Victoria’s Current Swell hits the jackpot
Barring those reprobates in Twisted Solicitor, the richest indie band in B.C. is most likely Victoria’s Current Swell. Which, not coincidentally, is also one of our province’s hardest-working groups, although the fresh new bills lining the pockets of singer-guitarists Scott Stanton and Dave Lang, bassist Ghosty, and drummer Chris Petersen aren’t entirely the result of their band’s busy touring schedule. Instead, the deceptively relaxed-sounding quartet is riding high on having won this year’s PEAK Performance Project competition, taking home in the process a $100,500 prize.
“We’re a very excited band right now,” says Stanton, checking in with the Straight as the Current Swell tour van inches along the crowded 401, en route to a show in London, Ontario. It’s only days after his band hit the jackpot, but already Current Swell is back on the road, where its members have spent most of their time since forming in 2004. And that’s probably where they’re going to stay, because Stanton and his bandmates aren’t about to waste their newly won nest egg on booze or bling.
“We’re just going to use it to finance more touring, trying to open up new markets, mostly,” Stanton explains. “I don’t think we’re about to go and blow it on a new van or a bunch of gear or anything like that. We just really want to get the music out there around the world, as far as it can go.”
Stanton and crew are serious enough about their Jack Johnson and Ben Harper–inspired music that they spent most of last summer in pursuit of the PEAK prize—no small sacrifice for a band that boasts several skilled surfers among its members. According to the singer, there were a number of tasks that had to be completed before the awards ceremony on November 17.
“We had to do a viral video and try to up our online profile,” he explains. “And then we had to write a song about Vancouver, so we wrote a song called ‘Granville Town’. And then we had to do a 45-minute showcase in front of some judges, and we had to go to a music boot camp for a week. We’d wake up every morning at 8, go and have breakfast, and then be in class all day.”
What was the most useful thing they learned?
“Never have more than two people in an interview,” says Stanton, laughing. “Otherwise, it just becomes a mess. But there’s been a lot of things that we’ve learned. There was so much information coming in that it’s hard to pick just one good piece of advice.”
The Current Swell musicians are capable of learning on their own, however—and that’s clearly audible on their fourth long-player, Long Time Ago. The recently released disc finds the band expanding its horizons both sonically and lyrically, stepping away from the surfy soft-rock of earlier releases. Producer Todd Simko adds a sophisticated gloss to Stanton and Lang’s tunes—and those tunes are now more likely to focus on friends and family rather than the pursuit of the perfect wave.
“Our inspirations are changing,” says Stanton. “Our past records have been a lot about travelling, and a lot about what you do after school. Like, we were done school, and we wanted to go out and travel and meet people and party and have a good time, right? Being young, I guess. But now we’ve written about partying in our younger days, and we’ve written about surfing and travelling. We don’t need to keep on writing about surfing and travelling, even though we still surf and travel. It’s kind of like we’re moving on to the next thing—but it’s not conscious, right? It’s just that I’m not inspired to write a song about surfing if I’ve already done it.”
The songwriter cites Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and the Band’s Robbie Robertson as primary influences—as much for what they don’t say as for what they do. He likes the idea that a song can have multiple layers, and that not everything has to be said in an explicit way.
With that in mind, it might be useful to know that Long Time Ago’s “For the Land” was inspired by the story of Lang’s girlfriend’s grandparents, who eloped after having been denied permission to marry, and that the heartfelt sing-along “Brad’s Song” is a eulogy for one of the band’s closest friends, Brad Shuttleworth. Lang introduced the song to his colleagues on the night Shuttleworth died, of complications from a spinal injury; three days later they were playing it on-stage.
“We looked out at the audience, and people were crying,” Stanton says, still sounding amazed. “It’s supposed to be a happy song, though. It’s to celebrate his life, right?”
And that, as much as all its hard work, might be why Current Swell is winning prizes at home and audiences worldwide. Its songs are about celebrating life, and life is good—especially if there are waves to ride. Even if Stanton and Lang have stepped away from writing beach songs, they’re still surfers at heart.
“If I go surfing by myself, which I do all the time, I’ll get up at six o’clock and drive for two hours, and then hike down to the beach for half an hour, and then I’m in the water for two hours,” Stanton explains. “You’re kind of in nature by yourself, with time to think. It just gives you time to work on stuff—time when you’re very calm and relaxed. You could think about whatever you want—but I just tend to think about music all the time.”
Current Swell plays the Vogue Theatre on Saturday (December 31).