When the Georgia Straight reaches Current Swell’s Scott Stanton on the phone, the singer-guitarist is engaged in a quintessentially British Columbia pursuit: cleaning his boat after an afternoon spent salmon fishing.
Stanton, who is also an avid surfer, explains that he has been a recreational fisherman ever since he moved to Victoria a little more than a decade ago.
“Right when I moved here, I fell madly in love with the West Coast, because I grew up in Alberta,” he explains. “That’s why I bought a boat—because I want to take advantage of the land and the water. It makes me a better person. It gets me out there and keeps my mind clear.”
This love of the West Coast has inspired much of the music that Current Swell has created over the past 10 years, as the Vancouver Island band’s albums have frequently abounded with bonfire-friendly surf-folk ditties about the sand and the sea. The style proved to be lucrative, as Stanton, fellow singer-guitarist Dave Lang, bassist Ghosty Boy, and drummer Chris Peterson won the $100,500 grand prize in 2011’s PEAK Performance Project competition.
Last year’s Ulysses is Current Swell’s first album since that six-figure jackpot, and it finds the outfit exploring less beach-oriented territory. “We wanted to rock out a little bit more,” Stanton reflects. “We used more synthesizers and keyboards and other weird things that we didn’t use too much in the past, and electric guitars.”
The group’s expanded sonic palette on its fifth full-length can be heard in the spacious, electrified swagger of “Keys to the Kingdom”, the distorted slide licks of the hard-charging “Rollin’?”, and the juddering tones of the reverb-doused “Man of Maps”. These songs were given extra sonic oomph by producer Nathan Sabatino, who Current Swell recruited on the strength of his collaborations with Dr. Dog.
“He works on way more of an engineer level than a production level,” Stanton says of Sabatino’s effectively hands-off approach. “He obviously has a production credit, and he did a great job of producing, but the songs didn’t change all that much from where we had them.”
In addition to atmospheric rock, Ulysses also features some folksy numbers, including the aching “Bad News” and the country-tinged title track. The latter song is named after James Joyce’s celebrated 1922 novel, which Stanton is quick to admit that he hasn’t actually read. “I’m going to get it on tape, I think,” he says with a laugh.
With the album now more than a year old, Current Swell is planning to hit the studio once its fall tour schedule wraps up. These sessions will likely represent the next step for the ever-evolving band, which continues to have its eye trained on the road ahead.
“Every year, our crowds get bigger and we get to go further,” Stanton says with satisfaction. “To plant a seed and watch it grow is one of the most amazing things to do. You play one city, and then the next time you come back there’s 500 people there, and then the next time you come back there’s a thousand people there. It’s kind of a drug, I guess.”
Current Swell plays the Squamish Valley Music Festival on Thursday (August 6).