Sydney’s Winston Surfshirt have been steadily winning hearts since the release of their debut album Sponge Cake back in 2017, with its lead single ‘Be About You’ racking up a chill 25 million streams on Spotify. The six-piece has played just about every Australian festival under the sun, formed a side project with members of their band and fellow Sydney-siders Polographia, and even count Sir Elton John as one of their biggest fans. Halfway through their national tour to promote their newest disco-funk slapper ‘Make a Move’, we caught up with Winston, the band’s frontman, to chat about their new tune, the band’s origin story, and the age-old question; which Beatle would win in a fight?
Winston, how have you been man? What’s been happening?
Yeah good man, just the tour really. I got back from the UK a couple of weeks ago, I’ve just been getting the set ready and now we’re working on getting the album ready and that sort of thing.
I know you’ve played music for most of your life. What’s one of your earliest musical memories?
I remember my parents having Frank Sinatra playing every time they had a drinking session, which was pretty much every weekend. Every time they’d have people over, there’d just be Frank Sinatra banging on the speakers. I knew all the words.
That’s our parents’ generation’s party music.
I know! It’s either disco or like, straight to Frank. Depends on how drunk people are. It’s like Frank, then disco and then back to Frank when you’re overly drunk and want to have a sing or something. That’s probably my earliest memory though.
I know Winston Surfshirt had humble beginnings. Can you tell us a bit about the band’s first couple of years??
It was just me with an acoustic guitar for about four years, then Mi-K [the bass player] would come and play with me from time to time. His mates opened up a bar called Elbow Room and they wanted a band so we decided to get Bustlip [a producer] and have a jam with him. That’s literally where it stemmed from, then it just grew and grew, [and] more people joined.
It was like long sets too, every week right?
Yeah every Sunday night, it was three hours. We’d do like 45 and have a 15 minute break, smoke a spliff and whatever. It was like 60-70% covers at that point, with a bit of our own stuff.
I remember coming down to see you back then, it was loose. People on tables. Everyone was drinking black sambuca. Is that still your drink of choice?
It is! I mainly drink it for my throat, I used to drink lemon and honey tea and all that shit. I’m not really a singer, I can’t sing for shit.
In that you aren’t trained?
Yeah, you know what I mean. I get by. But yeah, someone told me liquorice is good for your throat so I started trying sambuca on stage. It’s literally to the point now where I could have an asthma attack and a swig of sambuca will sort me out. It kind of coats the throat. Nobody really likes it at first but after you have it at every gig, even all the boys seem to love it.
It’s on the rider huh?
100%. And if it’s not, we’ll go find some.
Can you tell me about your new track ‘Make A Move?’
So it started probably last September now, when we were doing the Listen Out tour with my other band Poloshirt. We were just trying a lot around that time, messing about on planes on iPads and stuff. Something about the slap bass and the disco-ey vibe just reminded me of that George Michael song ‘Fastlove’ and a bit of Jamiroquai.
You mention writing on planes and iPads and whatnot. As the band has grown, have you needed to adapt the writing process to suit your schedules?
It’s still vaguely similar. To be fair, one of the other tracks was written on Bustlip’s MPC. It’s like battery powered when you need it too, and he wrote this beat on a train in Europe, I think it was Paris to Amsterdam and it just instantly hit, you know?
Across both your bands Winston Surfshirt and then Poloshirt, you’ve always championed upcoming local artists like Nasty Mars or Price J. I wanted to know if there’s anyone on your radar or on the new project?
There’s zero on the project at the minute! But there’s always people on my radar, I love Genesis Owusu from Canberra. In the UK, I worked with a few people too. I worked with a guy called Kofi Stone who is bangin’.
I want to ask you about Elton John. I know he’s a fan of yours, and you got to meet him when he was in Australia last right?
So yeah, he’d invited us and our management down to meet him. He invited another artist named Ruel, do you know him? He’s like 17 or something, really good songwriter. Anyway, we went down to the Park Hyatt to meet Elton. He had candles burning, it smelled amazing. He came out to say hello to us and we just sat on these massive sofas that went all the way around the room. There were about 15 of us and we just sat there and talked about music. He kept making his assistant get his iPad to show us songs and stuff. He surprised us, he really likes Travis Scott, Young Thug, and stuff like that.
Amazing that he’s so in touch with new music too.
Oh man it’s crazy, like who else does that. Young Thug? [Laughs] It was wicked, we gave him a bunch of our records and when we left he invited us back—because he realised he had forgotten to get a photo with us—so we came back like an hour later and he’d asked for two more records. He read all the liner notes on our records and there was a thank you to him in them, because he had supported us on his radio show, so he thanked us for the thank you and he sat there and listened to the whole thing, head banging and shit, it was crazy.
Wow, ok that’s sick. So when you aren’t doing music stuff, what are you doing? [Laughs]
[Laughs] I don’t do much really. I do watch a lot of football. A lot of football. I’m sort of used to the time zones now. I wake up pretty early anyway but now I’ll wake up at 5am to watch games that don’t mean anything. I like getting up early and going to bed early. Yeah just football and the dog, taking care of that dog, man.
Who are some of your dream collaborators?
Craig David would be amazing. Yeah, we’ll do Craig David and General Levy. Incredible, incredible!
And who is your Mount Rushmore of rap?
Probably [Mf] Doom, Fat Lip, I really like Dilla’s rapping—Jay Dee—and number four would probably be Andre . That’s a good little crew. They’d make some banger music.
Ok, I know you’re a big Beatles guy. Which Beatle would win in a fight?
He’s got cymbals. [Laughs] Probably George, he’s a pretty big guy. Nah, Ringo’s got cymbals.
Ok final question for you, what advice would 2019 Winston give to 2009 Winston?
Nice, do you think you used to stress more back then?
Well, no probably not. In the last 10 years I’ve probably learned to stress more, now I’ve got grey hairs popping through my head. It’s fucking crazy I’m only 28 but they are long greys. I’m going to look like Bob Geldof or something.
Check out Winston Surfshirt’s new track ‘Make a Move’ above and stay updated here.