Oh, Canada. Known for its maple syrup, ice hockey, lumberjacks and surf. OK, Canada isn’t exactly known for its surf, but it does have surf—the best of which can be found around Vancouver Island off the coast of British Columbia, the country’s westernmost province.
Hailing from this wintry isle—and immersed in its burgeoning surf scene—is the emerging indie rock band Current Swell. Their solid songcraft has been making waves up north and in the five short years since their formation, they’ve produced three studio albums, opened for the likes of The Beach Boys, Xavier Rudd and The Beautiful Girls, and have gigged at venues like the Ottawa Blues Festival and 2010 Winter Olympics. Recently returned from touring Australia with Ash Grunwald, the band again heads for warmer waters with a special six-show stint on the Valley Isle. It’ll be the band’s first time in Hawaii, and they’re naturally looking forward to jumping in the water during their downtime.
“The scene [in British Columbia] is actually pretty big, with respect to the challenges,” says Current Swell frontman Scott Stanton. “For us, going for a surf is an all-day venture. We have to drive for two hours and hike for half an hour just to get there. Then, we have to get into a big suit of rubber—5mm wet suits, 7mm hoods and gloves. Even then, you can only surf for two hours before your limbs start to go numb.”
It’s an enthusiasts-only lifestyle, and one Stanton says has informed the band’s songwriting. Being a group of good-looking blonde boys brandishing surf boards alongside their instruments (be-sweatered though they may be) has led to their music generally being labeled as “surf rock.”
“We never called ourselves surf rock, other people did,” says Stanton, adding that no single genre encompasses the band’s broadly sourced style. “But it’s flattering we’ve been accepted into that circle—especially being from Canada.”
What then, if not surf rock? “Folk, rock, blues and reggae,” says Stanton. If that sounds like the ingredients of surf rock to you, a quick listen to their music—especially their latest album, Protect Your Own—shows a clear emphasis on folk and blues. Employing harmonica, banjo and trumpet (for the reggae bits), they’ve devised a modern sound infused with a country keen en homage to fellow Canadian Neil Young. Songs like “Cursed” and “Nail’em Up” have infectious, twanging syncopation, with metal-esque riffs ripped on hallow bodies and a speed like the fast tangle of a bucket of springs. They slow it down with dewy songs like “Wishing Well” or the more-mainstream “Young and Able,” the music video for the latter visually chronicling their beloved Northern surfers’ life.
Despite obvious cold-weather obstacles, surfing Canada “is absolutely stunning,” says Stanton. He effuses about how the hikes to favorite surf spots take them through old-growth forests (Vancouver Island is largely protected parkland), and of the camaraderie forged among surf mates during the long commutes and while warming-up between sessions with bonfires and cups of coffee on the beach.
The video for “Young and Able,” feels kind of like Ben Harper’s “Diamonds on the Inside” styled by an Anthropologie catalogue for boys—and its charms have swept Current Swell on a riptide of popularity. It’s a popularity they didn’t see coming.
“The whole band, in a way, was kind of a fluke,” Stanton says. “It’s cool how it all fell together so nicely for us.” In fact, the band didn’t even have a name by the time the local press started ringing for interviews, and it was a computer-savvy friend’s quick insert on their Web site—instead of “Band Name Here”—that stuck.
“Me and Davers [Dave Lang], the other songwriter in the band, met and started playing songs. He’d learn my songs, I’d learn his,” Stanton says. Upon hearing the pair, other musicians quickly approached them to join ranks, soon followed by booking agents and mangers. “We’re a weird bunch of guys to be playing music together, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Stanton says of the current lineup: co-founder Lang, drummer Chris “Crispy” Petersen and bassist Aaron “Ghosty” Wright.
“We’re a diverse bunch of cats who love having a good time onstage, offstage, all the time,” Stanton continues. “We’ve really constructed our lives on that. There’s no long-term plan. I have goals and everything, but basically the goal is to have fun. If success comes our way, cool.” Spoken like a true surfer.