Interview with Surf Mesa: Sounds for Good Feels

Surf Mesa © Danielle Degrasse-Alston
Surf Mesa © Danielle Degrasse-Alston
Without abandoning his carefree inspirations, Surf Mesa’s “Lose My Mind” (ft. Bipolar Sunshine) adds complexities: We dove into his newest single, Billboard Award nominations, and life during and post-pandemic.
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How can they feel something so human when they’re just a series of ones and zeroes, if they’re uploaded?

Twenty one-year-old Powell Aguirre likes playing video games and going to Home Depot. When I speak to him over Zoom, he sits in a cushioned, high backrest chair in true gamer fashion, wearing a baseball cap and crewneck sweater. Surf looked, at first glance, just like your typical college student. And before the pandemic, that’s exactly who he was: he went to community college in L.A. — because, as Surf confesses, his grades were not good enough for state schools — and produced music on the side. Since then, his remix of the 60’s classic “ily (I Love You Baby)” has become a quarantine hit through TikTok, earning him chart-topping status as well as two Billboard nominations. Now, glimpsing at the other side of lockdown, Surf is on the cusp of diving into headlining shows and festival performances — a student no longer.

Lose My Mind - Surf Mesa ft. Bipolar Sunshine
Lose My Mind – Surf Mesa ft. Bipolar Sunshine

On the morning of Surf’s Billboard nominations, his manager called to deliver the news. “I didn’t believe it all,” Surf recalls. Of course, a part of that disbelief has to do with the fact that Surf had mistakenly thought he was being told he had won the awards. But for someone whose rise of popularity began in a Starbucks parking lot, Surf also didn’t anticipate the massive reception his song received in general. Now, a year and plenty more collaborations later, Surf is still making music straight from the heart.

For his newest single “Lose My Mind” (featuring English recording artist Bipolar Sunshine), he wanted to create a track for “my college friends to play at their parties and my DJ friends to spin it.” For Surf, it’s blissful dance music for the youth, by the youth. If award nominations registered to Surf as a surprise, it’s perhaps because his tracks are just tributes to inspired summers under untroubled skies, no pandering to cultural critics in mind.

Surf Mesa & Bipolar Sunshine © @outherevisuals
Surf Mesa & Bipolar Sunshine © @outherevisuals

Most recently, Surf’s uninhibited imagination led him to his latest single “Lose My Mind,” released via Astralwerks on June 4th, 2021, arguably his most visually conceptual track to date. In the music video, Surf brings a slice of the digital world into his sonic universe. The idea, he explains, “came from this inspiration of the future and how the future will be — specifically about love. Let’s say in the future, we live in this digital world where everyone’s DNA is uploaded somehow, and they are completely living not in the physical world. I imagined, like, how are people going to love?”

Moments of Bipolar Sunshine’s half-AutoTuned vocals add to the glitchy, fantastical dimension that distinguishes “Lose My Mind” from the more conventional, romantic pop approach of “Carried Away.” It’s a whirling, new-world electronic landscape. The ideas originated in Surf’s sketchbook doodles.

If I can’t have you right here in front of me
If that’s not you knockin’ at my door
I don’t want nobody’s body on me
Want it to be yours, yeah
If it’s not you lookin’ straight into my eyes
I swear that I’m not breathin’ anymore
I don’t want nobody’s body on me
Want it to be yours
‘Cause don’t you know I’m fallin’, fallin’
With my hands here by my side?
Can’t you hear me callin’, callin’?
If I can’t have you here tonight
— “Lose My Mind,” ft. Bipolar Sunshine

In our interview with Surf Mesa, we spoke about his newest single, Billboard Award nominations, and life during and post-pandemic.

Stream: “Lose My Mind” – Surf Mesa ft. Bipolar Sunshine



A CONVERSATION WITH SURF MESA

Atwood Magazine: What was the process behind writing “Lose My Mind?”

