A decade before Gold Beach, Michael Winningham and Tony Daugherty were students playing together in their first college rock band. A decade before that, they were a couple of 9-year-old kids who lived on the same block in Houston, Texas.
But they completely lost touch during childhood when Daugherty moved away and enrolled in a different school. By the time Winningham was 14 years old, he was playing open mic nights on his own. One of his friends told him he should meet a drummer by the name of Tony and see what happens. Winningham called Tony up and they decided to meet. “We didn’t know who we were talking to,” says Winningham. “So I showed up to his house and it was Tony, from back in the day. And I just thought, ‘Wow. Serendipity.’”
The two teenagers started writing songs together, never really planning a future for their music. They both moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas—Winningham majored in literature, Daugherty in anthropology—and formed their first project, The Glass Family. The band soon ran its course, and it wasn’t until 2011 that Gold Beach was born, relaunching the two friends into the music scene. Gold Beach has since released its debut album, Habibti, and has been playing shows around Texas for the past year. Their music, which Winningham jokingly classifies as neo-soul, falls into no particular genre, really. It’s music that embodies a feeling—traps a feeling, really—and molds it into a song. Their music is soft and powerful, a striking combo of drums, piano and percussion that matches Winningham’s entrancing, sleepy vocals.
While Daugherty works at Dell, Winningham owns Ruby Anne Designs, a build design business which does residential projects in town and focuses on sustainability. When he’s not busy with his day job, he writes music. “I’m not interested in narratives much,” says Winningham. “I really like describing a time and a place, an atmosphere or a feeling. Especially with music, I feel like it can be really difficult to try to muscle a certain narrative into music. I feel like everything should always come with the piece of music that you’re writing.” Winningham admires musicians who do exactly that—add to a song, not force lyrics to fit into the music. He also loves bands and musicians that understand the importance of energy and feeling, and offers Feist as an example: “I just love the way she sings to her music. I can feel it; it’s so physical. It’s not like a tense kind of monotonous thing.”
Winningham speaks with charming passion when he talks about music. He speaks eagerly, jumping from musical reference to musical reference, from Bon Iver to Joan Baez. He has fun building connections between his own work and his influences. “We were writing this new track the other night, and I was just like, ‘This song reminds me of something.’ I finally figured it out: It was ‘State Strooper’ by Bruce Springsteen from Nebraska!” Winningham laughs, charmed by the wonders of music and the mystery of the human brain. “It’s funny where those things from, how long your memory logs stuff. It’s like when you’re in your car, and you’re humming something and you’re like, ‘Did I hear that recently? Was it at the café? Why am I humming this piece of music right now?’ Sometimes you come home, and you think, ‘I really wanna listen to this, why? Why do I need to listen to Cyndi Lauper’s third record right now? I just have to listen to that!’”
Anyone can tell the man loves music, and the man loves writing. He also stresses the importance of performance. “It’s an opportunity to really communicate what your songs are doing,” he says. “People watching you connect to what you’re writing, even the slightest body movement and nuances in your music give people a good idea of what you’re writing and what you’re trying to express.”
After living in Austin for so long, Winningham knows a bit about live shows and the connection they can form between a band and its audience. He also knows the city’s music scene pretty well. It’s something he loves about the city, something he feels connected to and something he missed in the transition time between The Glass Family and Gold Beach. His most memorable show was in fact Gold Beach’s first, at The Mohawk, the first time he performed on stage after almost four years. To him it marks the moment when he felt welcomed back into the city’s musical community. “The highlight was, I was loading our stuff off stage and Danny Reisch, a producer who plays with The Lemurs, was walking by me. And we played one show with The Lemurs in The Glass Family, and when he passed by he started singing lyrics from one of The Glass Family’s songs. And I turned around obviously, and he was like, ‘Always loved that one, man.’ And I remember feeling like, ‘Alright, I’m back in the community.’”
The Austin music scene is also something Winningham has bigger hopes for: “The music scene has just grown in so many different directions. I think it’s great, there’s so much quality out there and I love it because I can go to shows and see somebody who is local and totally inspiring. And it makes me want to write better and improve on what I am doing.”
The scene is not without its flaws, though, Winningham acknowledges. “I do think there is a mentality in Austin that is more centered around just making interesting and quality music, and I think it’s a good thing and it’s a bad thing,” he says. “Because there’s not as much focus on the business side of it and really promoting yourself.” He points to Dallas’ larger, more successful acts, like Old 97’s and Elliott Smith, despite Austin’s wider range of bands and talent. “It’s also bad in the sense that there’s not enough professionalism in some instances. I do think we could do a better job representing ourselves, showing up places on time more, having all of our gear fixed, that kind of thing.”
Winningham describes the feeling that sometimes comes from being a musician in Austin. He doesn’t tell his co-workers he’s in a band, because there tends to be a negative connotation attached to it. “It’s kind of a never-grow-up kind of thing, a Peter Pan issue,” he says. “Like, ‘Oh, that’s nice, you’re a musician, you’re a little boy and you never wanna grow up.’”
But despite the stereotypes, Winningham started Gold Beach with purpose: Growth. Control. Freedom to write the songs he wants to write. “I would say my main goal is to make the next effort better than the last effort, and everything emanates from that CD,” he says. “If you’re a band or a songwriter and you want to be heard more, then what you pass along to anybody ever who judges you, is on that CD. Whether it’s a manager, or a fan, an investor, a journalist, everything is on that CD. My objective is just to make better records.”
“I enjoy writing with somebody who doesn’t know where middle C is on the piano. All he’s thinking of is rhythm and placement of rhythm and tempo … With Tony, it’s like, he speaks a different dialect of the language.” – Michael Winningham
He works toward that objective with Daugherty, who he’s extremely close to and enjoys working with because as a drummer, Daugherty provides a completely different perspective to music. “I enjoy writing with somebody who doesn’t know where middle C is on the piano,” Winningham says. “All he’s thinking of is rhythm and placement of rhythm and tempo, and it’s so different from working with anybody else. With Tony, it’s like, he speaks a different dialect of the language.”
Together they’re going to finish up a year of playing shows at South By Southwest and then return to the studio to record their next album. Winningham is excited to grow, improve and give listeners something fresh and different. “I like being surprised. I like to hear something where the influences are so intermixed that you can’t put your finger on it, and you know that they can’t put their finger on it either,” he says. “So I guess my goal for Gold Beach is to bring what I love from music to listeners. To just continued being surprised, hearing something that I can’t pin down but is familiar enough that it excites me.”