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The four-piece Los Angeles indie group Louden Swain has been making music for 15 years. Whether you’re a lifelong fan or new to the group, there is no denying that this four piece has earned its place in the world of DIY fan supported rock. With a past that has had high highs, and life threatening lows, Louden Swain has survived -- and is here to sing about it.
Fronted by lead singer and actor Rob Benedict, Louden Swain also includes bassist Mike Borja, lead guitarist Billy Moran and drummer Stephen Norton. The band has just released its fifth full-length recording – Sky Alive on their own 3 Car Wreckords label.
Louden Swain makes music best described as a combo platter of classic, alternative and hard rock. That makes for a sound both loud and approachable, one that can blow your hair back even as it touches your heart. Each new album has arrived brimming with gumption and sparky intellect, leading to a lot of early buzz: “The LA pop rock band has a polished sound reminiscent of Marvelous 3,” says Kayley Thomas of Pop Matters, “one that crackles and sparks with wit, humor, and a powerful mix of intellectual and musical playfulness and maturity. Bursting with energy and whimsy.”
That fizzy amalgam of sound ties together a wide array of influences. Benedict and Borja – who met through college friends from Northwestern University, formed an initial version of the band – and count as early influences indie/college rock legends like R.E.M., the Cure, the Pixies, Pavement and the Replacements, among others. The addition of drummer Stephen Norton, who the two met while playing their first gig at a house party, completed the original lineup of the band. Norton added another dimension sonically to the band with his percussion skills and musical influences from the hard rock/metal world - notably Kiss and Gun ’n Roses.
The original lineup, which also included former guitarist David Wendell, released Louden Swain’s debut in 2001. Able-Legged Heroes gained the band some regional fans, Mp3 downloads and favorable notice from Lynne Bronstein of All Music Guide: They’re “regular guys from the Midwest who write songs about heartbreak, self-doubt, the folly of vanity, and the frictions within families. And they strongly embody the do-it-yourself ethic of alternative rock."
After the departure of Wendell, the band played as a three-piece for several years and two albums before finally adding Billy Moran on lead guitar and completing the their current sound. Moran also brought in early musical influences from the hard rock world. The quartet’s common ground, early on, could be found in classic rock icons like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Who – and that provided additional spices in their melting pot of musical textures.
Louden Swain’s first album with Moran, 2009’s A Brand New Hurt, reflected the earliest flowerings of the band’s current sound, and began to rapidly expand its fan base. The album’s standout cut “Downtown Letdown” drew a rave review from Sandy Auden of SF Site, who said the song “combines a gorgeous guitar melody with the complex emotional reaction that humans have to personal criticism. A deep and very satisfying track.”
Benedict’s connections to the acting world – he has appeared on TV’s “Felicity,” “Alias” and “Supernatural” and films like “Waiting” – then led to the tune “Help You” being placed in the 2010 Jenna Fischer movie “A Little Help,” in which he co-starred. A successful tour of Europe through England, Germany and Austria also brought Louden Swain to new audiences. Through social media, the band has formed a bond with its fans from around the world—many were brought to the band through Rob’s acting jobs, but they stay for the music.
“We’ve been at this for a while, a little more than 15 years, and we’ve known each other for more than that,” Norton says. “We have a certain amount of maturity – this isn’t our first barbeque – and yet, we’ve done everything without a label. In many ways, we feel we’re just starting to break.”
The group built on their already considerable momentum with 2011’s Eskimo, featuring title track “Eskimo,” which features a video of the band as Eskimos searching the California desert for a home. For the album, the band enlisted the help of some expert industry veterans. The album was mixed by Joe McGrath (Ryan Adams, Green Day, B.B. King), Mike Farrell (Morrissey, Macy Gray) guested on keyboards, and the finishing touches on the album were provided by the Grammy winning mastering of Gavin Lurssen.
For bands’ with long running careers, you are never immune to unexpected setbacks, and 2013 was no exception for Louden Swain. In October, lead singer Rob Benedict unexpectedly suffered a stroke, while in Toronto working. For 10 days, he was in intensive care, told he may never speak again. For the band, it was a turning point, and possibly a breaking point. But much like the characters in many of their songs—Rob rose up, and in what was nothing less than a miracle, he found his voice. His therapy was the band, which spent the rest of 2013 writing. As soon as he was cleared to sing—they recorded a series of 12 songs that would be 2014’s Sky Alive.
For Sky Alive they once again hired Lurssen for Mastering and recruited Jon Kaplan (Neon Trees, Augustana) to mix. The result is a group of songs that show the band at its absolute best—lyrics packed with emotion and humor, love and loss. The music flirts with new sounds (“Hot Times” funky falsetto) and old favorites (“Lucky”s straight forward rock). “Angela” is a song about Rob’s experience of the stroke and echoes a Rolling Stones’ anthem. “Crooked Wheel” features iconic singer dUg Pinnick from the seminal rock band Kings X.
For Louden Swain, an indie band that has thoroughly planted its roots in DIY fan supported rock. The future is the beginning. They are veterans and yet, they have begun anew. Stay tuned for what happens next….
-Nick DeRiso & Rob Benedict