I first meet UC Berkeley sophomore Winter Martin on a bright Saturday afternoon after her band, Cloudsurfing, has wrapped up a set at the Berkeley Trading Post on Sproul Plaza.
Later that night, Cloudsurfing has a gig at Thorsen House, and in less than a week, it will play another show for Humans of Berkeley on May 2. Then, on Monday, it will play at the Bottom of the Hill for its EP release party. Needless to say, Martin has been keeping busy — Cloudsurfing seems to be on track to developing a cult following similar to that of bands Art Nikels or Pistachio. As a result, she and bandmates Abhinav Rai, Varun Tolani, Kush Berry and Oliver Rutherford have been juggling a packed schedule of shows on top of their academic responsibilities.
Given their hard work, however, it’s easy to see why Cloudsurfing’s star is in ascendance — its music is lush and shimmery, with a full and funky sound similar to that of bands like Wild Nothing and Real Estate. In a genre populated by rawer, male voices, Martin stands out as a unique voice with pure, melodic vocals evocative of alternative R&B sensation FKA twigs.
“I’m much more of a Lana Del Rey and Banks and Electronic Youth (fan) — that’s where I gravitate towards, and that’s kind of the way I sing, too,” Martin says. “I’m trying to pursue that kind of music, and (my bandmates are) like, ‘Okay, Winter wants to be melodramatic — now let’s funk it up!’ That’s kind of the thing about the band — everybody gets their own flavor in there. Kush gets his guitar solos and Varun, too, and nobody’s competing over anybody else. Nobody wants to be the star of the song or the band. It’s just mutual.”
Another quality that sets Martin apart as a musician is her vibrant personality, which saturates her music and makes up a key part of Cloudsurfing’s bubbly, dreamy sound. “As an artist … Winter is spontaneous, vivacious, and adventurous,” Martin’s friend and roommate Arany Uthayakumar said in an email to The Daily Californian. “Her colorful personality comes through in her artwork, music, and the way she sees the world.”
Though essential, Martin’s vocals compose only a part of the band, a fact that she acknowledges when she reflects on Cloudsurfing’s origins and the way in which the band came together — naturally, but fortuitously.
“Varun just texted me one day and said, ‘Hey, we have this mutual friend — do you want to be in a band?’ and he brought us all together kind of like in that very unusual way,” Martin says. “And it just kind of worked. I mean, we could have gotten together and not sounded great or not liked each other, but it did (work), and it does! It’s kind of like the honeymoon phase of a marriage. We met, we fell in love.”
Since their fateful meeting, Cloudsurfing’s goal has been to share music with audiences. According to Martin, the band is motivated to reach a large audience in order to spread the positivity of its music.
“We’ve all talked about it, and it’d be amazing for the band to pick up, get real traction,” Martin says. “But it’s not about acquiring fame — it’s just us being able to play to the audience what we feel is good music. It’s like when you tell your friend to listen to this song that you love, and they’re like, ‘Oh my god, this is amazing! I’ve never heard it’ — but showing thousands of people that.”
Personally, Martin also hopes to be able to give back to communities that face barriers of access to the musical world.
“I have this dream where if we were performing on a large stage, I would leave the first two rows — which are usually the most expensive seats, too — open for the local middle school or high schoolers to come for free,” Martin says. “I mean, I grew up in a really low-income neighborhood, and going to concerts and having front-row tickets, that’s not an option. Sure, we can get the nosebleed seats. But getting right up close and personal — that’s something that’s reserved for people that can afford it. And that’s something I would like to give to other people.”
As a welcome break from planning for the future, however, Martin takes time to bask in the present.
“Already, I know that this is the coolest thing I’ve done in college,” Martin says. “Isn’t that weird? Like, I haven’t graduated yet, but in the next two years, there is nothing cooler that can happen except for this. Unless, like, I marry David Bowie or something — like the younger version of him. If ‘Labyrinth’ David Bowie comes back and marries me, that would be cooler than this. But currently, this is the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”
Lindsay Choi writes profiles and the Thursday column on literature. Contact her at [email protected]