The wait is over for Tomi Swick and his loyal fans. On Friday, his third album, Yukon Motel, is finally released on Slaight Music, some four years after his self-titled second album came out. As Swick explained in an interview with FYI yesterday, it is rather as if that record never existed.
"I left my record label a month after the record came out. Hardly anyone knows it even existed."
The big-voiced and big-hearted singer/songwriter from Hamilton exploded onto the Canadian scene a full decade ago. After making a mark on the Southern Ontario club circuit, he signed to Warner Music Canada and was given the major label push.
His debut album Stalled Out in the Doorway was released in 2006, spawning hit singles “Night Like This,” “Everything Is Alright,” and “Sorry Again.” That helped him notch a 2007 Juno Award for Best New Artist, but Swick’s career then rather stalled out.
A serious illness that damaged his vocal cords prevented him from singing for more than three years. He spent four months in London recording his eponymous second album with top British producer Chris Potter (The Verve, Richard Ashcroft), but then quit his label.
"I don’t want to sound negative to Warner," Swick insists. "They were great to me and were involved in my career, but they had their idea of where I was supposed to be and I had my idea. As time progressed I realized we were not on the same page. I was not what they thought I was."
By contrast, he couldn't be happier with the finished results on Yukon Motel. "This now feels very true to me. I feel very comfortable in my own skin on this record. It feels very me. When I play these songs I don’t feel nervous. Before, I had songs like 'Night Like This' that did really well but it was never a song that I really loved or in a genre I really loved. Now I just feel good."
Swick has reason for pride in the new record. It showcases the powerful and soulful voice that is his signature, while his well-crafted yet deeply personal songs are done full justice by the production work of Dave King.
The all-original material encompasses elements of rock, soul, blues and country, but the arrangements are kept sparse. "The other records had tons of harmony and production, and that is where I felt they faltered," Swick reflects.
He states that soul music has had a growing impact on him. "Over the last 10 years I really fell in love with Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, and people like Van Morrison and Terry Reid, onto newer singers like Ray Lamontagne and Chris Stapleton. People who sing witrh soul in their voice. I knew I had that in me but it took a long time to feel comfortable in that."
Yukon Motel features a stellar list of local players, including King on drums, pedal steel ace Aaron Goldstein, bassist Darcy Yates (Flash Lightning), guitarist Steve Strongman, Jesse O’Brien, Mike Alonzo and Joel Guenther.
Always a charismatic performer onstage, Swick stresses that "this whole record and the process of making it to me translates so well to the live shows. It feels so much more organic in my mind. I made an effort not to over-produce these songs. Most of the tracks are live off the floor. On my next record I’ll try to go back even further, to full analog and live off the floor.
"The vast majority of the songs that stand the test of time were made that way, in country and soul music. They captured the performance, they didn’t create it. That’s the tail I’m chasing now."
Swick credits King with invaluable advice, explaining that "Dave really helped guide me in a beneficial way, perspective wise, in life and music. He said 'let's make a record you feel you should be making.' He and Slaight Music really helped me do that."
Swick estimates that "we went through something like 80 to 120 songs for this record. I had my band to help work out some of the kinks but all were written by me. In my own perspective I feel I’m a far better writer now. I’ve learned quite a bit about the craft and I care more about it. Before, it was all rather a whirlwind for me, but all the ups and downs and things you go through really do help season it. I’m 36 now. I was 24 when I started recording for a major label. A lot can happen in those 12 years."
That period also saw Swick go through more than his fair share of pain and grief. In his press bio, he notes that "My mom passed away from cancer, my dad died of it too, as did my step dad – hell, even my dog died of cancer.” He informs us that two muggings also led to health problems.
Now in top shape, Swick has been gearing up for the release of Yukon Motel with radio and print promo in Ontario. “I have CD release parties in Hamilton and Toronto, and then we have radio and TV promo all the way out West, then the East Coast after that,” he explains. “I haven’t toured cross-country like that in 10 years. I toured like crazy on my first record, but then I lost my voice.”
We can now be thankful that his formidable voice is back.