Home at the heart of musical journey
Surahn’s musical career started with a Christmas carol performance when he was six, and has seen him become an accomplished writer and performer, working with artists like Usher, Kimbra, and Empire of the Sun.
Yet, Surahn measures his success not by who he has worked with or how much money he makes.
“When did I become a successful musician? I think the moment I started being a musician,” he says.
“It gave me a purpose to wake up in the morning from a very early age, so all those feelings that are associated with success, I felt them at an early age.
“I mean, music makes me incredibly happy, so if you’re measuring success and wealth, I believe happiness, true happiness, is wealth.
“And obviously I’ve been able to make money from touring and writing records for people and doing all that, but I really don’t measure my success with my bank balance – I think that’s a little futile.”
Having spent his career working with other artists and releasing music under aliases, Surahn is now releasing a solo debut record.
“Into the Distance is about the space between people, so it’s a voyeuristic commentary on what goes on between strangers, lovers, family,” he says.
“It’s a lot of things that don’t get spoken about, but if one chooses to observe, there’s a lot of stuff that goes on between people.
“But I didn’t actually realise it was about that until I started sequencing the record. I was just sort of writing songs for a couple of years and didn’t realise.”
The EP gives Surahn a unique – for him – opportunity to express his own style.
“My personal music is like a vintage cover, that when you get inside of, you, that first smell that hits you is just nostalgia,” he says.
“It goes fast, it’s able to go slow. It might be a little worn out inside, but it has all those hallmark, those classic hallmark sensibilities.
“My music is luxurious. It’s an opportunity to write songs that I would want to listen to, and I don’t have any commercial expectations placed on me. I don’t have to go out and write hits, so it’s very expressive and personal.”
As for the influences behind his music, Surahn attributes this more to his lifestyle and environment than to musical sources.
“Obviously you use music as an influence, but, as an adult, my influences are life,” he says.
“In order to make great art, I have to have a life, and I can’t lock myself in a studio for years or months on end and expect myself to write great music. I have to go and, you know, fish and walk the beaches and spend time with my family and things in order to write great art, I have to have that balance.
“I mean, being an artist can be an incredibly selfish pursuit, and if we submerse ourselves in a bucket of water 24/7, then we wouldn’t have any air to breathe.”
And so, having spent the past ten years on the road, the artist has returned home to South Australia, and found home in the Coorong.
“I’ve really made an effort to come home and live in a place that has a lot of sort of natural power, it gives me a creative edge I think. I live on one of the greatest coast lines in the world with some of the cleanest air in the world,” Surahn says.
“For me, it’s a very fertile land and I’ve always thought, in order to be a great artist, you need to live in a fertile place. If it ends up unhospitable, then it makes life incredibly difficult for you to pursue an art.
“Being a student of harmony, I guess I’ve developed a penchant for harmony outside of music as well.”
As for South Australia as a musical base, Surahn believes it is “one of the most fertile art hubs in the world” and sees a renewed confidence in the state.
“When I was a kid here, there was a lot of South Australian confidence, and we believed we had a rich history, being free settlers in the utopian state, and we’ve always made an effort to engage with indigenous cultures here,” he says.
“We have been progressive – we had a very progressive Premier, Don Dunstan, and we’ve had some incredible figures here.
“And then, ever since we lost the Grand Prix, a sort of doubt set in, but I feel like over the last like six years there’s been a real re-emergence of confidence and belief in what we can do here, and that’s across all sectors.
Surahn’s musical future looks bright, as he continues to work with Australian duo Flight Facilities, and with performances planned internationally and in Australia, including his first performance at WOMADelaide.
“It’s my favourite festival in the world, and I’m not just saying that because I’m South Australian,” he says of Adelaide’s annual world music and dance festival.
“You know I’ve performed at every major festival on the planet, from Glastonbury to Coachella, and I think WOMAD is the greatest balanced energy, vibe happening place, in a beautiful site, with lots of different demographics, people, and I’ve attended it many, many times. It’s a genuine privilege and a pleasure, and I’m excited to be performing there.”
But aside from his personal musical pursuits, Surahn is making an effort to “re-engage” with the community in which he grew up, and from where he draws his inspiration.
“For instance, I’ve been helping set up a studio in the city, I’ve been talking to local artists and involving local artists in performances coming up at WOMAD. You know, just looking at ways I can be more engaged,” he says.
“Because I grew up spending a lot of time here and being active in the music community here in Adelaide, and I haven’t had an opportunity to do it because I’ve had to spend so much time abroad.
“And so now I’m hoping to share all the things I’ve learnt and the energy that I’ve acquired.”
His advice for people wanting to get into the music industry is simple:
“My advice would be to not give up. You know, as cliché as that is,” he says.
“Most musicians end up taking jobs as baristas because it’s too difficult. To live and breathe music takes a lot of courage, and the hardest part about having a band is keeping it together.
“So, I think if people just keep at it, there’s a lot to be said for that, and it requires a lot of courage, and so my advice to anyone young getting into music would be to keep working and keep working and keep working and not give up, which is easier said than done, but there’s lots of great examples of people following their dreams.”
You can see Surahn perform at WOMADelaide at 2pm, Monday March 14 on the Novatech Stage.