Surprise Chef
Surprise Chef | Credit: Izzie Austin

From Coburg to the World – Surprise Chef Make It Seem Easy on ‘Education & Recreation’

Surprise Chef’s Education & Recreation is Music Feeds’ Album of the Week. Guitarist Lachlan Stuckey talks us through the release and the band’s blossoming profile.

From their HQ in Coburg in Melbourne’s inner north, Surprise Chef have generated a quiet storm in recent years. The band’s unpretentious ’70s funk- and jazz-influenced debut, All News Is Good News, came out amid Melbourne’s 2020 winter lockdowns. Not to be deterred, the band released their second LP, Daylight Savings, a few months later.

Their third, Education & Recreation, arrives at a more opportune time, and the collective of Lachlan Stuckey (guitar), Jethro Curtin (keys), Carl Lindeberg (bass), Andrew Congues (drums), and Hudson Whitlock (percussion) are taking advantage of their blossoming international profile. Surprise Chef completed their first tour of the UK and Europe in August and just wrapped a run of US shows, including a slot at California’s Desert Daze festival.

They’ll be back on home turf in time for a big Education & Recreation launch party at Coburg Velodrome, with support from Mndsgn, Izy, Karate Boogaloo, Ella Thompson and more. Music Feeds catches up with Stuckey to learn more about the new record and Surprise Chef’s outward growth.

Surprise Chef – ‘Velodrome’

Music Feeds: How does it feel to be taking a project that has been so locally-oriented all over the world?

Lachlan Stuckey: It’s been awesome to see how the music translates overseas, and it’s nice to have Coburg front and centre of it. It’s cool that someone in Glasgow or Cleveland knows about the neighbourhood we live in. The album covers are all photos of places in the inner north of Melbourne/Naarm, places like the Merri Creek and our backyard that are fixtures of our day-to-day lives.

It was an extremely cool experience going to Europe recently and meeting people from all around who’ve connected with the music and have some idea of the place we come from.

MF: The songs on Education & Recreation have an elegance that suggests they just flowed out of you. But there’s also a lot of harmonic complexity and classy musicianship. How would you characterise the songwriting process on this record?

Lachlan: All of our music is very deliberately arranged. Some ideas may come out of jamming in their infancy, but those ideas are always refined and arranged with a pretty high degree of attention to detail. With that said, by now the band all have a sense of their roles within an arrangement and everyone works well at filling the spaces that need to be filled and leaving the ones that should be left open.

Most tunes start with Jethro or myself bringing an idea to rehearsal, where the idea gets developed with the band. After that, we’ll do more work on our own refining the tune and then bring it back in to the band to find an arrangement and form that hits the spot. The process repeats until the tune is done.

MF: Your music sounds vintage, you’re obviously influenced by music from the 1970s and you use some nice old synths. But how specific are your production references?

Lachlan: Henry Jenkins engineers and mixes all of our music and is an integral part of the machine. When we were making the first two albums, All News Is Good News and Daylight Savings, production references were more of an important thing. Henry would come over and we’d listen to David Axelrod records and El Michels Affair and stuff like that to get on the same page about how we felt the records should sound.

By now, though, we’ve worked with Henry so much that he knows the world the music should sit in, and often has better insight on that than we do.

We’re definitely not trying to make a record that attempts to fool the listener into thinking it’s from the ’70s or anything like that, so we’re not trying to replicate production references too closely. Like anyone else, we’re influenced by the stuff we like and those sounds form a kind of pastiche that we draw from, either consciously or unconsciously.

Surprise Chef – ‘Money Music’

MF: There are different compositional challenges faced by instrumental bands compared to artists whose songs are oriented around vocals and lyrics. Do you generally rely on feeling to gauge whether something is working or sounding captivating enough?

Lachlan: We all went to music school, and so much music coming out of those institutions has an emphasis on technicality and chops. None of us are really like that; we aren’t virtuosic improvisers and we don’t try to be. I think we developed a distaste for flashy, busy music in the jazz idiom.

