Do you like to surf? How about shirts? Or maybe even lovely guys named Winston? I just happen to personally like all three, so as the universe would have it, I was lucky enough to have a chat to the smooth-talking, funky fellow himself, Winston of Winston Surfshirt.
Hailing from Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Winston and the boys of the band have had quite the enthralling last 12 months, finding themselves playing a range of gigs all over the place, including warehouses, house boats, Sydney live music hotspots, a few shows with fellow Aussie dancefloor fillers RUFUS and a one night only support slot for one of Australia’s most iconic and influential bands – Midnight Oil. On top of all this, their latest juicy single Be About You has been doing the rounds on triple j, and they’ve recently penned a label deal with Sweat It Out, artist management company Astral People and booking agents Niche Productions.
When forming their luscious kaleidoscope of sound that has set them apart on the scene, Winston explains that not all the band members are necessarily in the one place when making their music. “Some of us met separately. A couple of us met in school and there’s another guy who plays with us, but actually lives in London. Then there’s the other random guys who slowly came in,” he jokes.
“We met our trombone player just at a party, and he slowly became more and more of a permanent fixture. I started this originally as a solo project; it’s been about five years now. I mean, it’s still is my thing, but I’ve just got a bunch of really awesome musicians that play with me now which is really handy.”
Their cross-pollination of genres has attracted music fans of all kinds, fusing their own unique spin of funk, hip hop, dream-pop and rock, making your hips sway of their own accord and your feet do a slow twist to match. Think baby-making music master D’Angelo meets The Beatles, meets hip hop pioneers A Tribe Called Quest, with a little waft of Australiana and Tame Impala sprinkled for garnishing. Winston speaks passionately of his deep love for hip hop and funk, ultimately his musical roots.
“I’ve always somehow been into hip hop, soul and old Motown records. When I started all this I was extremely into The Beatles too. My original sound was a bit more Beatles-y with a bit of hip hop, and then just from playing live for years it really evolved. We’d always play a bunch of covers around Manly too, which really would let us experiment a little bit.”
For a long time, Winston Surfshirt released their music independently – a move which proved to be both rewarding but challenging. “I released a bunch of stuff on my own. I was always in bands and things, but it just got to a point where it was too hard, making music with five different people’s influences, so I just wanted to do something that was easier. I managed to make enough money just playing live around Manly four times a week, which allowed me to do that. The old stuff I released, I just really wanted to put out there.”
Being an up and coming band, Winston Surfshirt were showcased on a global scale just recently by none other than music legend Elton John, who gave Be About You a spin on his popular Beats 1 radio show The Rocket Hour. “It doesn’t even feel real. It’s the strangest thing. What a champion!” he enthuses with a twinkle and giggle in his voice. “We got told because Zane Lowe had played it before on another radio show, so it must have just been passed on through him. We just somehow got notified that he was going to play it and we all went “Nah, that’s not going to happen.” But next thing we knew, there was our song being picked and played on the radio by Elton John.”
From Elton John to Australian icons, Winston Surfshirt were asked to play an intimate one night only support slot for Midnight Oil. When asked how it came about, Winston spoke of close family ties – a case of ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know.’
“It actually came through Bustlip’s Dad. Bustlip’s parents just have a bunch of ARIAs and BAFTA awards sitting round their house, but never tell you anything they’ve done. He’s good friends with a couple of the guys in Midnight Oil and he had just mentioned it in passing, almost around October last year. We were all like ‘Yes, we’d do it, if the opportunity was offered.’ And then a few months later it popped up. So yeah, cheers Bustlip’s Dad!
“I 100 percent agree with people when they say ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,’ because that came into play with this show. I mean, the reason we’re probably doing any good anyway is because of [Aussie electro-pop two-piece] Polographia. We did a song with them after they’d seen us play at Junkyard Festival one time and ended up asking us if we’d be interested in doing a song together because they were really liking what I was doing. He ended up passing it on to their manager, which resulted in us getting signed to the same label.”
Exciting times ahead for Winston and the boys as they gear up for a run of headline shows around the country, as well as a prime spot on the Splendour In The Grass line-up. Be sure to catch their funky-fresh hip hop and surf vibes in the coming months!
2 June, Northcote Social Club, Melbourne
9 June, Jack Rabbit Slim’s, Perth
10 June, Rocket Bar, Adelaide
17 June, Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane
22 & 23 June, Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
21 – 23 July, Splendour In The Grass, North Byron Parklands, Byron Bay