Surfer Blood's Van Is Still Crazy After All These Years.
Behind every great band is a great van. And when these former church vans, daycare buses and plumber's work vehicles have racked up enough miles on the road, they eventually start being thought of by the band as another member of the team. Hey, we get it: It's hard to spend so many hours with bandmates (both human and machine) without a few things getting broken, a few good fights taking place and lots of great memories being made. We hope that, by exploring these stories, we might get to know some bands from both North Texas and beyond on a more personal level. Check out this feature's archives here.
When you hear the name Surfer Blood, you likely think of a group of fun-loving indie darlings from southern Florida armed with jangly guitars. And you'd be mostly right. But the band's also one that adapts well to change.
In recent years, lead guitarist Thomas Fekete has been sidelined while dealing with cancer, and longtime bassist Kevin Williams left the band to settle down in Austin. And yet, thanks in no small part to its vehicle Cecila, Surfer Blood rolls on, travelling fro town to town as it did when the band stopped through Dallas last week in support of last year's 1000 Palms LP.
There, we had the chance to meet up with John Pail Pitts, the band's rather cheery frontman, and Mike McClearly, its lead guitar player, to talk about Surfer Blood's current van — the kind of standard issue Ford you get when you decide you're going to be a band.
Band Name: Surfer Blood.
Van Name: Cecilia.
Year/Make/Model: 2006 Ford Econoline.
Mileage: 136,000 miles.
How has the tour been going thus far?
John Paul Pitts (Guitar/ Vocals): “Well, we're in the home stretch right now. So, on this one, we went out to California all the way up through the Pacific Coast, and now we're on the way back. We had a lot of firsts — we played Santa Fe and Oklahoma City for the first time.”
Mike McCleary (Guitar): “El Paso for the first time as well.”
John: “So, a lot of cities in Texas, and the middle of the country in general, that we haven't done yet.”
And what have you been getting around in?
John: “Mikey's dad's van. Tell the history from when your dad bought until now, y'know?”
Mike: “OK, well, I pretty much learned how to drive in this van. I took my drivers permit test in it, and we never thought we'd be using it to tour with. But we were actually in a bind, and all the rental vans we normally go through were all rented out. It just so happened my dad just bought a new car and the van had been sitting in the driveway. So we took dad's van on the tour. It's been fun.”
John: “His dad has told me quite a few stories how he'd ride around with his wife in the van and go camping with it and stuff. So it's been loved and very broken in.”
Do you guys have a name for Mikey's dad's van?
John: “We've started calling it Cecilia.”
Where'd that come from?
John: “The song 'Cecilia, you're breaking my heart' was on. I was singing it as we were loading out one night and loading up the van. We were like, 'This is it!'”
How long have you had Cecilia?
John: “This is our first tour with it — but I'm guessing not our last. We're thinking about just buying the sucker and making it our own.”
Mike: “Y'know, customizing it.”
How are y'all going to customize you think?
John: “Well, I don't know. Do they still do that show Pimp My Ride? It's pretty bare bones right now. I think the first thing we need to do is to fix one of the seat belts. We're thinking about building a cage in the back so if someone broke into the van, they still gotta break in. Like, you've gotta break in twice. Most people don't want to do that. I was thinking about getting some Gargoyles — not to keep away thieves, but evil spirits. A Dream Catcher for if someone has good dreams. We'll probably get a TV, so we can watch our favorite movies — Dirty Work or Joe Dirt, or anything with 'dirt' in the title, basically.”
Where's that fascination from?
John: “Ah, silly humor. Everything that this guy says is a Dirty Work reference.”
Mike: “Pretty much my entire vocabulary is just quotes from silly movies.”
John: “I'm Tommy Boy and [drummer] TJ [Schwartz] is Demolition Man.”
So, in the short time y'all have had Cecilia, has anything weird happened to it yet?
John: “Ah, a few close calls. Crazy drivers mostly.”
Mike: “Not us, but other people on the road.”
John: “No, we're very safe, but people driving all weird, y'know? Everywhere in the country, people drive a little bit different.”
Mike: “A lot of horns.”
John: “Well, we grew up about an hour north of Miami and, no offense, they're the worst drivers anywhere in the U.S. No offense. Great city, terrible drivers. So, we've seen it all.”
What type of van is Cecilia?
Mike: “It's a Ford Econoline. It's a 12-passenger.”
John: “Standard issue. If you form a band, you get one.”
Mike: “Check out the customized curtains!”
John: “And we got a firefighter license plate because his dad's a firefighter. Hopefully, if there's a cop that wants to pull us over, he'll think twice because we're upstanding citizens.”
How many miles have you put on it?
John: “It had about 130,000 when we got it, and then we added a few thousand on this trip — to the West Coast, up and then back — so around 6,000 miles.”
In that time, have you managed to keep it pretty clean?
Mike: “We actually throw most of the trash in wheel well.”
John: “Called the trash hole.”
Mike: “Actually, if anything spills, it kind of runs out the side of the van.”
John: “We don't litter, though. We always pick up after ourselves. It's not the cleanest van by any means, but I've definitely seen much worse. Especially after three weeks on the road? We're doing alright.”
Mike: “When we stop for gas, we at least do a little cleaning, just to keep it as clean as possible.”
John: “We used to, in the early days, have a van called Time Machine — and that was really dirty. We were terrible back then. We've gotten a lot better now that we're older. A little feng shui.”
Anything else you'd like to say about Cecilia?
John: “Well, we started the tour with four hubcaps now we have one.”
Mike: “One left. But we need to upgrade the stereo. It has a broken CD player with no auxiliary, so that's the first thing we'll fix, likely before the seatbelt.”
John: “We have one of those FM transmitters, but they're so scratchy.”
Mike: “When you're travelling long distance, you lose stations frequently.”
John: “We put in a CD in beginning of tour, and it's been broken ever since. It's still sitting in there.”