Brooklyn-based duo, Surf Rock is Dead combines the musical stylings of Kevin Pariso and Joel Wittenberg. Their airy harmonies and smooth synths are best listened to while driving down a long California highway or escaping the cold in a cozy Boston apartment. Their music transcends genres and transports you to a land of mellow bliss.
Maddy Ball: So, right off the bat, “Surf Rock is Dead” is a pretty bold band name: could you talk a little about it?
Joel Wittenberg: We get this question a lot! I think because it is a little bit bold: we thought it had a nice ring to it. We were really hard-pressed for a name. Finding a good name is always hard.
Kevin Pariso: Yeah, it is harder than writing a good song!
JW: We were just joking and talking about surf rock and I was like “Eh, Surf Rock’s dead.” And then that was it.
KP: It was basically a place holder that was never nudged from it’s position.
MB: What led you to begin discussing surf rock?
KP: We were describing our sound which is definitely a little surf rock-y: with the rhythm, the reverb-y guitar sort of vibe. I think we were revolting and being like “We’re definitely not surf rock!”
JW: I mean maybe we’re saying we are a surf rock band [laughter]. Deep, I know…
MB: So, now could you describe your sound without genre names? Surf rock definitely qualifies.
KP: It’s a hazy sound with a lot of textures and melodies moving around. We don’t play standard chords with a lot of hooks.
JW: I’d say it’s a washed out, dreamy sort of feel, contrasted with a sharp repetitive sound.
KP: The sharpest! (laughter)
MB: Kevin, you’re from Chicago and Joel you’re from Melbourne but you began playing together in NYC. How did that happen?
KP: New York has millions upon millions of people but sometimes it feels like there’s a small population of outsiders. And we’re definitely outsiders. I began practicing in a public space in a part of Brooklyn called Greenpoint. There were some interns that worked there that also worked at a recording studio. I wanted to chill and make friends with the interns so I could get free studio time. I know…weaseling my way in! And one day I saw Joel fixing a thermostat and I was like “Here we go, here’s my chance!” So we met, started chatting, throwing around ideas. It wasn’t until a year after that we started making music together.
JW: I’d heard some of Kevin’s solo stuff and we were jamming one day and decided we should play music because it was a lot of fun.
MB: What inspires you or your music?
KP: For me, inspiration comes when I pick up an instrument and start noodling around. Something will catch my ear and inspire me to chase that idea to the finish line. And I think that’s cool: A lot of stuff we write is just fooling around. Like Joel is wrapping a cable and I’m messing around on the guitar and I’m like “Woah, what’s this!?” and Joel runs over and picks up the guitar and says “Keep doing what you’re doing.” And that’s inspiring: you never know when a great idea comes out.
JW: Yeah, and I think sometimes you can jam and it doesn’t work. But just the act of playing and getting something out is enough inspiration to keep going. Just music in itself and loving playing is enough, even if something great doesn’t always happen.
MB: Can you describe the ideal setting you see your music being played or enjoyed?
JW: If an astronaut was listening to us whilst they were going to another planet, that, for me would be succeeding in life.
KP: I don’t know. That might not be great because, like, the gravity would be crushing their body… (laughter)
JW: No, don’t worry they’d have a spacesuit!
MB: Alright speed round — Favorite city you’ve been in our toured in?
JW: Honestly, every city has it’s positives. But, my favorite city would have to be New York and that’s why I’ve decided to stay. But that’s a really hard question because every place has its niche that’s really attractive and amazing. So I can’t choose just one.
KP: And it also matters how much time you spend. Like you could spend one day somewhere and it could feel like a fairy tale. But I really liked San Francisco. It had a different style: it was it’s own special thing.
MB: What is the #1 played song on your music platform of choice?
KP: I remember looking one time and seeing “Reckoner” by Radiohead had been played an insane amount of times and I was like “Woah! I had no idea I listened to that so much.”
JW: In my whole life, it would be the Beatles, followed by Elliot Smith, and Nirvana. But that’s over my whole life. All the time, I’ll find artists and get into a phase and listen to their albums on repeat.
MB: Is there an artist you’re currently in that phase with?
JW: Nah not really. As long as it has a trap beat.
KP: Don’t you mean sharp beat? That’s Joel’s weakness: a trap beat.
MB: What are you looking forward to for playing in Boston?
JW: Clam chowder! Definitely.
KP: I’ve been to Boston a couple times. What blew my mind is how many college students there are. So I’m really looking forward to seeing college kids repping their schools in their hoodies or whatever.