Thom Swift laughs when he thinks back to winning the 2008 Maple Blues Award for New Artist of the Year. “I’m sure a lot of people were looking for this young, beaming face,” he says, poking gentle fun at himself, “and instead this old guy crawled out of the crowd.”
That’s because, although his solo career may be a relatively new venture, Swift is hardly a musical newcomer. His solid reputation was established playing finger-style guitar with the blues-jazz group Hot Toddy Trio for more than 12 years. Together they released nine records and toured extensively.
But when the group decided take a break, Swift says he was “forced through another door. I wanted to continue what I was doing,” he says of the transition to solo work, “so it was a no-brainer.” Still, Swift, who has been based in Halifax for the last five years, admits the change was challenging. “I think on the one hand, it was a little frightening not to go through the door with the guys I’d been hanging out with for so long — but on the other hand, it was great. It was liberating. I was the master of my own destiny.”
It was a gamble that paid off. Swift’s first solo album, Into the Dirt (2007), which was produced by Charles Austin (who has also produced albums by Joel Plaskett, Buck 65 and Matt Mays), won him an impressive array of hardware, everything from an East Coast Music Award for Blues Recording of the Year to the Galaxie Rising Star prize and two Music Nova Scotia Awards.
Though Swift’s rich, textured songs straddle genres (“I’ve always been in a bunch,” he says with a laugh, “I’ve never really dealt with borders”), when it comes to songwriting Swift says he is always compelled by truth. “That’s where it all starts from,” he says, “it has got to be real — that’s a rule I have in my life. I don’t have anything to do with anything that isn’t real.” Swift, who recently became a father, says his inspiration generally comes from the day-to-day. “I write about the things I’ve seen and heard, same as everyone.”
His second album, blue sky day, was released in February and has already been embraced by the rock, folk and blues worlds. Though he admits Into the Dirt was “a little darker,” blue sky day reflects Swift’s current state of mind. “The stuff I have going on in my life right now is very positive on all fronts,” he says, a smile creeping into his voice. “It’s a good time in life right now.” Then he pauses before stating what feels wonderfully obvious: “It seems like there is a lot of blue sky for this album.”