His foot is tapping, his head is nodding and his speakers are cranked up. He peers at the computer screen and smiles. There’s no doubt Colin Padalecki — half of the uber-popular duo Surfaces and Class of 2020 Texas A&M graduate — is feeling his music.
He’s surrounded by good vibes. Pastel-colored guitars hang on the wall. Tasteful but refined décor fills each room of his home. There’s a signed Elton John album peeking out from a record collection.
The vibes might make you think he’s a beach boy from California, but you’d be wrong — and you wouldn’t be the first person to make that mistake about him or his bandmate Forrest Frank.
“I don’t know if it’s because of the way we look, the way we talk, or the way we write songs,” Padalecki said in a recent KAMU interview. “But [people] are always like, ‘Oh yeah, you’re from California, right?’ No, I’m from South Texas. Born and raised, still live there. And I love Texas.”
Raised to work hard, get good grades and put his all into everything, Padalecki is still that guy — even after going triple platinum for the smash hit “Sunday Best,” releasing five albums and recording with names like Elton John and Thomas Rhett.
“We’re pretty rooted with our families and friends in Texas,” Padalecki said. “[When we blew up], everyone was asking, are you going to move to L.A.?”
The answer was a resounding no.
“I love music to death,” Padalecki said. “It’s the most amazing job in the world. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But the fame and popularity never really changed anything about what I wanted to do for myself.”
Rise to Fame
Padalecki’s musical journey started slow.
“I used to write poems when I was a little kid and the poems slowly started turning to songwriting,” he said. “When I was in high school, I started watching MTV. And I was like, ‘Man, I really wonder – how do people make songs?'”
So Padalecki started making songs on the computer. He would write songs for his cousin Alexa to sing and began putting small EP’s on SoundCloud in high school and his early college days.
“I never told people I was going to be this big star,” Padalecki said. “I always did it for the fun of it.”
But music was barely even on the back burner until late in his time at Texas A&M. Padalecki came to A&M on scholarship to be a pole vaulter. Between classes and athletics, music didn’t have much room to breathe until his junior year.
“I was going through an identity crisis,” Padalecki remembers. “I was just like, I’ve got to start doing the things that make me happy. And when I started reprioritizing my life, it was just music. The music started getting better, I started having more fun and it just felt so natural.”
As fate would have it, the eventual other half of Surfaces, Forrest Frank, was also making music and putting it on SoundCloud for fun. And he was only 90 minutes away, enrolled at Baylor University.
“We just started showing each other stuff that we thought was cool and fun to make,” Padalecki said.
After Frank graduated from Baylor, he moved to Seattle, Washington. The pair continued to send each other music until Frank invited Padalecki to join him for a songwriting weekend. With money saved from a summer internship, Padalecki bought a plane ticket “to see what happened.”
“I wrote three or four songs on the plane and then we recorded four or five songs in a weekend,” he said.
That’s when Frank became an official part of Surfaces, taking over lead singer duties. He eventually moved back to Texas so the two could collaborate further, allowing their sound to develop into what it is today.
“We’re not really defined by genre,” Padalecki said. “We’re kind of defined by whatever we’re feeling at the time. We’re never boxed in.”
A Student and an Entrepreneur
Meanwhile, Padalecki was still a few years away from graduating. He majored in management of information systems.
Don’t assume he’s not putting his degree to use, though. Padalecki says his business classes prepared him for one of his favorite parts of his job.
“I love branding,” Padalecki said. “I love design, I love picking out things for my house, I love making album covers, I love making merch. I want to do everything.”
And that’s exactly what he did in the early days of Surfaces.
“I would crank out 700 merch orders a week in between classes,” Padalecki said. “I would make the designs, I’d drive to C.C. Creations to put in the order, I’d buy packaging from OfficeMax, and I’d grind for weeks on end.”
He makes all their album covers himself, using Keynote, Apple’s version of Microsoft PowerPoint. “You’re definitely not supposed to be making album art out of it,” Padalecki joked. He said most of the designs are inspired by real locations, including Seattle, Malibu, Lake Lyndon B. Johnson and Joshua Tree.
