Cultivating the unique moments when a first take becomes the final cut, or when a fleeting idea turns into a fully-realized creation, has become something of an unofficial philosophy for Current Swell.
Considering the pace they have set in recent years - including a first place win and $100,500 top prize at Vancouver’s Peak Performance Project and sold-out headlining tours of Brazil and Europe - Current Swell had no reason to re-write their approach heading into the sessions for Ulysses, the band's anticipated second release for Nettwerk Records.
Not after a six-year run which has positioned the group as one of the bright lights on the Canadian musical landscape.
But here's the thing with Current Swell. When it comes to the process of songwriting, touring and recording, the four friends from Victoria, BC are compelled to improve as artists, to better what they did the last time around. Motion is everything to singer-guitarists Scott Stanton and David Lang, drummer Chris Petersen and bassist Ghosty Boy, so they decided to give an old partnership a new coat of paint.
During each of the four previous Current Swell recordings, Stanton and Lang largely wrote independently of each other, working in tandem only when the band got into the studio. For these sessions, the two bandmates sat down face-to-face on a number of occasions. The rules were kept loose on purpose, so that both could look at the other’s creations in an unfiltered light.
“For this record, we really worked together, even if it was a half-finished song,” Stanton said. “Sometimes, it was nothing but an idea or a chord progression or a melody, and we’d sit there and write an entire song together.”
"That's how we did things when we first started writing together, years ago, simply because we lived together," Lang added. "It was fun to get back to what I feel like are our roots from way back then."
The early days of the group stretch back to St. Albert, Alberta, an Edmonton suburb where Lang and Stanton first met. It wasn't until their paths crossed again on Vancouver Island that the thought of playing music together came to fruition. Shortly after its first official gig, the band quickly became an in-demand attraction in Western Canada, backed by growing acclaim from across the country.
Theirs hasn’t been a traditional career arc. Shortly after Current Swell came together, the members spent five months touring Bali, New Zealand and Australia as an independent act. A bold move, but one that has come to define the band’s music-first mindset and catch-all musical approach.
Music fans across North America first caught wind of the group through “Young and Able,” which became a word-of-mouth YouTube success in 2010. Not long after, the group broke big with 2012's Long Time Ago, its first worldwide release. These recordings inspired fans from across the globe to create hundreds of tribute videos of the hits - some of which weren't in English - and opened new doors for the group.
The success of the album led to a run of dates across Europe, Australia, Canada and the U.S. These and other key festival dates (Byron Bay Bluesfest, Peats Ridge, Rock The Shores, Ottawa Blues Festival, Rifflandia Festival and more) would help to introduce the band’s textured, deep-groove roots music (some of which is punctuated by Stanton's lap steel guitar work) to a larger international audience of both fans and music industry supporters.
With its core fan base demanding new music, the band slowly began showcasing its new material in concert during the summer of 2013. A half-dozen songs from Ulysses were in and out of the band's set at a few shows, which gave Current Swell immediate feedback on its progress, Lang said. "It's interesting what you learn in front of an audience. It is so easy to see what needs to be tweaked when you are playing it for someone who is a blank slate."
In the spirit of the historic poem after which the album was named, the band found itself on a journey through new, more concise terrain once it got into the studio. Current Swell spent the better part of six months recording Long Time Ago; the don’t-mess-with-a-good-thing approach could have easily been employed this time around. Instead, the band knocked Ulysses out in 20 days.
“We got in the studio, put our heads down, got it down and we were out,” Stanton said with a laugh. “It was so refreshing. We didn’t overthink anything. As long as we could re-create it live, that was our only rule.”
That was an important decision in the process, given all that Current Swell has achieved on stages across the world.
The band is at its strongest before a live audience, which isn’t to say that it feels out of place in the studio. Especially not when they had a producer like Nathan Sabatino (Dr. Dog, Neko Case, Giant Sand) working his magic inside of Vancouver’s iconic Greenhouse Studios.
Ulysses captures every bit of warmth the studio’s massive Neve console could provide, as heard on “Rollin’” (a showcase for Stanton’s exemplary slide work), the title track “Ulysses,” rocker “Keys to the Kingdom” and the readymade sing-along “One Day I’ll Be Rich.”
Current Swell has every intention of adding to its international legacy with Ulysses. There is an inherent sense of confidence in the group, one that comes from its years of shared experience. With so much set before them in 2014, there's no telling where the year will take the band. And in a lot of ways, that uncertain aspect of the journey is what keeps Current Swell bent on moving forward, Lang said.
“It’s scary to set goals because you can fail. But as long as we see ourselves growing and not feeling stagnant, we have accomplished what we set out to do."