Winston Surfshirt are unlike most bands out there at the moment. The Australian outfit started out as just one man – Winston himself, a singer, rapper, and producer from Manly in Sydney – before evolving into what is now a six-piece collective producing captivating blends of soul and hip-hop. With an almost religious following earned from a string of raucous live shows and celebrity fans including the likes of Sir Elton John and Zane Lowe, Winston Surfshirt are gaining attention beyond their native Sydney underground live scene, and we wanted to talk to their originator about how it’s all going.
Hi Winston! To start with… How would you describe your musical roots?
Musical roots… Probably from my parents, I think. My dad was into sort of Led Zeppelin and Slade and stuff like that, and then my mum was into like Marvin Gaye and Al Green and Etta James. So yeah, probably my parents.
How do you think your sound has evolved since you moved from a solo act to being part of a six-piece collective?
It got more cohesive, if that makes sense? I don’t know… Like, we seemed to find a sound that was a bit different to what I was doing on my own. But it’s still the same thing, really.
You’ve been in and out of bands for years and you’ve been playing live for a long time. What was your first time playing live like?
First time ever?
God… I don’t even remember! They all just turned into one… and I’ve forgotten about them all! [Laughs]
So what was the scene like when you started out playing live, what’s the general picture that you have?
Well, I was in a band that was sort of Beatles-y songwriting, and we were playing on bills with bands that were like, metal sort of things [laughs]. And they hated us.
So that was a bit strange, but I don’t even remember looking out!
What was it like playing Splendour in the Grass earlier this year?
That was good, that was our first proper festival, proper big one. We played a little one a month before but that one was really good – like, crazy, just to see how many people came.
You met Elton John recently (I am very, very jealous)…
How did that come about and what was he like, what was the day like?
He was so lovely. Just the nicest, coolest guy ever. We asked him how he actually first heard of us and I think Apple Music, who he does a lot of stuff with, send loads and loads of music just to him and he listens to a lot of it, and that one, one of our songs, just stuck out. And he started playing our song on his Beats show, I don’t know if you’ve heard of that, the Rocket Hour. And then yeah, when he was out here he just hit us up and asked if we wanted to come say hey!
Ah, that’s so cool.
It was very cool!
It makes me very happy that he’s very nice.
Ah, he was so lovely.
You’re not the only Australian act that’s making waves internationally at the moment. Why do you think that is – what is it about the Australian music scene at the moment that’s producing so much great music?
I don’t know, I think it’s just that it’s a nice, lovely country! And that’s like… You think it’s always been America and England for so long, and I think Australia’s just… I don’t know… It’s just – the time is right! We’ve had like, Tame Impala set a good credibility for Australia, if that makes sense? Yeah.
Yeah. Are there any other Australian acts that you think the world needs to know about that you don’t feel like they do yet?
That the world needs to know about?
Needs to know about.
God, Australian… There’s a couple of bands that we play with but we just know them live!
It’s also ok to just say yourself!
[Laughs] Nah, if you look up Nasty Mars, he’s the bomb.
Ok. What’s your songwriting process like, what’s the process been like for the last few songs that you’ve written?
It’s the same as it always is – just like sitting in a room all day, making music.
And what’s the best career advice that you’ve ever gotten?
Ever gotten… God – if I didn’t say it was something that Elton John said, I’d be rude! Probably my dad when he was drunk – ‘You’ve just gotta go for it, mate.’
I think that is very solid advice!
Watch the video for ‘Be About You’, the first single from Winston Surfshirt’s debut album Sponge Cake, below.
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