Beaches inspire Australia’s Jagwar Ma 

click to enlarge Jagwar Ma
  • courtesy photo
  • Australia’s Jona Ma, left, and Gabriel Winterfield make up Jagwar Ma; the duo plays Popscene this week.
There’s an ocean-frothy Beach Boys feel to “Come Save Me,” the first song written by vocalist-guitarist Gabriel Winterfield and his synth-producer buddy Jono Ma, a track also featured on “Howlin,” the team’s debut as Jagwar Ma.

It makes sense, since they were, in fact, boys who spent spare hours on the beach in their native Sydney.

“In Sydney, everyone surfs. Jono and I surfed so much, we had most of our creative meetings on the beach, as well,” Winterfield says. On a recent call from London, he sadly noted the nearest chilly waves were more than 500 miles away.

Sydney’s breathtaking expanse Bondi Beach was just one regular haunt of Jagwar Ma, which comes to San Francisco this week.

But Winterfield prefers more desolate locations hidden by bristly underbrush, like Mackenzie Bay. “It’s a bit hidden, off the beaten path, and there are all these rocks there, so you jump off the rocks into the waves,” he says. “It’s really good fun, and it’s also dog-friendly, so you can take your dog out onto the beach there, and the dogs just love it. So that’s our hangout that we go to, away from Bondi.”

Winterfield can’t explain “how some people can feel so at home in the water.” But, like a lot of Australians, he learned to swim as a toddler in a lifeguard-sponsored program called Nippers, as did Ma.

The two met on the beach when they both joined a jam-band collective called FLRL, which regularly played clambakes. “I was always improvising vocals, and Jono would sometimes take samples from the radio or play old-school boom box like an instrument,” he says. “Oh — and we’d also use fruit as percussion and dress up sometimes.”

Soon, it occurred to them — Winterfield had melodic demos, Ma had the thumping beats. Why not combine them? With Winterfield suffering from a fresh breakup, he churned out the forlorn lyrics to “Come Save Me,” and Jagwar Ma (named for a cheesy painting of a jaguar that Ma was given) had its first breakthrough single.

To follow it up with more neo- psychedelic tracks, like “The Throw” and “Man I Need,” the group decamped to a chateau in rural France. “We wanted to challenge ourselves and put ourselves in an isolated space,” Winterfield says.

IF YOU GO

Jagwar Ma

Where: Popscene, Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S.F.

When: 9:30 p.m. Thursday

Tickets: $13 to $15 (sold out)

Contact: (415) 861-2011, www.ticketfly.com

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Tom Lanham

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