With their latest single Be About You blazing a trail through the airwaves all over the world and new shizz in the works, we caught up with all six Surfshirts bar one (Mi-K, who was in London). Read on as we chat gear, nicknames and new chapters with Bustlip, The Bone, Bik Julio, Dool and Winston.
What do Winston and the lads get up to when they’re not Surfshirts? We dive into the past, present and future of Sydney’s relaxed hip hop gurus.
HAPPY: First things first, I have no fucking idea how I’m going to transcribe this. There’s just a shit load of you, but we’ll try to figure it out along the way. This one’s for everyone; firstly, what do you do when you’re not being Winston Surfshirt and secondly, tell me about the names. Bustlip?
BUSTLIP: I sell wine in the day for people who love me. My name came from a solo beats thing that I do, which came from a day a good friend of mine came into the car, said “Man I got a bust lip” and I thought, “that’ll do”.
HAPPY: The Bone?
THE BONE: Pretty straightforward. I play the trombone, not as exciting a story as Bustlip. And in the day I’m a postman, delivering that mail.
HAPPY: Nice. Bik Julio?
BIK JULIO: I’m a carpenter. The Bik Julio came from a personal joke between my mum and I, Bik Julio was this DJ who used to play at the Cauldron or some shit back in the 80s, in the Cross. His name was Julio, and the would say “well Bik fucking Julio” cause he was a tool. That’s it.
WINSTON: Wait what was with that guy in Manly? We used to yell “Bik Julio” and he would turn around.
BIK JULIO: Oh there was this other tool, this guy who always wore a leather vest or something. He looked ridiculous.
WINSTON: He looked heaps French or something.
BIK JULIO: We envisioned him as the face of Bik Julio because he looked so ridiculous.
WINSTON: He turned around every time we said it!
BIK JULIO: I think he got really aggressive towards you once… but yeah. Personal joke with my mum.
HAPPY: Too easy. Dool?
DOOL: I’m an architectural model maker during the day, I make small buildings, props…
HAPPY: For movies, TV…?
DOOL: Yeah. 3D printing, that sort of thing.
WINSTON: He makes all of our stuff, you know those light boxes? He made them. He makes a bunch of shit for us.
HAPPY: Every band seems to have one super useful member like a graphic designer or booker, or something.
WINSTON: Yeah! Nah it’s crazy, he’s got everything.
BIK JULIO: He made my bass.
HAPPY: The entire thing?
BIK JULIO: Yeah, the bass I play.
WINSTON: So Dool was basically a DJ until about about a year ago when he started learning keys so he could play with us.
DOOL: Yeah only for about six months. Anyway, where did Dool come from? There was this guy I worked with… long story short he came back with this really shitty haircut and I nicknamed him Sam Dool. All of a sudden that shortened to Dool, then we were all calling each other Dool, and then all of a sudden I got stuck with Dool somehow.
HAPPY: That’s the way nicknames work huh?
WINSTON: That’s too funny, I didn’t know that.
THE BONE: I thought it was slang for penis.
DOOL: It is. Persian.
HAPPY: With all these names I was sure one had to be a dick nickname. Surprised that it wasn’t The Bone.
THE BONE: (laughs) I wasn’t going to say anything on tape.
WINSTON: And then Mi-K, his last name is McAllister.
HAPPY: How about Surfshirt?
WINSTON: I actually don’t know. Winston is John Lennon’s middle name and there was some footage I saw ages ago of him in a Rolling Stones movie where he introduces himself as Winston Leg-Thigh, I think that’s where it came from, putting two words together. Maybe.
HAPPY: Now given that there are six of you, and this comes across in your music, you do draw from a ton of different influences. Are any of you into some kind of super left-field genres?
WINSTON: Everyone’s into different shit.
BUSTLIP: I used to play in a hardcore punk band.
WINSTON: You know Chicks Who Love Guns?
WINSTON: Yeah he played guitar in Chicks Who Love Guns.
THE BONE: I’ve played in a whole different bunch of genres, being a horn player. Jazz, swing, big band sort of stuff.
HAPPY: Sick. Now, how did the single launch go?
WINSTON: It was really good.
HAPPY: Was that the first time you’d played Be About You live?
WINSTON: Nah, we’ve actually had that song for about two years.
THE BONE: It’s nice that it’s out though.
WINSTON: So yeah, first time we’ve played it since it’s been out.
DOOL: First time we heard people singing back.
HAPPY: Did seeing the audience’s reaction for those two years kind of inform the choice to make it the single?
BIK JULIO: (To Winston) You always knew, though.
THE BONE: I think before we even played it to anyone, we were all really happy with it.
WINSTON: We used to play every Sunday in Manly as the four or five of us, and we started playing that song the day after having the bones of it. It took us a while to get the choruses and shit, but it was definitely in the reactions that it kind of came through.
