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Surf City sit out SXSW, prep new music instead 

"It's a sea of nothing, really"

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Surf City

with Young Brother, Jacuzzi Boys,
Permanent Nap, the Knots
9 p.m. Friday, April 1
Will's Pub, 407-898-5070

Like lead singer Davin Stoddard's detached vocals, Surf City is a band that dwells in the musical margins. It's halfway through this year's South By Southwest music industry showcase in Austin, Tex., but the quartet isn't there cozying up to industry figures. Instead, Stoddard, along with guitarist Josh Kennedy, bass player Jamie Kennedy and drummer Logan Collins, are content to be back home in Auckland, New Zealand, secluded away from the brand-sponsored bluster of the event. Officially, Surf City's absence is due to delayed visas, but the band makes it sound like a bureaucratic blessing in disguise.

"We're really actually glad we didn't get to go this year," says Stoddard, his antipodean accent fortifying his down-to-earth bluntness. "We'd only have ended up spending heaps of money playing free shows for the benefit of people that probably don't care for our music or are too drunk to care. It's kind of turned into a showcase for record labels, so your band and everyone else is almost fodder." Then, he adds, "It's a sea of nothing, really. You've gotta ask yourself why you're there."

Stoddard's sentiment comes from experience, not a sour sense of exclusion. Surf City's self-titled debut EP, released in 2008, quickly resulted in comparisons to Pavement and the Jesus and Mary Chain off the back of lo-fi songs that fused melancholic, guitar-driven grooves with more upbeat pop aspirations. (After briefly dallying with the idea of calling the group the Fibs, Stoddard settled on Kill Surf City after a JAMC b-side single, only to find other groups had taken the moniker.) In theory, South By Southwest offers the type of spotlight that could propel Surf City to wide recognition. But Stoddard says the band's appearance at 2010's event brought only random results.

"Some of the smaller shows can be a really good time, but often it can be full of people standing 50 meters back, not even watching you, like you're just playing background music." (He also jokes that when most people hear that Surf City hails from New Zealand, they only want to talk about Flight of the Conchords.)

For an upcoming band, the commercial and numerical growth of South By Southwest isn't necessarily a beneficial one. The likelihood of catching someone's ear naturally diminishes when there's greater competition. So instead of enduring the rigmarole of a 24-hour flight from Auckland just to play Austin, Surf City is touching down in the U.S. to kick off a short tour, during which the band will hopefully scrounge together enough cash to fund an extended stay in New York City so they can record more music. It's a humble but hands-on approach that fits their history: Surf City's debut EP was recorded on Stoddard's four-track (which legend has it was funded by a grant from the government intended for textbooks), and despite a decent critical reception to last November's Kudos album, the band still isn't "making any money."

But Surf City is confident in the sound they make. Ask Stoddard why anyone should check the band out and he says simply, "Because we're good." It's a mantra deserving of more than background music status.

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More by Phillip Mlynar


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