According to Padalecki, the duo’s interest in the whole process is unique among artists and gives them a leg up in the crowded music industry. His business background comes in handy when looking at record deals and live show contracts. His down-to-earth nature also helps.
“All these labels were flying in from L.A. to College Station to talk to me,” Padalecki said. “And they’re like, ‘Oh, can I take you out for dinner?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, you can take me to Torchy’s.'”
The labels were shocked, telling him it was the cheapest meal they’d ever bought an artist. But that’s just how Padalecki rolls.
The College Station Magic
The little blue house on Montclair Avenue in College Station where Padalecki did all this work also became the workshop for the duo’s biggest hit.
“We would put the mic in the closet, shoving clothes left and right and just stick the mic in the middle,” Padalecki said. “Forrest would go in there and close the door with all my clothes in there. And we recorded pretty much all the songs for our second album in that little room.”
One day, the duo began messing around with a piano loop that “just felt so good,” according to Padalecki. Within an hour, a rough demo of what became the triple-platinum song “Sunday Best” was done.
“The entire song was written in probably 15 minutes,” Padalecki said, “and the production was probably made in 30 minutes.”
The duo took a break, going out to the front yard to throw a Frisbee.
“We’re listening to [the song] on a Bluetooth speaker and we looked at each other and said ‘This is a pretty cool song,'” Padalecki said. “I can’t make this up — we’re just like, ‘I really don’t care if the song does anything because this is a song I’d show my friends.'”
Padalecki had no clue what the song would become. It wasn’t even a single from their album. “It didn’t start out well at all,” he remembers. But once the song hit social media, “it just slowly started to go crazy and dominate the world. It was really weird.”
Chasing the Sound
As of October 2023, “Sunday Best” has been streamed around 900 million times. It climbed the charts, ended up in millions of social media videos and got an official radio release. Eventually, their record label had a request.
“I remember trying to chase that sound,” Padalecki said. “On the next album, the record label said just make another ‘Sunday Best.’ But it never works like that.”
Padalecki reckons people resonate with songs in different ways at different times. The song blew up around the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Padalecki believes the song’s positivity during a time when “everyone was cooped up inside” helped the song take off.
Regardless of the reason, Padalecki says feelings and songs can’t be formulated in a lab or conference room.
“You can’t really describe that feeling or that place that a song takes you to,” he said. “But you know it when you feel it.
“For me, it’s the least amount of effort that creates the most authentic feeling,” he went on. “I think the best songs for us were written in five minutes. When you have to force a song, you have to force a feeling… in my experience, you never really get anything out of that. Less is more.”
There’s a balance to the good vibes of Surfaces, though. While millions of people enjoy their music, Padalecki said they’ve been criticized for songs that suggest everyone can always be happy.
“The message has never been that,” Padalecki said. “I know that not everything is okay… you’d have to be very ignorant to think that everything is right with the world. But that doesn’t stop us humans from being creative enough to inspire others to try to get there one day.”
Right now, his creativity is at work on their sixth album.
“I’m taking it slow this time,” he said.
Thanks to Texas A&M
It’s easy to tell that A&M means a lot to Padalecki.
“I think it served me in such a weird way, going to A&M,” he said. “It put this drive in me to really succeed. Being supported by a good university with good students and a good business degree… it kind of added up to a perfect recipe.”
Three years after graduation, he’s one of the most well-known former students of his generation, even being tasked recently with penning the Texas A&M football team’s new walk out song.
“A lot of really talented people, not just musicians, have walked through those halls,” Padalecki said. “To be seen as someone who added to the culture or made a lasting mark… I’m honored.
“I love the journey,” he said. “Looking back on all the twists and turns, you know? Thank God for the university. Thank God for College Station. I wouldn’t be here today without it.”
Padalecki appears on Season 2, Episode 3 of the KAMU original production “Texas A&M Today.” In a story about music in Bryan-College Station, hear what current and former student musicians think of the local music scene, learn about the history of special performances in our area and find out what’s to come for on-campus music events.