Victoria folk musician Oliver Swain is not your typical historian.
Swain is a folklorist, drawn to the music by the instrumental sounds and the history. It’s a living history every musician takes part in, Swain said, an alternative story not necessarily written by the winners or conquerors. He describes it as a conversation with thousands.
“You’re entering into a dialogue with thousands of brilliant souls and minds who came before you,” Swain said. “I experience this when I play American old time, or Celtic music or Gypsy Jazz. I also experience this just in relation to the instruments.”
He enjoys being part of the dialogue between those who build the instruments, those who write music and those who perform.
“(Musicians) just continue to further the discussion, if you will, about how this music is played. So this is an incredible gift to any artist who enters into that world, which we all do whether your a folk musician or an experimental improv artist from New York, we owe everything to all those who come before us.”
Working on his second solo album, Never More Together, released in October 2015, his sophmore album and the follow up to his first solo release In A Big Machine in 2011.
He hasn’t been resting on his laurels since going solo, working on multiple musical collaborations as well as working as the artistic director and founding member of the Victoria Django Festival, a folk festival in celebration of the great Django Reinhardt.
“I have a very diverse career which I’m super happy with, and while it doesn’t allow me to put out an album every 18 months, I do stay very busy,” Swain said.
The reception has been positive for Swain, with Never More Together featuring all original songs, a divergence from the usual traditional folk covers that would appear alongside his originals. This time the focus was on song writing.
“Never More Together was all about experimenting with new kinds of song writing. Everything from songs that began as improv pieces to songs that began as finished pieces of poetry to collaborating with some of my favourite songwriters including Ridley Bent,” Swain said.
Swain went on writing retreats, bringing his instruments on a boat 45 minutes outside of Tofino, hiking for an hour to an isolated area, spending a few weeks writing.
“I’m very inspired by nature. I live in a very rural area about half an hour outside of Victoria in a little cottage by the sea. I’m inspired by both the chaos and the order that nature continues to always put forward for us,” Swain said.
Catch Swain at the 557 Artist Block on April 18 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available for $12 at the Artist Block or $15 at the door. Swain is joining the instrumental group at the Artist Block show performing music for a pop-up puppet show by local artist and performer Alexandra Goodall, the first time he’s shared the bill with a puppet act, Swain said, noting his excitement.