Surf Mesa: I wanted to put out a song that felt fun all the way through. For the summer, I wanted my college friends to play at their parties and my DJ friends to spin it when they’re playing their sets. The whole inspiration for this track was just to have this fun, youthful energy, and I was able to work with producers and songwriters from the UK — they had sent over this version that was darker — different chord progressions and a different singer. They sent it over to me, and I gave it this twist: these new chords and this new atmosphere, where it felt more positive and upbeat. I’m really proud of how it turned out. With Bipolar Sunshine, I’ve always been a fan. For five years I’ve looked up to him. The opportunity to collaborate with him was incredible. We had this back and forth where I’m telling him I’m a fan, and then we made a song together.

You mentioned that the UK producers had originally sent you a version that was darker. Do you think you would ever explore darker electronic sounds?

Surf Mesa: I think my next song’s going to be like that. But in my SoundCloud days through high school, my bio always said, “Sounds for good feels.” The word mellifluous was always my word. If I were to look up the word mellifluous right now, the definition is sweet or musical; pleasant to hear. That’s what I want my sound to be. I think that’s really important to me. But that can also mean the song is dark, and it’s pleasant.

In sound or in lyrics?

Surf Mesa: The lyrics are cool, but the chord progression can be more minor. So I think this one’s going to be minor, but also danceable. As long as people are dancing, that means they’re having fun.

Surf Mesa & Bipolar Sunshine © @outherevisuals
Surf Mesa & Bipolar Sunshine © @outherevisuals

What made you decide on a different approach for this next song?

Surf Mesa: This song that I had got sent from a writer. The demo was already produced, the chord progressions were darker, and I even sat here all this morning trying to reproduce it into this major chord progression vibe. But I think it’s just going to have to be a dark song. I don’t know. We’ll see.

I know that the visualizer for “Lose My Mind” is related to your experience with video games. and the digital world. Could you elaborate on the concept behind the video?

Surf Mesa: The whole artwork for “Lose My Mind” came from this inspiration of the future and how the future will be — specifically about love. Let’s say in the future, we live in this digital world where everyone’s DNA is uploaded somehow, and they are completely living not in the physical world. I imagined, like, how are people going to love, you know? How can they feel something so human when they’re just a series of ones and zeros, if they’re uploaded? I have a sketchbook, and here is where some of the ideas came about. It says “lose my mind,” and then it says “robot plugging in USB, so he can learn how to love. Falls in love.” And then there is a USB stick with a heart on it, and then a USB socket in the robot’s head, so that he’s downloading love. In the visualizer, we uploaded me. I’m rotating in the visualizer, but you can see on the back of my neck that there’s a USB slot. It was cool to upload myself, and I plan to do more with this model of myself that I have now. Who knows, maybe in the future, we’ll have a music video where I have another girl upload herself.

Let’s say in the future, we live in this digital world where everyone’s DNA is uploaded somehow, and they are completely living not in the physical world. I imagined, how are people going to love? How can they feel something so human when they’re just a series of ones and zeros, if they’re uploaded?

Maybe a storyline with series of music videos.

Surf Mesa: Yeah, that’d be really funny. There are other artists that have done that — I think Basshunter has an EP with five tracks where each one has their own music video, but the music videos correspond with each other, and they make this big storyline. It’s really cool. I forgot what happened to Basshunter. I don’t know where he’s been. I love his music though. A legend.

The idea of uploading human consciousness into the digital world reminds me of Black Mirror.

Surf Mesa: Oh, totally. I love Black Mirror. When there were new seasons, I would just veg out and watch them.

By the stroke of my hand
I’ll never hold you again
Go save that love for someone
For something, for somewhere
And by the weight of my head
I’ll always drown in regret
You save that love for someone
For something, for somewhere
— “Somewhere” ft. Gus Dapperton

Congratulations on being nominated for the Billboard Music Awards!

Surf Mesa: Thanks so much. I watched the Billboard Music Awards, and I had no idea whether I won or not, no idea whether or not I was going to be on TV. I made it through the whole Billboard Music Awards, and they’re like, thanks for watching, that’s a wrap. Then the next show starts and I was like, wait, did they announce who the winner was? And then I looked it up and, one, I wasn’t the winner. But two, they didn’t even show that on TV. I don’t know, I think the TV part of the Billboard Awards I saw were pop music and The Weeknd, DaBaby performing, which is fine. But yeah, it was kind of sad.