Once I really got into soul music, the idea of rhythm sections working together to build an effective, practical arrangement became way more appealing than showy playing. Everyone in the band is on the same page with that, so we never have to battle to keep the music pared back. We can make interesting music without someone cutting sick on a solo every tune.

MF: You co-founded the local Coburg label College of Knowledge. Tell me about how that operates. 

Lachlan: College Of Knowledge is the label that Jethro and I set up when we made the first Surprise Chef 45. Since then, we’ve released music from other bands we’re close to like Karate Boogaloo, The Pro-Teens and Let Your Hair Down. It’s basically the two of us working out how to put out records and releasing stuff we care about.

MF: Education & Recreation is out on Big Crown Records. Tell me about the relationship with Big Crown what that’s meant to you.

Lachlan: Big Crown have long been a guiding star for us. Funnily enough, it was the first Big Crown release – El Michels Affair, ‘Snakes’ b/w ‘4th Chamber’ – that spurred us on to start Surprise Chef. We’ve always followed Leon Michels’ work with Truth & Soul, the label that preceded Big Crown; all the Lady Wray records, Lee Fields, The Fabulous Three, et cetera.

When they reached out to us about signing with the label, it was really a dream come true. They’re easily the dopest label operating within the values and aesthetics that we hold dear.

Surprise Chef – ‘A1 Bakery Pledge of Allegiance’

MF: Who are some of your favourite acts in Melbourne at the moment? Do you find the local scene a source of inspiration, even as your fortunes blossom elsewhere?

Lachlan: It may sound nepotistic, but my favourite bands are the ones on our College Of Knowledge label. Karate Boogaloo are the best of the best when it comes to soul music in Melbourne, especially on the instrumental tip. They’re my favourite band in the world, no question.

Henry, Hudson and Darvid started a sample library this year called Frollen Music Library. They’re making samples, but it’s secretly the illest music coming out right now. Hudson, Surprise Chef’s percussionist, is a true creative force, he’s always setting the bar higher with the weird and wonderful music he writes for his band The Pro-Teens. Let Your Hair Down is a band we’re really excited about; they’ve got a killer record coming out next year.

Outside of that crew, Emma Donovan & The Putbacks are eternal inspirations. Izy are absolute downright assassins. Immy Owusu has a cool record coming out on Hopestreet Recordings soon. Ella Thompson has amazing music coming out soon. Liam McGorry just made an incredible Italian soundtrack-inspired record that some of us played on that will come out in the future. Harvey Sutherland’s new record is great.

The DJs here are also massive inspirations – Miss Goldie, Sophie McAlister, DJ JNETT, Shio, Woody, John Bailey, Manchild, Lori, Jamie Bennett, Richie 1250, Lloyd Briggs, Chris Gill and all the PBS and RRR DJs enrich everyone’s lives and carry the music community on their backs.

  • Surprise Chef’s Education & Recreation is out now.

Surprise Chef ‘Education & Recreation’ Tour 2022

  • Friday, 28th October – Coorabell Hall, Coorabell, NSW
  • Saturday, 29th October – Thomas Surfboards, Noosa, QLD
  • Sunday, 30th October – Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane, QLD
  • Friday, 4th November – Torquay Hotel, Torquay, VIC
  • Saturday, 5th November – Coburg Velodrome, Melbourne, VIC
  • Friday, 11th November – Tanswells, Beechworth, VIC
  • Thursday, 17th November – The Eastern, Ballarat, VIC
  • Friday, 18th November – Theatre Royale, Castlemaine, VIC
  • Friday, 25th November – Estonian Hall, Adelaide, SA
  • Saturday, 26th November – Freo.Social, Perth, WA
  • Saturday, 3rd December – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney, NSW

Tickets on sale now.

Further Reading

Fanny Lumsden: “I Spill Food on Myself and Run Into the Door – I’m the Chaotic One”

Pei: “I Allowed Myself to Come in Fresh-Faced and Create as an Infant”

Cool Sounds’ Dainis Lacey: “I’m Flexing My Musicianship More”

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