For a wine AND music writer, I sure talk about wine a lot. To remedy the disparity between the balance of my wine and music content, I’m introducing a series where I feature interviews with artists. Much like the wineries I enjoy, I lean towards supporting artists that are up and coming and innovating in their space. If you have a recommendation for a feature, feel free to reach out to me!
For the first feature, I interviewed Missouri Surf Club.
Their album debuted in May 2019, a culmination of years worth of effort. Through Postcards from a Churchyard, that effort elicits an effervescent album, equal parts energetic and electric.
Without a doubt, the pairing that comes to mind when pairing their music with wine is Zinfandel. Here are three options at varying price points to sip while you Spotify and scroll:
RAVENSWOOD VINTNER’S ZINFANDEL (nothing beats a Lodi, CA Zinfandel and this price point is equally unbeatable)
2016 RABBLE ZINFANDEL (forever my favorite line in terms of quality and label design. rouse, revolt and rabble while listening to the album with this solid zinfandel.
2016 ROCKPILE VINEYARDS ZINFANDEL, BOTTICELLI (perfect to match the song of the same name on the album)
First things first: tell me about the band and the people that comprise it.
Ezra: I’m Ezra, I’m 22, I live in California, and in MSC I do synths, mostly, along with various art and design stuff.
Eleanor: What’s up, I’m Eleanor, I’m 22, I live in St. Louis, Missouri, I have a cat named Phil Collins, and I was elected prom queen via random selection in high school. I write lyrics, sing, and play guitar and bass.
Keiko: And I’m Kei! I’m 21, I live in St. Louis, and I mainly play drums in msc.
“Introverture” is such a unique instrumental piece. I get some Angelo Badalamenti Twin Peaks Theme vibes from it. What inspired adding it in to start the album?
Eleanor: Basically I just think of albums, and especially this album, as a cohesive art piece, instead of a collection of songs all slapped together. So I think of the intro as an artist statement that introduces the album to the listener and gives them an idea of what they’re in for. Like an overture in a musical, it introduces the themes of the record, both lyrical and musical, and gives you things to look for as you continue to listen to the record– which is why we added “overture” to the title– which was Keiko’s idea.
Keiko: Yeah, I figured that since it was a combination of an intro and an overture of all the songs, we should just combine the words.
Ezra: Eleanor told me that they wanted an intro on the album, so I started with just messing around with different synths, and somehow I came to the idea of incorporating parts and sounds from each song into one track and it sort of just went from there.
Scrolling through the band Instagram, I hit 2014 for a first post. Tell me how long the band has been formed for, what it looked like at inception and how you’ve progressed since then.
Keiko: In the beginning, it was two people with MacBooks, several miles away…
Eleanor: Several? More like 1,800 miles. Yeah, in the beginning it was just me and Ezra, just kind of, like, naive teenagers–
Eleanor: Yeah, babies, wanting to do the same thing and make the same impact that the bands that we loved were doing since those bands meant so much to us and helped us so much with our mental health and happiness, and we wanted to be that for other people. We didn’t really care if we could practically do that, we just wanted to do it. And that’s where the name Missouri Surf Club came from, at least for me, as something that should be impossible, or at least impractical. Back in 2014, it was just us having big dreams but no practical idea of what we were actually doing, which I think can be an asset, artistically. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can be more open to trying new ideas, which I think is one of our biggest strengths. And we made our EP, which was great, but I don’t think I really understood how it all worked until I did Cynthia, with The Candy Band, when we spent two weeks in Columbia recording and making this record, and then I started to understand what goes into the process. And that’s when I learned that if you want to make a record you can just do it– you don’t need anyone’s permission, you can just do it, and that was a big moment for me, figuring that out.
Keiko: And I did join the band at one point. I don’t know when it was.
Ezra: Yeah, at first it was just me and Eleanor sending things back and forth on our phones around 2014, and at first we were like no, we don’t need a drummer. And then we were like actually, we do need a drummer, and Kei had just started playing the drums so it kind of worked out.
Keiko: And since we started I feel like we’ve gotten a better grip at some stuff. We got a lot better at Google Drive.
Eleanor: We’ve also developed a more unique and individual sound rather than sounding just like the bands that we love.
Keiko: But we do still share the influence of the bands that we love, especially in terms of message and lyrics, we still carry that influence with us in what we make.
Postcards from a Churchyard is hands down one of the coolest album names. How did you come to it?
Eleanor: It came from ninety ten. Which is the first song that I wrote for this album– the first song that I wrote that I was like, I want this to be on a record, if we ever make one. It came from the lyrics of ninety ten, I just really liked that image, and I think we repeat it a lot on the album. It’s from the first couple lines of ninety ten, “do you remember when we dug my grave together/i’ve seen polaroids from ” — it feels silly explaining it now, but I wanted to play on funeral party, like it was an actual party that I wasn’t invited to. I guess this idea of like, nobody really seeing or caring about what I was going through at that time, even though it was the biggest deal to me at the time, like I was having the biggest, life-changing experience, and everyone around me didn’t care or was really happy, and that feeling was what inspired ninety ten and the album title came from those lines.
Who is your target audience/listener? Who are you envisioning when you’re writing lyrics and performing?
Eleanor: This is gonna sound like, really emo, but like, me and Ezra started this band because we had these bands like, MCR, like Fall Out Boy and 21p that made us feel like, a little bit less alone, and that’s what I’m trying to do when I write, is make people feel like, a little bit less alone, and give them something to hold on to. Because that’s always what those bands were for me– something to come back to when I was having like a really rough time, something that I knew would be there to me, and I felt like I had friends in that music, people that I could trust that had experienced some of the things that I had, and like there was a safe place in that music, and I wanted to create something like that.
