Surahn Wanted to Fly Art
Surahn Wanted to Fly Art

First Look Friday: Surahn Takes A Groovy Space Trip On "Wanted To Fly" [Video Premiere]

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

From the sunny southern shores of Australia comes Surahn, a songwriter whose budding talents harken back to the silky-smooth rock of those good old hazy years: 1976-1984. Now situated in New York, Surahn counts Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Tame Impala, Frank Ocean and Sade amongst his influences, and the music he's making is somehow a perfect amalgam of them all: fulsome mid-tempo grooves that breathe a carefree warmth into everything they touch. Intricate yet easy, detailed but by no means difficult, Surahn's music is a breath of fresh air at a time when basement productions are feeling more boxed-in than ever. It's less "yacht rock" perhaps, than "solar ark." But as we discovered (read below), if Surahn's songs have an oceanic feel, it may be because they were written with a floating studio in mind.

Now, Surahn has readied a new music video for his latest single "Wanted to Fly," and Okayplayer has the express pleasure of presenting the clip's world premiere. Fueled by rat-a-tat keys and a muscular, roving bassline, the song is a kind of kaleidoscopic dream, and the new visuals are a perfect match. We took a little time to get to know Surahn, and learned all about his vintage guitars, his collaborations with Usher and Kimbra and his upcoming Into the Distance LP, which is due out in early 2016.

Okayplayer: Who is Surahn? Please introduce yourself to the people of earth--what are your government name(s)? where did you grow up? Zodiac sign, favorite ice cream, first pet?

Surahn: I am Surahn. I come in peace. The name Surahn is a play on a Punjabi word meaning "light from the sun." I grew up in South Australia, in a city called Adelaide and spent lots of time in the country amongst vineyards or coastal wheat crops. I've spent the last 10 years travelling the planet, often doing laps of it at warp speed. I have had my own toothbrush in NYC for about 7 years now. I reside in The Coorong, in a small beach house I built a couple of years ago. It's a remote protected coastal dune system where the ancient Murray River meets the Sea. Teeming with life and power. My favorite ice cream is honey and I'm a Libran. My first pet was a duck and it won first prize in a local fair.

Okayplayer: Your sound definitely seems to be coming from another era, another mindset, another…latitude. What inspires your work, and who are some artists or groups you take cues from?

SN: I was lucky enough to be played Thriller at the age of 4. I remember it clear as day. I pressed play on my brother's walkman and the first snares of "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" came in. I squeezed the orange foam headphone buds into my ear holes and closed my eyes. I feel like that moment had a profound effect me. I think I made the choice then to become a musician. I spent the rest of my childhood, teens and young adulthood learning instruments and contemplating production. I built a listening chair in my bedroom when I was about 13 and placed the old hi-fi speakers on bedside tables at head height so I could listen to Aja, Dark Side Of The Moon, Thrust, Crime Of The Century and loads of classic albums in detail. Studying panning, synth tones, drum sounds, vocal tracking etc.

It was a pretty wild time in my room back then! As time went on I realised that what informs me as an artist is actually life itself, not just the music I have used as a blanket my whole life. I find taking time out to interact with the people I love and the world around me makes me pay far greater attention to true harmony. I believe the universe has an infinite amount of inspiration in the harmony it shows us every day, so writer's block is not something I really get down with. Musically I take cues from classic soft rock and soul like Steely Dan, MJ, Roy Ayers, Marvin Gaye, Fleetwood Mac and more modern guys like Sade, Tame Impala, Frank Ocean and Toro Y Moi.

I grew up in clubs and was exposed to loads of NYC and Detroit house and disco. Nicky Siano signed the inside of my pencil case when I snuck into a club in high school. That whole Moodyman, Theo Parish, Arthur Russell, KONK club fusion sound speaks to me in volumes too. Literally I was slow to finish books as a kid, but it was Herman Hesse and Oscar Wilde that made my mind pop with words. I love commentary on interaction and observation of the heart and mind as one.

Okayplayer: It’s refreshing to hear so many live, acoustic instruments on your track at a time when bedroom-produced tracks chock full of beats and synths have become quotidian. Describe your typical songwriting and recording process for us? How’d you get your guitar lines to time travel here from 1976?

>>>Click Thru to Watch "Wanted To Fly" Video Premiere On Pg. 2

S: Thanks! I play a 1976 Les Paul Black Beauty of course! "Wanted To Fly" was recorded at James Murphy's studio in the west village in NYC. I had rented the place for a few days and I was sleeping in there (without permission) trying to get the most out of my time. The label boss Jon Galkin came in at 10am and I was busted in my underwear hunched over the console. I nervously laughed and told him I will write him something and finish it by the end of the day. It just came out really easily once I put that pressure on myself and he came back down when he left that night to listen to the complete version of "Wanted To Fly" you hear today. My process is usually the music first. Guitar or key chord structures and topline melody. These things can come out in monumental loads when there's amazing drums coming out of the speakers. If I have a great drum machine on, or am listening back to a break or some drums I've recorded and it's that crispy 1982 deep dish snare and west coast cleanliness on the drum front, I feel like I could write an infinite amount of songs to those drums. Then lyrically I often spend months re-working story. I have an incredible collaborator I work with too who happens to be my lawyer and my Guardian Angel. He is a lawyer by day and songwriter by night. I wrote "Guilty" with him. I find working with people really refreshing because so much of the crafting alone and coming out of solace brings its own sense of renewal in the song writing process.

