Surfer Blood guitarist Thomas Fekete dies at age 27

The indie band’s guitarist had suffered from a rare form of cancer and his treatment was partly funded by donations from fans and other bands

Thomas Fekete, the 27-year-old guitarist for Florida-based indie rock band Surfer Blood, has died of a rare form of cancer, it was announced Tuesday. Fans of Surfer Blood first learned of Fekete’s diagnosis last spring when he dropped out of the band’s national tour and a GoFundMe page was set up in order to raise the necessary funds to pay for his medical bills. At the time, Fekete wrote that after undergoing surgery to remove a tumor, the cancer – a sarcoma – then spread to his lungs and spine.

Fekete’s guitar stylings are constantly on full display throughout Surfer Blood’s unique discography. Their breakout single, 2009’s loud, punkish Swim, begins with a blast of the instrument. It was thanks to that single, which was later voted one of the best songs of 2009 by Pitchfork, that Surfer Blood vaulted from their home base in West Palm Beach and into a national audience. That audience has so far supported them through three studio albums, the most recent being last year’s 1000 Palms, which peaked at No 2 on Billboard’s Heatseeker albums charts.

Surfer Blood doesn’t quite sound like anyone else. The songwriting has the relentless hooks of pop, but production and instrumentation is reminiscent of everything from grungy punk to 60s surf rock. Those qualities coalesce beautifully on tracks like I Was Wrong, off their 2013 album Pythons, or the four minute long guitar-drenched opus I Can’t Explain, from 1000 Palms.

After Fekete fell ill and his wife Jess set up the fundraising drive online, the band organised an auction of unreleased seven-inches by themselves and other bands, including Yo La Tengo, and also began collecting donations on the road. These donations were stolen, along with thousands of dollars in personal items, when their tour van was broken into while stopped in Chicago last May. The band posted on Facebook about the theft: “The most heartbreaking [thing] of all is that so much positivity and amazing generosity could be ruined by one bad person(s).”

Throughout it all, Fekete remained both publicly positive and devoted to the craft of music. This past December, he released a solo LP called Burner, which he recorded solely from his bed while recovering from chemotherapy. “No multiple takes, no expensive mics, no outside direction,” he said in a statement when Burner was released. “Just me in my bedroom with a very cheap, bare bones setup.”

By all accounts, the band will continue after Fekete’s death. Staring cancer and his grim diagnosis in the eye, Fekete put on a game face while speaking to the band’s many fans and always accentuated the positive. “I not only feel great, but I am in great spirits, and I know this will soon be over like a bad dream,” he said when first announcing his illness. “Please take care of yourselves, enjoy every single day. Life is beautiful. Love and light always.”

At the news of the guitarist’s death, the band’s frontman John Paul Pitts posted on Facebook: “I love you Thom. Thank you for convincing me to leave Florida to play shows, and for playing music with me for six amazing years. I’ve never met anyone like you and I know I never will again. I don’t know where or who I would be without you, and I’ll miss you everyday.”


Rob LeDonne

The GuardianTramp

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