Surprise Chef are a charming instrumental jazz-funk band that are making themselves known. The central cog of their very own label College Of Knowledge Records are pushing their alluring cinematic sound beyond Coburg and the Melbourne scene to audiences across the globe. From originally designing the artwork to their own 7-inch vinyls and walking them into stores, ambitions of touring Europe and the UK were inconceivable. Guitarist of Surprise Chef and co-founder of College Of Knowledge Records, Lachlan Stuckey gave his time to T-Rex Musiq to speak about journey of the soul-funk band and the independent label.
Surprise Chef and College Of Knowledge Records are the brainchild of Lachlan Stuckey and Jethro Curtin. The two connected while studying music at university and decided at the end of their studies to focus on instrumental funk. Instead of shopping around for labels to showcase this niche pocket of music, the decision was made early to release the music on their own independent imprint.
“We figured that would give us an opportunity to work on some other projects and be able to unite it under a bit of a banner as a label.”
This ‘banner’ has grown significantly. In the past two years, College Of Knowledge Records have released several pressings for Surprise Chef and Karate Boogaloo, an unconventional funk band that have formed strong ties with both.
“We’ve been big fans of theirs (Karate Boogaloo) for ages,” Stuckey said. “I think they’re one of the only other bands we identify with,” he added.
Balancing running a label and being part of a developing band has its challenges Stuckey admitted. However, whilst many musicians often navigate away from the booking and management, Stuckey is the opposite.
“I’ve been really interested in the industry side of running a band.”
The DIY nature of Stuckey stems through to Surprise Chef’s creative process. The band do all their recordings in their homebuilt studio, making it convenient to put things down when something springs to mind.
“That’s how Surprise Chef works,” Stuckey said. “We like to record a lot and we like to do it kind of quickly.”
The music itself is heavily influenced by a mixture of worldly funk, soul and jazz, particularly in America around the ‘60s and ‘80s. In music culture today, this music radiates heavily into other genres, being sampled in hip-hop and house. Surprise Chef are interested in the initial music that was sampled.
Live, this generates quite the spectacle. Witnessing their most recent performance at Colour Evenings, the energy was created in a unique and charming way. With their cinematic touch, Surprise Chef don’t draw attention to themselves. The band adds a warm feeling to the atmosphere in the settings they find themselves in.
“We really just get up there and do our own thing.” Stuckey said. “We don’t really put too much emphasis on the theatrical, performative part of gigging.”
With no front man to pin the eyes to, onlookers are able to scan through the four-piece, recognising the importance each band members’ contribution. There is a high-octane energy that comes from visually engaging in their live performance as you focus on what they are playing, following every gradual build and trajectory the four take.
Having previously waited an extended period of time to perform between their last two shows, it appears a similar, if not longer, stint lies ahead due to further lockdowns. Taking this pandemic seriously, Stuckey and Surprise Chef are understanding of the current climate we are in.
“If Melbourne needs to go back into lockdown, our ability to play gigs shouldn’t be too much of a consideration,” Stuckey said. “We were just happy to get that gig in before lockdown.”
Life after lockdown looks strong for both Surprise Chef and College Of Knowledge Records with their newfound connections to other markets. British label Mr Bongo have re-pressed Surprise Chef’s All News Is Good News, sharing the debut record amongst their circles in the UK and Europe. Featuring on NTS Radio with other well-known distributors from the area including Rhythm Section, has seen their following expand.
“We’ve definitely seen our audience grow overseas, especially in Europe since we announced the record with Mr Bongo…”
Forced to cancel their Europe tour in October, Stuckey knows that a later date will be rescheduled once the pandemic is controlled: “…there’s a whole bunch of people over there that are sort of aware of what Surprise Chef and College Of Knowledge are doing, and we’re really looking forward to going over there and connecting with that whole crew.”
By the time this overseas tour takes place, it looks as though there will be some new releases to go with it.
“We’ll be putting out a few more projects that are kind of connected to Karate Boogaloo and Surprise Chef, a handful of records from bands that are kind of in that little world that we’re a part of.”
To immerse yourself in the College of Knowledge Records world, follow the links below:
To hear more of Surprise Chef: