Music has been Murray Atkinson's life even before he started taking piano lessons at age four. He taught himself acoustic guitar as a child by listening to classic rock records; was writing, playing and recording his own material by the time he was 15; studied music in college; and played in a variety of bands of different genres after graduating.
With a resume that impressive, it should be no surprise that the talented and dedicated Vancouver singer/musician plays almost everything but drums on Salt March, the simultaneously commercial yet edgy debut rock album from Swan.
Atkinson's decision to focus on his own material paid off when he placed first out of more than 500 acts to win Vancouver rock radio station CFOX's 2007 "Seeds" talent competition, which previously helped launch Nickelback, Matthew Good, Bif Naked, State of Shock, Daniel Wesley and Default.
"It was such an honour to be recognized and, more than anything, the event encouraged me to get down to business and seriously attempt to put together a CD," Atkinson says of his victory. "I felt a little regret at the time making the decision to basically disappear and record an album, especially at such an opportune time to get out there and get some good local exposure, but ultimately for me it's about the music and I wanted to come out with a good representation of the songs."
Atkinson chose to adopt the Swan moniker for the album as opposed to using his own name, as he'd done for the "Seeds" contest.
"I chose Swan because it's a bird of both strength and beauty, power and grace," explains Atkinson. "I wanted a symbol that's a balance of opposites, and found it has been used throughout history as a symbol of both war and peace.
"Plus, I love band names that are short. A simple four-letter word can be very effective."
The songs on Salt March range in vintage from 2001 to 2008, and Atkinson wrote all of them (including two co-writes). Pat Steward (Bryan Adams, Matthew Good), Jamie Kaufmann (Damn The Diva, Chin Injeti), Scotty MacCargar (Bif Naked, Static In Stereo) and Issah Contractor recorded the drums at Vancouver's Armoury Studios, where Atkinson mixed the album with Paul Silveira (Gob, Bif Naked). Atkinson recorded pretty much everything else on his own at rehearsal spaces and Odds singer/guitarist Craig Northey's studio.
"Sometimes soaring, sometimes pounding, sometimes introspective and sometimes completely extroverted," is how Atkinson describes the resulting sound he came up with.
"Whereas some artists write about partying or focusing your energy on being cool or hip, the Swan vibe is more about accepting who you are and realizing the amazing potential in that — as opposed to always trying to live up to some other ideal that you've been taught to adore. It's a party celebrating honesty and acceptance, hosted by loud guitars and pounding drums."
Atkinson titled Swan's album Salt March in tribute to Indian spiritual and political leader Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent 1930 march to try and free his country from British control.
"Gandhi’s Salt March is a beautiful example of the true power of the people, and only the people," Atkinson elaborates. "They didn't use weapons, mass media or anything, and still got the result they were after."
"I hope Swan can be a vehicle to help people see outside their own finite surroundings and realize there's a huge, intimately connected world around them and they do have the power to make it a better place for everyone. But you always have to start with yourself and emanate from there."
Atkinson's guitars are his primary weapons, and he wields them like a master to create the hard rock sound on album opener "The One," the edginess that envelops "Behind Closed Doors," the industrial influence of "Symptomatic Song" and the gentler acoustic moments on "Unfamiliar" and "Blind." The eclectic record is rounded out by a mid-tempo ballad titled "Make You Mine."
Atkinson's guitar also drives "El Camino" — the song that won everyone over in the "Seeds" competition — as fast as the powerful Chevrolet muscle car that bears the same name.
"'El Camino is definitely a favourite because it was one of those songs that simply poured out all in one day," says Atkinson. "It was one of those transcendent experiences where it felt like the song was already written and I just managed to tap into it and bring it into this world all in one big greasy, thunderous piece."
Atkinson is putting a band together so he can take Swan on the road in support of Salt March, which will be released by Pheromone Recordings in March.
"It is my simple desire that people find something in this album that they can't find or haven't felt for a long time with any other music," concludes Atkinson. "I want to offer an alternative for a seemingly contrived, overly formulized commercial rock music scene that puts profit before prophet."
Have a few listens to Salt March and you'll find that Atkinson has achieved his goal.