This week's Digging Deeper comes from across the globe, with Melbourne's College of Knowledge Records, co-founded by Lachlan Stuckey and Jethro Curtin.
Heather from Mr Bongo was lucky enough to stumble across College of Knowledge when visiting Melbourne in June 2018, thanks to a tip from Shio at Plug Seven Records. Carrying around a record on her travels, she brought it back to Bongo HQ. It was the debut 7” from Melbourne’s Surprise Chef ‘Stuart Little's Car / D.A. Stab Wound’. Since then College of Knowledge records has released more killer 7”s from Karate Boogaloo, Surprise Chef and the Pro-Teens, a very promising start for a new record label in such a short space of time. We had the opportunity to speak to Stuckey ahead of the release of 'All News Is Good News' from Surprise Chef.
Tell us more about your initial ideas for College Of Knowledge - what drove the first release?
We started Surprise Chef at the end of 2017 and recorded our first 45 (Stuart Little’s Car / D.A. Stab Wound) in an attic in Collingwood around the same time. We started College Of Knowledge Records to release that record and later decided to use the label to support a handful of other projects that we felt were making killer stuff, like Karate Boogaloo and The Pro-Teens. We intended College Of Knowledge to be the vessel for the kind of left-field, crusty instrumental soul that we weren’t hearing a lot of in Melbourne.
What navigated the label toward vinyl releases?
Digging and DJing are big parts of our lives and the way we experience and share music. It’s an obvious continuation of the cycle for us to be making records that sit in the racks in the stores that we dig in, ready to be discovered by more nerds like us.
The split 7” of Surprise Chef and Karate Boogaloo really caught the attention of the Bongo audience. Is there a link between the two artists?
Karate Boogaloo has long been one of our favourite bands in Melbourne, but beyond that, they approach music with a mentality that we identify with. Their music is clearly rooted in deep funk, library music, and soundtracks, but doesn't lean awkwardly on the tropes of revivalist music. We see eye to eye when it comes to making music, so we’ve naturally collaborated extensively over the years - Henry Jenkins (KB bass player) has engineered every Surprise Chef recording to date, Hudson Whitlock (KB drummer) plays percussion and vibraphone on the album as well as joining us live, and Cal Riley (KB keys player) co-designed the All News Is Good News artwork.
I’d noticed lots of tape machines and analogue gear in the photos of the label - do you have much of a hand in the recording and production of the songs you release?
All News Is Good News was made in our studio, in the upstairs room of the house that we rent in the leafy inner-northern suburb of Coburg. We write and rehearse in there and are always recording demos. All of the music we record is tracked live to tape, simply because so many of the records we love most were made that way. When we record music to release, Henry Jenkins from Karate Boogaloo is always steering the ship; he brings a perspective and energy to our music that is absolutely crucial to how we make our records.
Here in the UK, we’re very aware of the consistency of incredible artists coming from Australia, particularly Melbourne. What is it about this environment that fosters such a unique space for upcoming artists and labels?
We’re lucky to live in a city that has an abundance of structures that support music and creativity; venues, festivals, independent promoters, parties, club nights and record stores are in no short supply. There are so many small communities and collectives that overlap, and the musicians and heads around us are constantly supporting each other’s projects. Stores like Northside Records, Plug Seven, Wax Museum and Rocksteady Records have built devoted customer bases and are instrumental in supporting independent labels like us and getting our music to the people we want to reach.
We’re very much looking forward to a listen of the debut Surprise Chef LP. What can we expect from the group?
This record is the first full-length album we recorded as a band. We wanted to explore the kind of cinematic soul sounds we love, without trying to directly replicate those records too closely. It’s drenched in Axelrod and Truth & Soul, but it’s got its own thing. It sounds like the Route #1 tram, A1 Bakery, and the Merri Creek.
For those of our audience that haven’t heard anything from Surprise Chef as of yet, can you name some albums by other artists that helped shape the 'All News Is Good News’ record?
A major influence is David Axelrod’s Song of Innocence, Songs of Experience and Earth Rot albums. The arrangement, production, playing and composition on those records permeate through All News Is Good News very strongly. We’re also big fans of The El Michels Affair and The Menahan Street Band, and all the productions that Leon Michels and Thomas Brenneck have been apart of over the past 15-odd years (The Fabulous Three, The Olympians, The Budos Band, etc). The Putbacks from Melbourne are also an integral influence for us – they’ve been making heavy, interesting, genuine soul music for over a decade, and have been a point of reference for what proper instrumental funk should sound like since long before we started Surprise Chef. Hopestreet Recordings have been a big inspiration too; they’ve produced so many great soul records that we’ve loved over the years.
What’s in store for the future of College of Knowledge?
We’ve recorded a heap of new stuff in our studio – there’s another Surprise Chef album that’s finished and an incredible record by The Pro-Teens that we tracked last weekend. 2020 will also see the release of Karate Boogaloo’s long-awaited Carn The Boogers LP. We’ll also keep on DJing lots and putting on gigs and parties.
Thanks to Jethro and Stuckey for taking the time to talk to us.
Buy the 'All News Is Good News' LP here.