Surahn: Utopian State

From Usher to Empire of the Sun, Surahn has been touring and working with some of music’s big names but now is the time for the Adelaide singer/songwriter to concentrate on his solo career.

Having toured the world many times over with the music festival juggernaut that is Empire of the Sun, Surahn dedicated little time to his solo endeavours. He released an EP through James Murphy’s (LCD Soundsystem) label DFA in 2013 and earlier this year decided to concentrate on solo material after writing with R&B superstar Usher and New Zealand alternative pop chanteuse Kimbra. “There’s never been a full length album,” Surahn says. “In some ways you can look at my involvement with Empire and others as a distraction but it’s been a happy distraction. I did reach a point at the start of the year where I needed to focus on the Surahn material, to complete it, record it and perform it.” With his new single Wanted to Fly available to stream from his debut album, Into the Distance, the summer anthem-in-waiting signals a raft of solo material to come from the Adelaide bassplayer, singer, DJ and songwriter, who now calls the Fleurieu Peninsula home. He plans to release four albums in two years on his new label, Utopian State. Into the Distance is an album that parachutes the best of late 70s and early 80s AM radio (with its grooves, harmonies and soul) into today’s music world. Imagine Shuggie Otis jamming with Lindsey Buckingham on a beach in Bali and you’ve got what this album is about. Surahn decided to concentrate on traditional songwriting for his solo debut LP after performing with disco bands for many years, such as the recently reformed The Swiss and Empire of the Sun. “From releasing the EP in 2013 to now I’ve been writing,” Surahn, who is also a member of Favored Nations with James Curd, says. “I’ve been working with lots of people in-between – doing the Usher sessions or working on Kimbra’s record, working with Empire even – all that stuff has been training in the art of learning how to refine classic song architecture and understanding songs better. I was brought up on disco, which is great because you learn the fundamentals of groove, but over this last three-year period, in particular, there’s been a switch to mastering the art of songwriting.” Surahn has a rich history in Adelaide’s music scene. He was the singer of the hyped band Morals of a Minor and was part of The Swiss when they went from cult local live disco outfit to signing with Modular and almost riding the nu-disco wave to international underground stardom (they had a Belgian top 40 hit with Bubble Bath). Surahn also released intriguing solo disco cuts with his late night pseudonym Sidwho? on imprints such as Future Classic. Of late, Surahn has been touring the world playing bass for Empire of the Sun, one of this country’s biggest musical exports. Into the Distance is a different beast to the other projects he’s been involved with, it’s personal and the touching psychedelic funk and AM soul Surahn delivers is one that it difficult to perfect without sounding twee or, god forbid, cheesy. “That’s predominately what I’ve always listened to [music from the late 70s, early 80s]. It never crossed my mind whether it was going to be cheesy or not. Harmonies to me are one of the greatest reasons to sing, so why wouldn’t you include them in songwriting? To the point where some songs are written around the idea of the harmony.” Once Into the Distance is released, Surahn will put out a remix companion record, a collaboration with DJ and producer Phil Rogers (Oddessa), which Surahn says will allow listeners to digest his vintage sounding songs in a modern way. “I felt more confident once Usher put that song [Say the Words] on the record. I realised, ‘Shit, I can actually write a song and have a crack at this’. I felt confident when the EP came out on DFA but at the same time the splash was on a little puddle, so this time I really want to make a statement with the depth of the songs. “The idea is to release a companion album, a full remix record to be released alongside the LP, which gives a whole other group of people, who are into more electronic music, an opportunity to hear those songs interpreted in a modern way.” SURAHN-LP-press-shot-3 Though the album won’t be released until early next year, Surahn will perform live at Nexus Live on Friday, October 23. “The live shows will be a full eight-piece band, and then early next year the plan is to do an electronic live show, which will have Phil performing with me.” It is his new home in the Coorong that inspired the name for his new label. “Living in the Coorong is a privilege and I’m aware of it every day. I love living in a small community. The Fleurieu Peninsula is super special to my heart and that was the motivation for calling the label Utopian State. I spent my whole life growing up in the McLaren Vale and on the coast, so it made sense to build our family home there [Coorong]. It’s a perfect way to stay grounded when I have to travel to America for other work.” Utopian State won’t just be about music, as Surahn plans to release alcohol through it with wine journalist Nick Stock. “The whole premise of the label is to alternate music releases with booze releases. So I’m going to make some booze. We’ll make some gin next year and the whole idea is to do a record, then make some spirits, and then wine. We’re in R&D phase.” Surahn Nexus Live Friday, October 23  

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