King Stingray are no strangers to the tour life—they’ve been on the road since they were toddlers.
As the offspring (and now current members) of the trailblazing Yothu Yindi group, Yirrŋa Yunupiŋu and Roy Kellaway are following in some pretty serious footsteps, and they’re meeting the challenge with their brand new Yolŋu surf-rock band, King Stingray. Joined by band members Dimathaya Burarrwanga and Campbell Messer, the four-piece out of Yirrkala in North-East Arnhem Land blend ancient Indigenous melodies with surf, indie and funk influences, to create a genre entirely of their own. They’ve just released their infectious debut single, ‘Hey Wanhaka’ and that’s where The Chats come in.
Aussie band The Chats need no introduction, however, you might be interested to know that they’re now moonlighting as music execs—if music execs had mullets and got their start in backyard bong sheds. That’s right, The Chats have their very own Bargain Bin Records, and they were quick to nab King Stingray when their unique brand of Yolŋu surf-rock floated through the airwaves and into the pub-punk band’s ears. Who better to introduce King Stingray to our readers than The Chats frontman, Eamon Sandwith? (We got him to read our weekly newsletter a couple of months back, so we knew he was up to the job). Eamon got King Sting’s Roy Kellaway on the blower and they ran through everything from ice blocks to crocs named Nike. Check it out, below.
So, two of your members are the offspring of Australian music royalty, Yothu Yindi, and in recent years have even joined the band. What’s the main thing you’ve learned growing up in that kind of musical environment?
It’s very humbling, that’s for sure. I guess the main thing we’ve learnt is that anything is possible.
What was it like growing up in your hometown of Yirrkala in North East Arnhem Land, NT?
Man, it’s like paradise. The country is so wild and alive. We had so much fun growing up, it’s ridiculous. The local beach, Shady Beach, was where I’d spend most of my hours. Either there or the oval. The oval was like the centre of the universe, where all the action happened. On weekends we’d often be paddling out to an island just off the local beach; around a half-hour paddle and we’d drop a line out whilst we paddled on our surfboards, pulling in queenies and trevally. The dump was also the place to be, man that dump was good. People have even written songs about that dump and all the good things you could pick up. We will have to take you there one day—it’s a crucial part of the tour. Hopefully, we can dig up some ingredients to make you a souvenir, Yirrkala style.
If I came to visit North East Arnhem Land, what’s the first thing you’d show me or the first thing we’d do?
The dump. Nah, the dump would be second or third on the list. Shady Beach and the world-renowned Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre for sure. The Mulka Art Center is like the hub of all action in Yirrkala, and definitely the number one place to check out in the area. People come from all over the world to see this art centre, its artists are critically acclaimed and you’ll realise why as soon as you see the art. It’s incredible.
When I first met you, I invited you round to my house for a Zooper Dooper. What’s your fave Zooper Dooper flavour and when do you think you will pay me back?
Man! That was a good day. I couldn’t believe my luck when the Zooper Doopers came out, it was pretty surreal. I’ve gotta say I’m a blue bubblegum man… I wish I could say I was braver than that. Although on that occasion, I vividly remember going Cola flavour, which was pleasant. I was very happy with my decision, and the way the sharp plastic bits hit the corners of my mouth gave me flashbacks to half-time at the Arnhem Cluster soccer comp in Alice Springs, circa 2009. In terms of repayment, I’m sure we can work out some sort of instalment plan… Otherwise, I’ve been thinking about new Chats merch and what about a Zooper Dooper cooler, so it’s like a stubby cooler but for your Zooper Dooper. Thoughts? Perhaps we can go into business??
You blend Indigenous melodies with modern surf, indie and funk influences, labelling your style ‘Yolŋu surf rock’. Do you ever find it difficult blending these different styles together, as well as different languages?
To be honest, it happens easier than it might sound. I call Yirrnga ‘wawa’ (which is ‘brother’ in Yolngu Matha) and we are best mates, I guess that’s why we are able to work collaboratively so well. I mean, it can be hard working collaboratively with some people, but for Yirrnga and I, it just happens naturally. We also both really like working collaboratively, and we feel like we really complement each other well. We are creating a genre of our own, Yolngu surf rock, but that wasn’t really planned. It’s just what we do.
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Give us one special talent each member of the band has?
Yirrnga: Rad skills such as standing backflips and many other flip varieties. Yirrnga is king of the kids, basically. He definitely has a knack for captivating children with his impressive array of backflips and various standing flips.
Campbell Messer: Voice impersonations. This bloke can do ‘em all. Also, he does incredible Australian landscape paintings. Also: professional chiller.
Dimathaya Burarrwanga: Fisherman, hunter and chief. The trifecta. In his homeland of Bawaka, you will find Dima cooking up an array of self-caught Yolngu delicacies. It depends on the menu for the day really, it might be catch of the day with a side of stingray balls, crayfish and feeding the local croc whose name is Nike.
Lewis Stiles: Oh man. This guy has too many to list. Just like Cam, he has mad impersonation skills, Jim Carrey features far too much. He is more than capable of making you smile. Is that a skill? Not sure, but we love it and we love Lewzone.
Me, Roy Kellaway: Can cut out an ingrown toenail. When not playing music, I work as a podiatrist and diabetes educator in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healthcare.
Tell us a bit about the evolution of your debut single ‘Hey Wanhaka’—where did the idea come from, and how did the songwriting/recording process evolve?
Well, we wrote this track at my mum and dad’s place in Tintenbar in NSW whilst we were playing shows at the Byron Bay Blues Festival with Yothu Yindi last year. We kinda wrote and recorded it at the same time, to be honest. Started off with a jam and it just grew from there. We recorded it ourselves in our own home studio in the space of a few days, then had our best mate Kris Keogh mix and master it. Nhulunbuy born and bred local Kris has actually been mixing Yirrnga and I’s music since day one, basically. He knows how to polish a turd, as they say. ‘Wanhaka’ in Yolngu Matha means ‘where’ or ‘what’s happening?’ It’s like the Yolngu way for saying ‘yo what’s up?’ In this track, we are sending the word out via the white cockatoo: ‘Yo, what’s everyone up to, what’s going on?’ Yaka Facebook, keeping it old school. It also has an association with finding love in the city and asking that person if they’d like to come back to the community and live there.
One day, I’m pretty sure you will tour with The Chats. What’s your vibe on bad food, sleepless nights, exotic smells and lots of laughs?
Sounds like a Yothu Yindi tour! We’re ready to rock. We’ve been in serious pre-season training leading up to a potential Chats tour one day. Our wawa Malngay Yunupingu (Kevsy) has been training Yirrnga and I up for this very moment. He is certainly a well-seasoned and hardened expert of the aforementioned. I think we’re ready.
When on tour we find it really difficult to resist Boggis’ [The Chats’ drummer] good looks. How do you propose you’d resist him when you tour with us?
That’s a good question. I’m not sure how we can prepare for that to be honest. We haven’t seen or experienced anything like that before. He does look pretty cool, can you include any tips or suggestions in the itinerary for how best to manage such things? My dad Stu has a band in Darwin called Horse Trank, and whenever I have questions in life, their music is usually capable of finding the solution. They are a scungy swamp-surf-rock dad-wave band and they have a song about cool guys like Boggis… I might have to revisit that track in the hopes it will prepare me for such things. A bitta homework might help me prepare but otherwise, we are just gonna have to run the gauntlet and see how we go.
What can we expect from King Stingray in the future?
More music to be released in January next year. Also, a rad animation style film clip is coming out for ‘Hey Wanhaka’ very, very shortly, plus more music and more clips throughout 2021. Very exciting times for King Sting!