Canadian quartet Current Swell are surfer/snowboarder types who pretty much fell into music by mistake. So it's that much sweeter they won Vancouver's 2011 PEAK Performance Project, a kind of battle of the bands with a $100,000 prize.
The band started in Dave Lang's Vancouver Island, B.C. living room, where fellow guitarist/school chum Scott Stanton crashed on vacation and wouldn't leave.
"We were prairie boys and we just kind of got into surfing," recalls Lang. "We were always heavily into skateboarding and snowboarding. It was like bro-ing it out with each other and playing guitar together. He just abandoned his plane ticket home."
The crashing continued for a full six weeks ("eventually we had to kick him off the couch"), but the music and friendship carried on.
Current Swell's earliest musical forays mixed country-folk and surf/reggae, a combination that found a rabid audience among their 'boarding compatriots. While they didn't initially pursue a music career, they soon embraced the DIY ethos and found a willing audience within the jam circuit.
Still, their sound's not so easily confined. The band's fourth album, 2011's Long Time Ago, turned up the amps on tracks like the Neil Young-ish, "Honest Man," tightened their mix of roots and pop on tracks like the pretty banjo-driven devotional "For the Land," and explored the darker side on "Brad's Song," about an outspoken, whiskey-drinking wheelchair-bound friend.
"A lot of our more popular songs are on the lighter side," Lang admits. "['Brad's Song'] has a more somber feel and it's about a friend of mine that passed away. It was the first time I was able to write about something like that. I wouldn't write about something like that unless I knew it. So it's awesome to kind of be growing with age and your songwriting kind of following you."
There's an unvarnished plainspoken charm to Current Swell's sound, which is also reflected in the musicians' genial, unassuming natures. So it's not so surprising why they balked at the idea of entering the radio station-sponsored PEAK Performance Project until their manager finally convinced them to do it.
"We're like, fuck no. It isn't our style to compete. Plus you really put yourself out there and set yourself up to be crushed if they don't pick you to be in the top 20," says Lang.
Their manager successfully appealed to their business side — "we're cash poor and a pile of money would really help" — and they ultimately won the several month-long competition.
They received the news at the final show of their CD release tour for Long Time Ago, after which good tidings just kept coming. Nettwerk, one of Canada's biggest labels, signed them a couple months later, re-released the album and proceeded to send them around the world in support of it for the past year. In June they return home to start work on the follow-up.
Ultimately, they feel they've paid enough dues to justify their recent fortune.
"We've definitely been the broke band for a long time," figures Lang. "Even when we go on tour now we split one hotel room for the four of us."
As to what the future holds, Lang admits he's no soothsayer. "It's fun because there are no rules in music," he says. "You can try whatever you want."