Winston Surfshirt talks origins, Australian hip hop and Sir Elton John

Emerging from Sydney’s Northern Beaches, six piece WINSTON SURFSHIRT are one of the most exciting breakthrough acts of the year.

Their debut single, ‘Be About You’, dropped in January, combining slick stylised visuals with their effortlessly smooth hip hop/soul/pop fusion. It made quite an impact, hitting #1 on Spotify’s Australian viral charts and received big love from Triple J. Their two follow up singles ‘Ali D’ and ‘Same Same’ have been met with similar praise and have secured their place as an up and coming force in the Australian music industry.

Already having supported RUFUS on their national tour in January, they’ve gone on to play some impressive live slots including supporting Midnight Oil, Splendour In The Grass and most recently, BIGSOUND.

Ahead of their national headline tour and new album Sponge Cake, due September 29, we caught up with Winston for a quick chat.  

Fill us in a bit on how Winston Surfshirt came to be, it originally started out as a solo project, is that right?  

Yeah I started out solo maybe six years ago? Just playing around Manly where I’m from, and then it just organically really kind of grew. It grew more and more and then eventually just turned into a collective. We had five people up until about two weeks ago when we got our sixth member, who was originally in the band, we’ll do our first show this weekend with him.  

And now you’re performing live as a six piece. Does it feel like this is the final, complete form of Winston Surfshirt?

Won’t be final, I would never say that, but it is for now – do you know what I mean?

How about from a songwriting perspective, is that still your domain or are you writing together?  

Same thing really, I’m mainly writing just from home, but it’s good we still have that avenue of just jumping in the studio with a full band that we haven’t even touched on yet, so it’s going to be exciting to see what comes from that as well.

The new album Sponge Cake really encapsulates that chilled laid back vibe people would know from your singles. But, especially on tracks like ‘Nowhere’ and ‘Round and Round’, there’s also some very melancholic undertones too, do you think this album represents a distinct period of your life?

Yeah definitely, for sure. I think every song really represents that period of my life, you know. It was written over the past three years, mainly in living in Manly but back and forth as well.

There’s obviously some great hip hop / funk / soul influences in there, what were you listening to while recording the album?   

Everything, as I said it’s been a three year album, so I’ve kind of been through everything. But the usual classics you know, The Beatles and hip hop like Tribe, Al Green and Etta James kind of soul stuff.

That live backed soul / hip hop sound is really popping in Australia at the moment, I saw you brought up Nasty Mars and Wallace in your Like A Version, how did that collab come about?   

We actually actually had WALLACE on our last tour as our main support, and Nasty Mars was one of the opening acts at our show in Melbourne. We were just blown away his performance and when we realised we should get some back up singers for the cover, we just straight away thought of them. 

Are there any other Australian artists in that domain you’re excited about?   

I love Baro, he’s really killing it. I haven’t actually seen Remi live yet but I’m really excited to see him play. There’s so much good stuff coming out though, it’s crazy.

There’s a lot of talk at the moment of a kind of ‘new wave’ of Australian hip hop, is that something you identify with?

I still feel a bit removed from it to be honest, I don’t know if it’s a new wave as such. I think it’s just the credibility of Australian music at the moment is just so high. I try and explain it like, you have America and the UK where most of the biggest people you know of come from, but here it’s just such a great country of chilled people and we are finally getting it out there. I think it really started with Tame Impala, just putting Australia on the map for music. Then we had Hiatus Kaiyote coming through who are just straight fire. Australia brother!

I heard Sir Elton John played your music on his Beats 1 radio show, that’s pretty crazy, how does it feel to have your music recognised on that level?
Yeah best thing going about my life [laughs]. Everyone wants to know how it happened, I don’t even know, I think Zane Lowe had played it on his show first. I don’t know if it was him or Elton’s producer but he seems to like it. 

You’ve got your biggest tour yet coming up, but you’ve already been playing a few big shows around, Splendour and BIGSOUND, these performances were well documented by your cover of Kendrick’s Humble. Can we expect any more surprises like this at your next shows?

Yeah we’ve definitely got some new covers brother, there’s also some new songs from the album which haven’t played live yet.

Watch out for Sponge Cake released Friday the 29th of September. 

You can find full tour details and tickets here

Photo by Dani Hansen / Happy Mag