Surf Curse: Magic Hour, the mental toll of touring, and collective creativity
October 22, 2022
Interview and Photos by Alyssa Goldberg
Earlier this month, Surf Curse – composed of Nick Rattigan (Current Joys), Henry Dillon, Jacob Rubeck (Gap Girls), and Noah Kholl – released their fourth record, Magic Hour. Apathy clashes with joy in Magic Hour, an album that simultaneously serves as a channel for catharsis and a deep look in the mirror. The tracks challenge listeners to look inward, yet rather than picking apart conflicting feelings or becoming numb in pursuit of escapism, encourages them to feel everything all at once. It’s a tender testament to love and the act of loving – the ability to feel joy even through confusion and the desire to run from a feeling’s intensity. A beacon of hope shines through on the tracks, such as on "Lost Honor," where the group sings, "It's a cruel world, world / But I know you believe in me." Their shows – populated by mosh pits and crowd surfers – achieve this feeling of blissful exuberance, an overload of emotions that leaves behind only goodness. Lyrics like “Can you tell? / I'm so unwell / I'm so worried to be myself / In the age of the personal hell / But I know that I'm doing it right / When I'm screaming, I'm gnawing / I'm drifting away and I'm losing my goddamn mind” are paired with explosive drums and guitar, providing “an outlet to scream at people in a healthy way” and “experience that frustration together with other people,” vocalist-drummer Rattigan tells Sounds of Saving.
While their music explores themes of underlying sadness, anxiety, and feeling complicit in your own helplessness, the band is equal parts emotive as they are whimsical. Each of the band members have their own creative projects outside of Surf Curse, yet are bound together by friendship, love, and the ability to create something entirely different from their other work through collaboration.
Ahead of the release of Magic Hour, Sounds of Saving caught up with Surf Curse before their invigorating hometown set at the inaugural Primavera Sound Los Angeles – where we chatted about the mental toll of touring, developing both as creative individuals and collectively as a band, and the cathartic power of performing (with some alliteration mishaps along the way).
SOUNDS OF SAVING (SoS): So on the new album coming out, how long have y'all been working on that?
NICK: We made it all last year in the span of a few months and mixed some of it this year.
HENRY: It's been about a year since we began this journey.
NICK: Yeah, it's been about a year since we began. Yeah, a year.
JACOB: Don't confuse that with eight years. It's just one.
NICK, JACOB, HENRY, and NOAH: A year.
JACOB: One year.
NICK: Yeah, so now it's finally coming out. And yeah, we're very excited about it.
SoS: Is there a song that resonates the most with y'all that you're excited to play live tonight or put out?
NICK: We have a new song we just wrote that I'm really excited to play tonight. It's not even on the record. No one's heard it before.
HENRY: I'm excited to play the song “Unwell.” That's the first time we're playing it live tonight.
NICK: Second time. The first time we played live it didn't go too well.
NOAH: Where was that?
NICK: Hollywood Forever.
NOAH: We played it live that night?
NOAH: Interesting. Well, I'm excited to play it tonight.
NICK: So you don't even remember.
SoS: Let's hope it goes better then, if it didn't go that well the first time. Do you guys get nervous when you play a new song for the first time that people aren't gonna respond well?
NICK: No, it's the best. It's honestly the best feeling to like, well, it's always a gamble. Because you don't know if the crowd is gonna pop off or not. But when they do, and it's a new song, then you know you got something there.
NICK: Well, it's funny because when we first started playing like, "Disco" or something, I remember we'd put it at the end of every set, and it was before it was even out and people would just go crazy to it. Then we were like, okay, we got something here. So, when people still go off to something that they haven't heard, that's a good sign.
SoS: Yeah, that's very true. The song that you just wrote that you're gonna play tonight, is there a favorite lyric in it that means a lot to y'all?
NICK: We're still writing the lyrics.
SoS: So you're gonna improvise tonight?
NICK: I am. Yeah, it's kind of like "in-prove" until prove. You know?
NICK: Don't confuse that with improv. It's "in-prove."
SoS: What does that mean?
NICK: In-prove until it's proven. You know what I'm saying? Improv until it's proven.
HENRY: "In-prove" is improv by a professional.
