Five years ago, after discovering Colin Padalecki’s page on SoundCloud and seeing they had similar music tastes, Forrest Frank messaged him about collaborating. When he found out Padelecki was just 90 minutes away attending school at Texas A&M, he drove from Waco to College Station to meet him in person. “We just quickly started a friendship and then later that turned into a musical merger now known as Surfaces,” Frank says.

The two started making music in their college bedrooms with roommates and friends coming in and out, mics set up in their closets, cords strung across rooms. “We recorded a lot of our second album in our closet on weekends during school,” Padalecki says. Before signing with a label, they made two albums: Surf and Where the Light Is—the latter gained attention on Spotify with tracks landing on popular playlists like “New Music Friday” and “Taste Breakers.” “Sunday Best,” the seventh track on the album, would prove to be their breakout hit, gaining attention on TikTok and garnering millions of streams. It would later climb the charts, go platinum, and be performed on late night talk shows. Since then, the artists released a third full-length album, Horizons, and collaborated on the single “Learn to Fly” with Elton John. We spoke to Padalecki and Frank about how the pandemic has affected their creative process, their Texas music influences, and more.

On how the pandemic has affected their music

Frank: We’ve made all our music from our bedrooms, so we’re still making music kind of at the same rate that we were before, just not doing shows. But we don’t have as many experiences to pull from like we have in the past. There’s just not a whole lot going on now, and who wants to be stuck inside and then hear about someone talking about being stuck inside? 

It’s also affected some releases—like there was one song that was just this giddy, goofy song. And then right when everyone got smacked with all this stuff, it was like, maybe it’s not the time. That song’s just kind of back-burnered. 

Padalecki: It really affected the songwriting in a way. It’s not like we’re running out of ideas or we can’t come up with melodies, it’s just that we like to pull actual human experiences from our past and put them in the songs. But sometimes when you’re not feeling like you’re gathering new ones or you’re not able to reflect, it’s harder to get into that creative space.

On writing Where the Light Is

Frank: Before we started Where the Light Is, we had this two or three day conversation asking what are we here to do? Because obviously this music is impacting people, so what can we do? What legacy can we leave behind musically? And we weren’t forcing it at all—we just knew that we wanted to put out something that was genuinely positive and wasn’t cheesy, just real emotions without neglecting the pain of life.

Padalecki: The start of that album is always memorable for me. I went to Seattle for a week [where Frank had taken a job at the time] and the first two days we were just too in our heads and we just weren’t really feeling it. And then I remember we just needed to go out and get experiences so we started driving around. Forrest’s car broke down so we went on a bike ride around the Seattle Bay Area—I’ll always remember that bike ride. We came back and that’s when we recorded “Shine on Top,” which if you go listen, it’s mostly the story about biking. And that was our first song we recorded on the project. 

On Texas music influences

Frank: Growing up outside of Houston, I listened to a ton of Houston rap. I actually had almost forgotten about it for some time just because I was away, but I was recently listening to some of my old favorites like Bun B, Z-Ro, Trae tha Truth, Devin the Dude—just all these different people—and I realized that although our music isn’t rap, it is kind of similarly drawn from soul music. A lot of Houston rap is flips of really soulful or funk beats. That’s probably been a huge inspiration. 

Padalecki: I grew up on country music in dance halls and classic rock, so George Strait is the dude. When me and Forrest are on tour, he’ll always sing the country classics like “Neon Moon” and he does a perfect country voice and it kind of reminds me of home.

And I remember someone asked us about choruses—it makes sense that me and Forrest are from Texas because with country music, choruses are really prominent. It’s the big hook, and like the real country drawl. And I feel like we put a lot of emphasis on our choruses and making sure every single word and the chorus is really a grabber. 

On working with Elton John

Padalecki: Elton heard “Learn to Fly” and he was extremely into it and he was very passionate about being a part of it. That was always a big thing for us. We don’t want it to be like a business transaction to make artists work with us. So Elton approaching us and wanting to be a part of it from the start was just a beautiful thing. He had ideas for it, but he said, “Look, I’m going to present my ideas and if you want to use them is up to y’all. I have no ego to bring and I just want to be a part of the song and I want to make it better.” Those three sessions just went by and it was so fun. It was definitely an experience that we’ll never forget.

Frank: It was interesting talking from two very different eras of music because we understood the computer first and then instrumentation. Colin likes to sit and jam a little bit, but for me, I personally don’t sit outside and play guitar all day. I know what I know to put it into a computer and then speak the language of the computer. Whereas Elton just had his piano and his voice. And so we kind of spoke from two different worlds and he would explain some terms to us and we had to translate our language back to him. But it worked out great—it was actually really cool to see. It definitely gave me appreciation for just a one instrument mastery. It could just be you and your piano and that’s enough to make music and touch people.

On what they hope to accomplish next

Frank: I think Horizons was definitely looking at what we did well and then really implementing that. Whereas next, we’re just not going to try to do things well. We’re just going to see what happens. We’re just going to make stuff and not really consider too much of what we do well. Because that’s where “Sunday Best” came from—it was just randomness. 

Padalecki: The first three albums kind of felt like a trilogy to me. I don’t know why, but it’s kind of like this progressive trilogy with Horizons as the capstone. And now, I feel like it’s not like we’re going to completely change our sound, but as far as songwriting and the production, we’re just going to experiment and see what happens so we don’t get caught in this bubble and we stay true to ourselves. We want to stay true to what we want to create.