How did you feel when you found out you were nominated?

Surf Mesa: When I was nominated, I didn’t believe it at all. My manager called me in the morning, and he was like, you’re nominated for Billboard Music, or Artist of the Year. And I didn’t hear him say nominate. I thought he said won. And then I’m like, why? That doesn’t make sense. Then even when I did believe him, I was like, it’s crazy. I don’t know. I was grateful for the whole experience and watching that on TV.

Now you are slated to perform the Life Is Beautiful Festival and Firefly. How are you feeling about that?

Surf Mesa: I think it’s going to be really fun. I’m looking forward to that. September is jam-packed with both my tour of a few shows and the festivals in between, before, and after. I’m looking forward to every show just being a party and seeing my friends dance to my songs. I’m looking forward to the whole thing being a cool experience. It’s something I’ve never done before because before quarantine, there was no “ily” and there was no real career for me. That’s when I was a college student. So quarantine put everything on pause, but it also helped me move forward. Now everything’s adding up and catching up to pace. It’s a challenge, but I’m definitely very excited for it.

Surf Mesa © Danielle Degrasse-Alston
Surf Mesa © Danielle Degrasse-Alston

Are you in school part-time still?

Surf Mesa: Yeah, no, I couldn’t really go back. I would not hold myself to that at all.

You initially moved to LA for school. How did that decision come about?

Surf Mesa: I grew up just outside of Seattle, Washington. I was always inspired by LA because of how music-based it is. Everything I wanted to do would fit right here. I first made the move after high school when my grades were not good enough to go to a state college or anywhere else other than if it were open admission or a community college. So after high school, I did go to community colleges. There was one in Washington, and then I found one down here. I moved down here with four other producers, making dance music. It was too overwhelming. All of us making music, surviving, and trying to do something with it. That was definitely a grind.

My school was like, two classes. I had a deal with my parents where if I was in school, they would support me. And if I wasn’t in school, I was working at PacSun and supporting myself. So it was between PacSun and school.

Who are some of your current influences?

Surf Mesa: Every month, there’s a new batch of artists who are really inspiring. Right now, in the dance world, I’m really focused on and inspired by people who are pushing House music to this new world. And that includes Gorgon City. They’ve always made the most dope stuff. Chris Lake. But I also really admire the songwriting process to it, and that includes Lauv. I’m on a House binge right now, hearing who’s making cool dance music, taking from it and collaborating or growing my own project. That’s been inspiring me lately for sure.

Surf Mesa & Bipolar Sunshine © @outherevisuals
Surf Mesa & Bipolar Sunshine © @outherevisuals

Beyond music, do you indulge in other creative pursuits?
 

Surf Mesa: I recently built a little backyard in my patio. I just put, like, grass down, bamboo walls, furniture, and lights. So maybe Home Depot. I love Home Depot. It’s like, go there for projects and it just feels like a moving day kind of emotion. It’s really fun.

Sounds like a lot of exciting DIY projects.

Surf Mesa: Yeah, DIY stuff’s the best.

As we’re coming out of quarantine, how are you feeling in terms of your next steps as a musician?

Surf Mesa: Before everything, I was just a student and working away. After quarantine, it’s definitely flipped, with festivals and the tour. I love it. It’s scary coming up to it, but I have what I’ve done so far. It’s been a blast playing out songs and having fun with it, and it’ll definitely be scary — the days leading up to it, the day of, the hours leading up to it and the last minutes leading up to it. It’s like being in line for a roller coaster. You can’t turn around because there’s people behind it — you have to go on that roller coaster.

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:: stream/purchase “Lose My Mind” here ::
Stream: “Lose My Mind” – Surf Mesa ft. Bipolar Sunshine



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Lose My Mind - Surf Mesa ft. Bipolar Sunshine

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📸 © Danielle Degrasse-Alston

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