NICK: But yeah, excited to play that. Excited to play "Sugar." People go off during that song, it's pretty crazy. It definitely feels like an EDM, like drop song, which is pretty fun.
NICK: (as an aside) Jacob sitting over here like Lou Reed in the corner.
JACOB: I'm excited to play the new song. I think that's gonna be a lot of fun, and all the ones that we haven't been playing. That's exciting to show. "Hour of the Wolf," yeah, that sounds incredible. It's an older one, but we've revamped it a tiny bit, and it's a lot more fun.
SoS: Yeah, cause this is the first time that y'all are putting out [new music] in a few years.
SoS: (To Nick) I'm trying to think, have you put out a new album in the meantime?
NICK: I put out a record last year. But that was done for like four years already, so I didn't even care by the time it came out.
SoS: Oh God.
NICK: Just kidding, I love it.
SoS: Oh my god.
SoS: (To Nick and Jacob) I was at the Gap Girls / Current Joys show, the Valentine's Day one back in 2019 at Market Hotel.
HENRY: (Gesturing towards Noah) That's where we met!
SoS: Oh, no way! That's where you two met or where you all met?
NICK: No, that's where they two met.
SoS: That's crazy. I was at that show. Okay, like, weird side tangent. So I went to [Nick's] Market Hotel show in September, and I was like, I recognize this venue. Like when have I been here before?
NICK: Yeah, the last time.
SoS: And I realized the last time I was there, I was with who I was dating at the time on Valentine's Day. So it hit me at that show that the last time was on Valentine’s Day with my ex.
NICK: A lot has changed.
SoS: Yeah, I posted a thing with like, "I'm no longer a kid and everything has changed." I just put the lyrics in there.
“You can sort of channel anxiety or depression or complicated human emotions and you can experience that frustration together with other people. And then you feel a little less alone. Or you can like, move some of that inside of you. Because it is unexplainable and frustrating.”
SoS: But for the two of y'all, you have kind of diverged, like you've had your solo projects throughout time. Do you feel like being able to break off and make your own music, and then be able to come back together ... and even, like, you're still kind of creating together because you've been doing shows together … Do you feel like that helps make you stronger as a band?
NICK: Yeah, I think it just makes this project all the more unique. You know, because it's a place where we can come with alternative ideas to our own projects. Also with Henry and Noah in the band, it definitely feels like a different beast, if you will. We have a lot more range to make different sounding things, you know, which is why I feel like the new record sounds a lot different. Especially moving forward, I think I'm just really excited to keep making music with these people and explore what that could look like. But yeah, having different projects, it's just fun to be collaborative. This is the most collaborative thing, I think, that I do.
JACOB: Yeah, the thing that's nice is that all four of us, too, we all have our own projects. We all have these, you know, creative outlets. With this project, specifically, there is intention and ideas. And sometimes, for me at least, I create rules for myself for this band as to what I want to accomplish with this. But there's also the different ventures that all of us creatively want to explore ourselves. So, it's great, because we all can listen to each other and be together on this, but all three of these people are very creative and unique people who make incredible music on their own and it's all different from what Surf Curse is. It's nice to see the different outlets that everyone explores in this project and other projects.
SoS: For all of y'all, when you have a creative idea of something that you want to write or make, how do you decide when it's gonna go towards a solo project or when it feels right for Surf Curse?
NICK: I think it decides itself, the song decides itself.
NOAH: I think there's just a particular element and an intention of writing and when you're writing something, you kind of figure out what umbrella it falls under. You know, it's like magic.
SoS: In the new single, "Self Portrait," there's a line that goes, "My brain is automatic, it always shifts with no break." How does writing and creating music help calm the noise in your brain and make sense of your emotions when you're overthinking?
NICK: I mean, it just gives an outlet to scream at people in a healthy way. Or, you know, you can sort of channel anxiety or depression or complicated human emotions and you can experience that frustration together with other people. And then you feel a little less alone. Or you can like, move some of that inside of you. Because it is unexplainable and frustrating.
SoS: When you're on tour, what do you guys do to stay grounded as you're on the go?
NOAH: I don't think I've figured it out.
NICK: No one has figured it out yet.
NOAH: (In the background) Dissociate.
