Having earned almost universal praise for his 2010 record Blue Sky Day, a three-time East Coast Music Award nominated record, Swift had been chosen by the CBC as one of Canada’s top songwriters as a part of last year’s Great Canadian Song Quest. Swift has had a particularly busy summer of performing, playing prestigious music festivals including The Stan Rogers Festival as well as the Hullabaloo Festival in addition to a smattering of shows throughout Quebec and Ontario.
Swift’s newest musical endeavour, The Wood Buffalo Youth Song Project, was released this past May and came to fruition in a somewhat unique way.
Swift’s Wood Buffalo Project partner, singer-songwriter Keith Mullins, originally approached him to become involved in the project in big part due to Swift’s background in social work with children and young offenders.
And so this past March, Swift and Mullins paid a visit to 10 different schools in 10 days in remote areas of northern Alberta. The goal each day was to write a song from scratch, enlisting a small group of students from each school to sing on the tracks.
And while their schedule in the Wood Buffalo community was more or less the same day after day, it is an experience that Swift seems grateful to have had the chance to take part in.
“The first hour of the day was Keith and I sitting down to write the song with the students,” Swift begins, noting that the students selected to take part in the project were a mix of students that were doing well in school and those who might have been academically challenged. “In the second hour, we would record the students singing and then we would perform the song, with the students, in front of the school.”
Upon leaving the school, Swift and Mullins would return to their hotel, working until the wee hours of the morning, adding their own voices and instrumentation to the work that was completed with the students. Though it might have been a hectic pace for the time they were there, Swift insists that he wouldn’t change a thing.
“The music we created with the students was very positive in nature, focusing upon their heritage, their language and living life in the north,” Swift says. “So many of these communities have serious problems with drugs and alcohol and can pose very challenging situations for these areas. A lot of different agencies go into small communities like those we visited and try to do good things but in reality, it is hard to get success stories from these small places. We found The Wood Buffalo Project to be a real win-win situation overall.”
A total of 10,000 Wood Buffalo Project CDs were manufactured with each school that Swift and Mullins visited. Each school received 1000 copies to sell and raise money toward whatever programs they wanted to help improve.
Before becoming Thom Swift the solo artist, Swift had come to musical prominence as a member of folk-blues trio Hot Toddy. Though the band has been dormant over the past few years, Swift insists that the group’s members remain on excellent terms and in touch with one another but he does not foresee the group making music together again anytime soon.
“The Hot Toddy doors will never be closed as far as any of us are concerned. We might end up finding the time and energy to do another record at some point in the future however we were very fortunate to do all we did. We are great friends who got to take part in some great experiences together.”
Following his Parkindale Hall performance tomorrow evening, Swift’s immediate future includes a performance at Fredericton’s Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival.
“Playing the Harvest festival is just like coming home for me. I am originally from McAdam and it is always nice to get back to my old stomping grounds and see some familiar faces.”
Article published in September 9, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript