Track x Track: Surprise Chef - Friendship EP

Track x Track: Surprise Chef - Friendship EP

Naarm/Melbourne-based soul & funk instrumental maestros take us through their engrossing new EP track by track ahead of W.A. show

Image credit: Izzie Austin

If musicians could be awarded Michelin stars, Naarm/Melbourne's Surprise Chef would no doubt have three of them. As prolific cooking up new sounds in the studio as they are to taking to live stages around the country and world, the cinematic, jazzy, soul & funk five-piece have just followed up their 2022 album Education & Recreation with their new six track EP, Friendship.

Picking up where Education & Recreation left off, Friendship sees the band take listeners on an aural journey through varying tempos and moods, with an emphasis on emotional compositions and authentic production techniques inspired by the masters of the 70s.

With the band having recently toured the US, Europe and Australia, and with heavy touring plans ahead of them (including a return to W.A. in September for Wave Rock Festival and a headline show, details below), Friendship will "bridge the gap" between now and their next album, set for a 2024 release.

To celebrate the release of Friendship, Surprise Chef guitarist Lachlan Stuckey was kind enough to take us deep into the EP, track by track:

Rosemary Hemphill

The aptly named Rosemary Hemphill wrote many books on the subject of herbs. Her son, Ian ‘Herbie’ Hemphill, himself a herbsman, was a recurring guest on a much-beloved trailblazing Australian cooking show. We gave Herbie Hemphill a nod on our first LP All News Is Good News, and wanted to extend the same respect to his esteemed mother. We wrote Rosemary Hemphill as yet another ode to a guiding star for Surprise Chef, the great David Axelrod. The influence of Axe’s use of space and repetition across his solo trilogy on Capitol Records is ubiquitous in our music, but this particular tune is a distinct nod to his sensibilities. Long live the Heavy Axe.

Friendship

Jethro and I have been seeking out and collecting old keyboards together since we started living together about seven years ago. The Hohner Clavinet was always a big one on the list to track down, and we finally found one in 2020. Friendship was the first tune Jethro wrote on the instrument when we got it. We put it in the live set around the time our audiences at gigs started growing, as the bigger crowds and festival bookings created a sense that we needed some more upbeat moments to contrast the more introspective moods when we played live. It carries some influence from the 70s/early 80s ‘modern soul’ 45s that Jethro and I have a fondness for, like Eddie Fisher’s records on Nentu.

It’s been a staple of our setlists since, and always goes down well with crowds. We named the tune Friendship, imbuing the track with the sense of being an internal rallying cry within the band to stick together and continue treating each other with the care and respect a loving friendship requires. This sense informs the EP overall. Most of the tunes on the EP were recorded for our first LP, Education & Recreation, a title representing the two central tenants of Surprise Chef. Thus, the EP is named after the third tenant of the band: Friendship.

Over The Moon

Over The Moon was initially written as an arrangement of one of our favourite tunes from the Big Crown catalogue; an alternative instrumental to sit underneath the vocals of an incredible singer from the Big Crown family. Locked-in heads may be able to deduce which tune that is from the title ‘Over The Moon’. That version of the track may surface one day, but until then, Over The Moon is represented here as an instrumental.

Talent Stick

Talent Stick, much like Friendship Theme, was written to counter the predominant tones and tempos we employ in our music; we write lots of slow to mid-tempo music, so we wrote Talent Stick to carry a more frantic pace. It features a rare solo from Jethro, who channels the late and very great Ahmad Jamal. We were listening to the Jamal Plays Jamal LP a lot at the time, on which Ahmad plays Rhodes like a slick demon. It’s also an obligatory tip of the cap to Bob James, another truly dangerous man on the Rhodes.

Pash Rash

Pash Rash began as an attempt to doing something a little like Marc Moulin’s great euro jazzfunk group Placebo. Hudson is one of the world’s biggest fans of their records, and those albums have been big references for us since Hudson tipped us to them early on in Surprise Chef’s existence. It’s a lengthy one, and attempts to slide through different musical spaces throughout the piece. It’s nice to stretch out with a long one.

Spiky Boi

Spiky Boi started as kind of a joke… We wrote it when we were recording demos for a collaboration with a rapper that never came to fruition. It sat on the tape machine as an unused idea, way too goofy and off the wall (in my opinion) to be a bona fide Chef tune, but we eventually started playing it live because it’s so fun to play. It’s real off-piste for us; the whole thing is super frenetic and delivered at one dynamic the whole way through. There’s not a lot of subtlety in the arrangement, which is a factor we usually pay really close attention to. It’s also not really anchored in a specific musical influence, rather it’s an expression of us just being goofy and having fun.

We recorded Spiky Boi at the end of a long, long day of recording, whilst in the depths of what we like to call ‘The Bone Zone’. The Bone Zone is a distinct collective headspace you inevitably descend into after being in the studio too long. I personally find that The Bone Zone allows for a certain level of inhibition that comes as a result of being completely delirious. You probably make decisions in The Bone Zone that would otherwise be precluded by rational thought and general creative restraint. It’s a fun place to be.

          - Lachlan Stuckey, Surprise Chef

Surprise Chef EP Digital Artwork

Tour Poster

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