NICK: Touring is very horrible on the body and the brain. So, just try to keep as healthy as possible. I started meditating twice a day. Once you start drinking on tour one night, you're gonna drink the rest of the tour. So, be careful.
NOAH: Two beers, two beers a day.
NICK: Or none.
NICK: Oh, and also, make sure to be communicative with your feelings and your emotions. No passive aggressiveness on tour. That is the monster that will destroy you.
NOAH: I think clarity is key. Being clear is key, especially with people that you have a working and loving friendship with as well.
HENRY: Also, make sure to take time for yourself. You know, there's this pressure to always be on and always be socializing. But it's important to just get away for a minute. Even if it's a five minute walk around the block, it helps to clear the head a lot.
NICK: Also maybe talking to your therapist if you have that. Drinking a lot of water. Water is so important.
NICK: Bring a freakin book dude. Bring a book on tour. Get lost in that, it's a good escape. And it's a healthy escape. Don't be on your phone all the time. That's bad.
NOAH: Yeah, Nick read all of Dune.
NICK: Yeah, my books I bring on tour fucked up super hard.
SoS: Isn't Dune a long book?
NICK: Yeah, I remember that, that was a few years ago. There was the Dune book. That was infamous.
NOAH: You were in it.
NICK: I was pretty in it, yeah. I get really sucked into books on tour.
SoS: Do you have a book picked for the next tour?
NICK: I have a couple that I was gonna bring. I have this Altman book where he's like, interviewing himself or like, it's a bunch of interviews he did on his films. And then I bought that new book Bones and All, which is the new T. Chal (Timothée Chalamet) movie that's coming out and I wanted to read it before it came out.
“You know, there's this pressure to always be on and always be socializing. But it's important to just get away for a minute. Even if it's a five minute walk around the block, it helps to clear the head a lot.”
SoS: I'm sure you guys probably talk about this quite a bit, with your music blowing up online. But I know "Freaks" obviously had a resurgence on TikTok. As a band, you guys have been around for a really long time, but now you've hit this younger audience. Do you feel like your music has developed with your audience? Or do you feel like it's cool that it keeps resonating with other crowds as y'all stay kind of the same?
NICK: I think our music has changed in comparison to our audience. I don't know how our audience is going to accept the new tunes, we'll see. But yeah, I think our music has transcended any sort of, like, marketing. It's sort of just become a monster of its own success. You know what I mean? Like, we didn't try anything with "Freaks," it's just a song we wrote 10 years ago. So anything that really happened is out of our control and kind of out of our sphere of influence. Like, we don't even know what's going on, really. It's its own thing. So, you know, we wrote the song 10 years ago, and I feel like we've had a lot of changes in ourselves and as a band and musically, so it'll be interesting to see how people react to the new songs. We've also put out multiple albums in between them that are pretty different from that. So, let's hope you like it. Or not. We're happy. The new song we're gonna play tonight's pretty sick.
SoS: When y'all play your older songs, have the meanings changed?
SoS: (To Noah and Henry) And I know you guys joined the band later on, so I'm curious if you resonate with the older songs from before you were part of the band?
NICK: I've had this really interesting thing lately while performing, that I'm actually able to tap into that memory of writing the song. And like the feeling that it gave me then. Cause I used to just play the songs and just like, be in the moment, but I've actually been like, transporting myself back to the feeling I had when I wrote like, "Heathers" or something. I'm like, 'Oh, I can remember what this song felt like 10 years ago,' and then I try to tap into that. And it's actually a lot better of an experience than trying to recreate the meaning of the song. It's nice to just like, have a memory of it, you know, because that's how people are enjoying it, too, is through their own memories.
SoS: Yeah, wow. I love that.
HENRY: Maybe for Noah and I, the first tours we did, we played the older songs. It was before we had written any of the new material. So, my context for the older material is those tours that we went on and just the amazing times that we had.
NOAH: Yeah, and that time is when we all fell in love with each other. So there is this kind of –
NOAH: A renewing of vowels.
NOAH: (Louder than before) Vowels.
NOAH: Not to be confused –
NICK: Not to be confused with vows. He said vowels and that's going on print.
Listen to Magic Hour:
Alyssa Goldberg is a writer and photographer living in New York. Read more of her work at alyssaegoldberg.com and find her on Twitter @alyssaegoldberg.