Okayplayer: If your guitar amp was also an actual time machine, what time and place would you visit?...

S: That's a tough one. Sitting with Harrison and Shankar's sitar lesson on the cliff in '68, Seeing Ritchie Havens in '69 at Woodstock sing "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child" ...both would be a DNA changer. Stevie and Marley in the early 70's live for sure along with a quick stop in to hear Quincy play back Thriller for for the first time after demo mixes in 82. Thank God for the internet, I can astral travel every morning on Youtube.

Okayplayer: Do you own a boat?

S: That's a great question. I have been planning a Utopian State House Boat Studio project for around 4 years. We built a beach house in the middle of that so it's been postponed. In the meantime I have to settle for Kayaking. The floating studio dream will be realised in the near future and I look forward to broadcasting a live stream to Okayplayer from the banks of the River Murray.

Okayplayer: Australia’s contemporary r&b scene is thriving and--along with New Zealand--providing a steady crop of exports. What is it about the antipodes that breathes life into so many grooves?

S: We have a really unique blend of EU/UK and US music culture in Australia. Everybody has grown up with music coming from both sides of the Atlantic and I think that's playing out in that new sound. Future Classic is a leader in taking this new Aussie r&b sound to the people, and I think it's really interesting to see just how minimal things can get. I love it personally and we have approached the Interpretations companion remix LP in that vein. Basically, we are sampling the new Surahn LP to create some minimal r&b remixes which will be coming out early next year alongside the original release.

Okayplayer: Can you tell us a bit about your collaboration with Kimbra?

S: She is a legend. Kimbra reached out to me on twitter in the middle of one of her tours years ago and we got along like a house on fire. We started sending each other sketches almost immediately and then while she was tracking in LA I would often go up to the studio and just hang, eat and talk music with her. We wrote a bunch of material for her record and I have a duet with her slated for next year that is a wild 90's r&b jam. She is a powerful human with lots and lots of energy to share with the world. Working with her is always fun and exciting.

Okayplayer: How about your Usher credits—what role did you play, and what did you learn from working on such a high-profile project?

S: When I first played Coachella with Empire Of The Sun there were a bunch of heavy hitters standing side of stage watching the show. I remember looking over and thinking WTF. [Paul] McCartney, De Vito, Katy Perry, Usher loads of people. Then after the show Usher came back stage to meet us. We clicked straight away and swapped details. The next day Luke Steele and I sent Usher a track we had been working on together. It was a bed that I had written back home on my SP12 and Roland GR synth guitar for all the sounds. Pretty bare. Then Luke and I wrote the topline together in his NZ studio. So this track ends up being sent to Usher - I said to Usher, "So there's no second verse at the moment and all I can hear is you." It ended up that he was in the studio when the email came through and they listened to it straight away. As a consequence an invitation to join him for 10 days in Atlanta came through and we started our friendship. He is a great man and I learn so much from from him anytime we hang out. His whole team in particular his MD Johnny Natural Najera and Engineer Mark Exit Goodchild have remained close and helped me work through my entire LP, mixing and offering production assistance. Someone like Usher who is an incredible artist doesn't just become incredible without humility and grace. He is a true star and the people around him are the very best kind of humans.

OKP: Will future releases be available on 8-track? Laser disc? some other format from the future we have not discovered yet?

S: Some of the record was recorded to cassette and there is a vinyl LP coming for the album next year. Nothing beats putting the needle on the record for the first time.

Maybe one day it will be shot into outer space on the next Voyager Gold Record!

Okayplayer: What's on the near horizon for Surahn (tours, videos, more studio etc.)? What's on the far horizon?

S: The horizon is shimmering with the glows of summer in the southern hemisphere. So that means festivals, shows and enjoying creativity in the sun. I'm working on releasing our first batch of Gin next year also which is exciting for Utopian State. The idea is that in between records I will do a small batch of artisanal spirits with my good friend and wine journalist Nick Stock. Music and life blending!

Surahn Tour Dates:

ADELAIDE - Nexus Series ( Lion Arts )
- 23rd October

MARGARET RIVER - Gourmet Escape Festival ( dj set ) - 20-21st November

McLAREN VALE - Gorgeous Festival ( dj set )
- 28th November

McLAREN VALE - Heres To Now Festival
- 3rd January

BRISBANE - Sea & Beats Festival - 5-8th March

ADELAIDE - WOMAD Festival March 11-14th