Keiko: Yeah, I wouldn’t say that there’s really a target demographic, it’s more like, it you like it, it’s for you.
Eleanor: If you feel like it’s for you, it’s specifically for you. I wrote it directly and specifically for you.
Keiko: I hit that drum for you.
Ezra: I also think, in a kind of cheesy way, the target audience is ourselves or like, our younger selves because we’re making the kinds of songs that we want or would have wanted to hear.
On a similar note, who, or what, do you draw inspiration from when creating?
Keiko: Well we haven’t said Paramore yet…
Eleanor: Yeah, everyone compares us to Paramore. In the beginning it was definitely all emo shit for me, Paramore, My Chem, twenty one pilots, fun., all of these bands that we love. Now, I take a lot of inspiration from the talking heads, in that they are — they do really weird shit, and I love that. I think like the most important thing in the world is to remember that whatever weird, out there, bizarre shit you do, somebody out there is going to appreciate it and love it. Like David Byrne went into the studio and made weird noises with his mouth and everyone was like “hell yeah!”. Mitski too, nowadays, because she’s very authentic, very honest and raw, and she reminds me that I don’t need flowery words to say something, and you don’t need to do that for your lyrics to be impactful. Oh, and Lorde, Lorde does that too. I also draw a lot of inspiration from poetry, a lot of the stuff on the album was inspired by Wallace Stevens. Some of the spoken dialogue in introverture comes from a poem of his called “The Idea of Order at Key West.” What about you, Kei?
Keiko: As far as drums go, I listen to the beats of everything. Also, partly in the literal sense and partly not, Mitski also inspires me to be loud. Drums are loud instruments and I’m typically inclined to shy away from making so much noise, but her music can be so explosive and raw. I feel empowered to take up space and get rowdy.
Ezra: I draw inspiration from a lot of the same musicians– that was one of the things that we initially became friends over, was our love of the same bands and musicians, but I think we do all have our own separate tastes and inspirations and that allows us to each bring a variety of different sounds and ideas to the table. Personally, I listen to a lot of indie pop and draw musical inspiration from bands like Magic Man, Los Campesinos!, and a lot of other upbeat, synth-y type bands.
I love that I can listen on Spotify, but streaming services can be conflicting for artists, especially independent ones. Tell me about the journey to get on Spotify and any hoops you’ve gone through with making your music more accessible.
Ezra: We started out just putting things out on bandcamp, but once we made Postcards, I think we all had the feeling that we wanted it to be more accessible since pretty much everything is streaming now. The process was pretty much just me looking into how exactly to get on Spotify and finding our distributing service, Landr, which allows us to release on a variety of music services like Spotify, Apple Music and a bunch of others.
Tell me a little more about the songs on the album. Do you have any favorites, amongst yourselves? Were there any that were particularly difficult to write or record?
Keiko: I mean, Botticelli is probably my favorite. It’s got these really cool drum fills in there that I did that I’m really proud of, and the guitar is sick. It makes my heart happy… it’s just good!
Eleanor: Well, Mercy is my favorite song on the album. It’s very personal to me and it was very cathartic to write it, and the final product came really close to what I envisioned it being. Ninety ten is probably my favorite song that I’ve ever written, though.
Ezra: Botticelli is my favorite too. It was one of the ones that came together kind of magically, and I especially like the end where Eleanor says “Someone said they heard you knocking at the mausoleum door, well I’m not there anymore”– that part always makes me emotional. Although I do love all of them for different reasons. As for recording, we had a hard time with kingdom come and junk! because they were the least fleshed out before we went into the studio so we were writing and recording all at the same time which was pretty stressful.
Keiko: I think I struggled with all of them to a degree, since it was my first time recording in a studio, besides recording the first version of ninety ten in the school band room. And we had like, a week of practicing together before we went on to spend three days together in the studio. But also, making a cohesive song is a lot easier when we’re together, which is rare.
Ezra: It was also my first time in the studio, and I also struggled with the learning curve of that and just the fact that we hadn’t really played a lot together in the same room at the same time. But I also think we learned a whole lot in the process.
Eleanor: It was very emotionally taxing for me to write and record Mercy, because I was being very vulnerable when I did that. And when we were mixing it, Pete (Szkolka, our producer) asked what it was about, so I had to lay my whole shit out. It was very hard to be that vulnerable with myself, but I did it because I wanted people who were dealing with the same stuff to feel less alone and less isolated because that experience is really isolating. The entire album was pretty emotionally vulnerable for me, but I guess that’s just how it is when you write the lyrics.
Last things last: what does the future hold for Missouri Surf Club?
Eleanor: Well, I really want to go on tour. That’s what’s next on my agenda. I really want to do a little two week tour in August, if that’s possible. I’m trying to contact some other bands to see if they come with us, so we’ll see how that goes. I’m always writing, I have three or four half-written things right now, but my main goal is to just go out there and perform. Performing is one of the greatest joys in my life, and I miss it, so yeah, I really want to tour.
Ezra: I also want to tour because I miss Eleanor and Keiko.
Keiko: In our future, we will all be together, and tour, hopefully. I want to see new people impacted by our music. And I want to get vinyls made. And cassettes.
Eleanor: I wanna be on the radio.
Ezra: That’s the dream.
Eleanor: Oh, in the near future– we’re working on a special cover for pride month, and I really want to do a music video for it. I want to do more music videos. I have a lot of ideas.
Keiko: And I hope that we can inspire others to do what we’ve done, to create and express and love, even when it seems impossible.