after 25 some odd years for the West Coast.

There’s really no place like California in the world. My spouse and I drove the Pacific Coast Highway last year, and it felt like we were driving on a different planet. It’s very different from Florida — there’s really no such thing as a microclimate where we grew up. Florida has its beauty, but I’ll never forget the first time I saw a cliffside beach.

California really put me in touch with nature — plugged me back into the socket if you will. Nature is here for us — it comforts us and makes us feel wanted. I think getting back in touch with that is key not only for overall happiness, but for creativity as well.

JP and I also love to garden. He grows various herbs on his patio in Silver Lake [in Los Angeles], and I help grow organic vegetables down here in Florida. We liked the idea of using plant imagery for the record since it has become such a big part of our lives.

Favorite Album: I have been listening to Lilys’ Eccsame the Photon Band non-stop since I first discovered it in 2010. It came out in 1994 — years and years ahead of its time. The album is other-worldly to me — it’s an artist completely letting go. How often do we get to experience that? It’ll make you happy, sad, uncomfortable, angry, tranced out and totally fucking blissed out. Sonically, it’s the equivalent of chasing sound waves through some other dimension. It goes places I can only dream of going as an artist myself. It’s fearless, requires attention and grows on you until you realize you absolutely cannot live without it. To me, it’s a crime that it hasn’t received more attention, but then again, most of the best art doesn’t.

First Album: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Green River
When I was a little one, my dad swung by a record store on the way home from school and let my brother and I pick out one album each. That school year, I had been spending the majority of my time avoiding a bully in my class. He had a rattail and stomped on toads — a real dark little dude. He always wore a Guns N’ Roses shirt, and I thought, ‘Maybe I can get him to leave me alone if I listen to Guns N’ Roses too.’

I grabbed something that looked like Guns N’Roses’ greatest hits. My dad took it out of my hands and said, “You’re my son. You’re not allowed to like Guns N’ Roses.” Then he put Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Green River into my hands instead. Love that guy for that!

Music helped me after that, too. I’ve had a pretty bizarro life. When I was an 18-year-old senior in high school, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Fortunately, it’s very treatable, and one can go on to live a perfectly normal life with only one ball. I’m like the Lance Armstrong of indie rock!

However, my cancer had spread a bit, so I had to have chemotherapy in addition to my surgery. While most of my friends were off to college and chasing their dreams around the world, I was tied down due to follow-up tests. I was also in horrible shape after chemo. It was devastating to me both mentally and physically, but especially mentally.

I started working at a record store in West Palm Beach and found my escape. I worked with a great guy who had a real passion for all types of music. He turned me on to The Staple Singers, Townes Van Zandt, CAN, Spacemen 3 and Liquid Swords among hundreds of other great artists and records. In high school, I was mostly into heavier hardcore and punk, so this was a whole new world for me.

That guy couldn’t really pay me, so he would often tell me to just take records instead of a paycheck. We also had a library system going — I could check records out and bring them back whenever. I always looked forward to work and then getting home for some one-on-one time with my new vinyls. I was alive again. I was excited!

The experience inspired me to pick up a guitar and start making music of my own. I found beauty in the ugly, and, in some fucked up way, ended up being grateful for my experiences with my illness. Every so called negative can turn positive if you allow it to.

Surfer Blood’s U.S. tour kicks off April 9 in Jupiter, Fla. — get the full list of tour dates here — and the band’s EP 1000 Palms hits stores May 12.

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