All pictures in the article: Julien Sage
In my mind, Surf Curse were a classic independent band. Stemming from a teenage friendship, a couple of guys decided to pick up instruments on their own and evolved to be a fan favorite that is known well enough to play small, sweaty club shows. Perhaps that was the case until last year. Until the internet did its thing and their almost a decade old song “Freaks” went through the roof, changing the band’s possibilities completely. A new label signing, recording at the Electric Lady Studios and several huge festival performances later, they’ve circled back to play at Lido in Berlin – a rather small and sweaty club. I’m not sure what will await me as I meet them beforehand to chat a little about their process and what it meant for the new album „Magic Hour“. I blame the clammy hands on the sun beating down relentlessly on this last day of June.
My nervousness is met with the laid-back nature of the band members as they welcome me warmly. Nick Rattigan, singer as well as drummer and also the creative mind behind Current Joys, starts rambling about the bunk beds they just spend a slightly uncomfortable night in as we sit down. Simultaneously, Jacob Rubeck, who plays guitar and sings, tries to convince me of the coconut water he’s been drinking all morning (it’s better with ice cubes, apparently). The two build the core of Surf Curse, having known each other since middle school, and are now joined by bassist Henry Dillon and guitarist Noah Kohll. It’s not their first time in the German capital and they express their happiness about being here. ‚Berlin ist meine Lieblingsstadt!‘, Henry declares even. All that does not seem surprising when looking at the band’s discography, where one can find very new-wavey sounds and a song titled „Christine F“. Might there be a certain fascination with the city, especially in the 80ies? „Totally. But only from films. I guess there’s a nostalgia for these eras that can be romanticized and put into art.“, Nick says. And the name of the song? That missing letter in ‚Christiane‘ turned out to be a spelling mistake. „I remember we realized the day it was released… But it kind of americanizes it in a fun way now.“
Pop culture references run through their work and their first single „Sugar“ from the upcoming record is no exception. However, this time they shift away from cinema. The accompanying video reconstructs a famous TV appearence of Joy Division and I’m curious about what this group means to them. „Normally we’re influenced by films, but the new album is all nods to the music that we love. Also the original idea for the clip comes from The Beatles, where it suddenly starts snowing on them while they play ‚Help‘. We thought that would be funny, to make a rip-off.“
That kind of leads me to one of my favorite questions to ask, which especially comes in handy as they can’t reveal too much about „Magic Hour“ yet: Which artists were they listening to on repeat while writing the album? After a short pause for thought, in unision they simply respond with ‚All of them!‘ and laugh. Nick recalls spending a whole day in the car with Henry going through the complete Dinosaur Jr. discography. Grateful Dead and The Rolling Stones are also mentioned. Yet they explain how the location where they made their own music influenced them the most. „We recorded at Electric Lady’s in New York. The place holds so much musical history, from Jimi Hendrix building it to all the people like David Bowie or D’Angelo having worked there and you can really feel that. It’s situated underwater, so when you’re down there, time literally stands still.“, Noah describes further. The record therefore functions as a collage of rock music from different decades, every song has a certain flavor to it.
Even though the sound of Surf Curse invites the listener to dance, the lyrics are often soaked in a bittersweet melancholy. „Sugar“ quite literally starts with the line ‚I look like shit but I feel even worse‘. I wonder if they think there’s some truth to this cliché of the sad artist who needs painful experiences to be creative. „I don’t like the pain but the pain comes to me.“, Nick says while giggling. „No but really, maybe there’s a subconscious, self-destructive part that invites it. Everyone’s my therapist and asks: ‚Are you just sad because you wanna get material to write?‘ The universe takes care of that itself, but pain in the end is good food for thought.“ Noah then opens up another perspective. „Also artists are just inherently emotional. That’s why they become artists because they don’t know how to deal with their emotions. Except by letting them out through what they make, you know.“
The sun must be in the zenith at this point. All the ice cubes in Jacob’s glass have vanished and I empty my water as I adress the song that changed the path of their career last year. Out of the blue, „Freaks“ started trending on TikTok and from then on Surf Curse suddenly wasn’t just a smaller indie project anymore. Is there only gratitude for the way the band got revealed to a wider audience or are they also somewhat tired of the focus on this particular track? „We are extremely grateful. It has transformed our lives in very drastic ways so we had the resources to experiment with our sound. Now when we play live, the people chant for ‚Freaks‘ and shortly you wonder: Are they just here for that? Yet the moment you see the crowd, you know they’re here for it all. They dance to the new songs just as much.“, Jacob sums up and drinks another sip of his coconut water.
Performing live again and seeing others jump their feet sore to one’s work has been a relief to many musicians. The band got invited to several festivals back in the States before they arrived here, being able to be on the hugest stages they’ve ever played. Yet I ask myself if they prefer that over the intimate club shows that they’re used to. Once again, almost in sync, they disagree. „As fun as playing for a large audience is, there’s always a certain disconnection, you look into a sea of people. Yet when someone buys a ticket specifically for you, they come only to see you. Going on stage and noticing their faces, how they move, feels like a whole different experience.“ Lido later that day will be exactly that. The crowd is manageable but bursting with energy, from the second Nick begins to crush the drums to the very end. Heat fills every corner and they play „Freaks“ with the most heartwarming enthusiasm until the room vibrates. Surf Curse might have taken the world over a little more than a few years ago, but their shows still radiate the closeness, affection and sweat one looks for in indie-rocky club gigs.
Just a few hours before, I express the excitement I now have for the concert and ask them to fill the blank space we leave for the artists at the end of our interviews. „With this new record, the goal wasn’t only to make others dance or to write an earworm. We were a unit of people caring about the form it’s taking and the love being put into it. It’s so exciting to do something that is our ode to the music that we love and for each other. Should we leave it at that?“, Jacob says, looking around. „Keep on rockin‘ in the free world.“, Nick answers. I will certainly leave it at that.
Surf Curse’s new album „Magic Hour“ will be released on September 16th.