HAPPY: You’re sitting on a bit of new material at the moment, are there any other songs from old shows that will make it into the next release?
HAPPY: So some die hard fans will know them.
WINSTON: If there are any. We’ll find out.
HAPPY: Now I want to ask about the gear you play on, because I feel like that’s something hip hop bands don’t get asked about often enough. I saw you have some cool shit in the new video, and you have your 3D printed stuff. Dool, the keyboard was a Korg R3?
DOOL: It was.
HAPPY: Yeah nice! I never see them, I think Harts plays one but that’s it.
DOOL: I know Toro Y Moi plays one.
WINSTON: What’s that other thing you just added?
DOOL: A Roland JX-03, which is like a sound module that was created from a Roland JX-3P, one of the boutique series from Roland’s new range. I’ve added that to the system.
WINSTON: The R3’s good, though.
DOOL: Yeah love it. It’s got some good sounds on it. It’s loyal. We actually have two of them. They stopped making them, so I had to track the second one down.
HAPPY: Yeah I love them. How about anyone else? Bustlip, you do the beats, what are you operating on at the moment?
BUSTLIP: I use an SP-404SX which I run through a KS2, which is basically like a MIDI Kaoss Pad. Like a fun, pocket sized Kaoss Pad. Basic effects and things like that. Then I’m going to invest in an (Akai) MPC Live, which will be what I use from here on out.
HAPPY: Anyone else looking to upgrade?
BIK JULIO: Homemade bass, I’m good.
DOOL: Add more strings!
BIK JULIO: Mhm. Six string bass.
THE BONE: I run the trombone through a couple of pedals, I’ve got a TC Helicon, and a Sub ‘N’ Up, it’s an octave pedal.
HAPPY: Is there a place, within all this, that you find yourself going to start a track?
WINSTON: It’s just different every time. Keyboards? Maybe… no it’s different every time. Beats…
DOOL: Keyboards are pretty big.
WINSTON: Yeah keyboards are really important in just finding the right groove.
BIK JULIO: We’ll fuck around until we find something that works.
HAPPY: Lately, with the release of Be About You, I feel like your visual and sonic aesthetic changed from this DIY surfie vibe to something that’s much more refined –
WINSTON: Well we’ve always been the same. I guess… before that song we’d never released something so… clean?
HAPPY: Did working with Astral People and Sweat It Out! factor in there?
WINSTON: To get it to the point that it is now, for sure. But we gave them that song in, like, January last year.
DOOL: The more refined sound also comes from us coming together, and having the instruments now to play this shit.
WINSTON: Be About You, because we played in Manly, and around Sydney so frequently, it just helped us evolve a bit. Even back from when I was just playing acoustic guitar, it all helped us evolve.
THE BONE: The shows in Manly were kind of just open rehearsals. Everyone in there would be packed in and be just blind, and then we were able to work on stuff live rather than having a rehearsal every week. That was a bonus.
WINSTON: For me, being able to survive off playing gigs was important.
HAPPY: Wait a weekly gig was enough?
WINSTON: I used to play four or five times each week. Being able to be at home and do my thing, that helped.
HAPPY: The Manly thing, I’ve only been to Manly for gigs a couple of times sadly but it seems like this really cool, self-contained place.
BUSTLIP: There is a scene there, no matter how big it is. You see people you’ve come across playing before.
HAPPY: The same few bands do seem to filter through there, week in week out.
WINSTON: That’s the only problem.
BIK JULIO: Yeah everyone knows each other. It’s such a tiny fucking community.
HAPPY: You seem bitter.
BIK JULIO: (laughs) I just like to swear a lot. It’s a small area, but it works.
HAPPY: Back to the aesthetic, I’ve noticed it’s become pretty hard to find some old Winston Surfshirt tracks online. Which I like, it gives them that ‘rare’ feel.
WINSTON: We get messages every day about them. We just took them down because some of them had samples and we didn’t want to get sued. We took them down to clean shit up but some of them are coming back up.
HAPPY: It wasn’t to start a new page or anything like that?
WINSTON: Nah. Some of them are coming back out. Buuut then again, I don’t think Be About You would have done so well if we had backup music and it wasn’t as professional. You know what I mean? Just having that one song out, you don’t have anything to compare it to. That’s the only thing they can like! They can’t listen to our other songs and go “that’s shit”.
HAPPY: And that’s going to be the goal with anything else you release in future? That refined feel?
DOOL: I don’t know, it feels like a fresh start.
BUSTLIP: For us, we’ve been doing this so long, it’s nice having a clean slate. A new sound I guess.
BIK JULIO: Everything we’ve got coming out now works so well with Be About You, it’s what we’ve become as a full band.
HAPPY: Sounds amazing.
THE BONE: It’s a new chapter.
BIK JULIO: (laughs) The sequel.
This interview was included in Happy Mag Issue 5. Grab your copy here.