Surrogate

Since 2007, Surrogate has been recognized as the preeminent indie-rock band in the Chico music scene. The group—consisting of singer/songwriter Chris Keene, guitarist Michael Lee, bassist Daniel Taylor, and keyboard player Daniel Martin—have been slaving away for the past few months, scrambling to complete their latest album, Post-Heroic, in time for their release show this Friday. We met at Black Lodge Studios, where Keene has been holed up mixing and mastering the final tracks, to discuss the band’s two-year journey through the production of their third LP. After waiting an ample amount of time for the arrival of bassist/Synthesis legend, Daniel Taylor, the band and I decided to proceed with the interview.

The first topic we tackled was the departure of drummer/co-founding band member, Jordan Mallory. The band was sad to part ways with Mallory, but came to realize that distributing the drum duties amongst the remaining members would yield some positive benefits. Keene explained, “I think the drumming situation kind of opened a lot of doors for everybody. Nobody really claims this role, so we all kind of chip in and it’s been cool.” Guitarist Michael Lee, also felt that working together to fill the void helped nurture the band’s chemistry. “Everyone sharing [drumming] duties reestablished the foundation and connected us more interpersonally,” said Lee.

In the past, Keene has been identified as the sole songwriter of Surrogate, but with the addition of Lee—an accomplished guitarist and songwriter in his own right—I was curious how the collaboration process had evolved over the years. Lee confirmed that Keene is still the man behind the curtain, but that the rest of the band members all play active roles deciding the arrangement of the melodies, riffs, and chord progressions originally composed by their frontman.

The unanimous feeling amongst the group is that Post-Heroic achieves a bigger, rock-type sound that distinguishes it from their previous, more folk-inspired efforts. Lee commented that the album has “more grit” and that there are only two songs featuring acoustic guitar. Keene added, “It wasn’t necessarily like, ‘There will be no acoustic on this record.’ It was just kind of the way it unfolded, which is novel for us.”

When it came time to discuss the lyrical content of the album, Keene began to cite a couple songs with similar themes but then paused to release a long sigh, indicating his discomfort with the challenge of paraphrasing an entire album’s worth of ideas into a brief conversation. We laughed for a minute about the understandable difficulty Keene was experiencing, and then narrowed our focus to the album’s title track, “Post-Heroic.” The song was originally inspired by a phrase Keene had heard on talk radio. “It was on NPR and referring to drone wars,” recalled Keene. “There’s not really too many statements in terms of pros and cons of unmanned warships and stuff, but I thought it was interesting using war or warfare as a metaphor for slowing down your life a little bit. Essentially, if you take war out of it, it boils down to ‘the times they are a-changin.’ The world seems to not be getting any older and I do.”

What made the production of Post-Heroic particularly interesting was that it came in halves. The first half was spread out over the course of a year or so…and then their deadline came into focus. Since then the band has been working long hours, Keene especially, to put together the second half. This experience puts the band in a unique position to describe the pros and cons of working with endless time versus being on the clock.

“I think there’s definitely merit to both,” said Keene. “Putting your nose to the grindstone and making it happen can yield some pretty interesting things that you would second-guess if you had a ton of time. But it’s definitely a little bit more stressful as well, so I think I prefer a little bit more time.”

It was at this point in the interview that Taylor walked in, grabbed a beer, and explained the reason for his delay, which we agreed would remain off the record (he was pooping). He arrived just in time to talk about the band’s plans for promoting Post-Heroic. For starters, they’ve launched a music video for the song, “Lovers.” Touring, however, is somewhat out of the question for the band due to various life obligations. Taylor remains hopeful that by reaching out to blogs and online publications, they’ll be able to generate a comparable buzz and confirm that the band is alive and well.

“We can’t play in LA or Austin, but we CAN be on the blogs that are from there,” said Taylor. “If you get a few people to bite, others can be like, ‘Oh that band is on X magazine or X blog and maybe I should write about them for my blog or whatever.’ So that’s our alternate. Since we can’t tour, we tour the digital airwaves.”

Surrogate will celebrate the release of their new album with a performance at La Salle’s this Friday, April 5th with support from local acts, Armed For Apocalypse and French Reform. The show is 21+, starts at 8PM, and includes a free download code with the entry fee of $8.

 

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Nolan Ford grew up in Chico, California with great respect and admiration for Synthesis and its mission to provide an alternative voice on matters of music, art, and life in Chico. In addition to editing the paper and managing its musical content, Nolan performs with various bands around town including Perpetual Drifters, The Rugs, Pat Hull, and acoustic duo, Emma & Nolan.