Keeping it real 

Swollen Members
  • Swollen Members

Swollen Members remain true to themselves

Who: Swollen Members, with Sweat Shop Union

Where: Delta Whistler Ballroom

When: Friday, Dec. 13

Chances are if you’ve been in Whistler for more than five minutes you’ll have heard of Swollen Members. No, that’s not what you get after a bad day in the terrain park, it is in fact the name of one of the biggest hip hop success stories taking over the country, and they’re coming back to base camp.

The West Coast outfit have been underground Whistler regulars for years but with a slew of Juno and MuchMusic awards under their belts, plus the subsequent release of their third album, Monsters in the Closet, the rest of the world is finally taking notice.

Swollen Members is made up of co-MCs Prevail and Mad Child, plus DJ/producer Rob the Viking and guest-turned-official-member, Moka Only. The first track off the Monsters album, Steppin Thru, recently went to No. 1 on the MuchMusic count down, while the album itself went gold within three weeks of its release. The latest single sent out for radio rotation is Breath and it looks set to follow a similar trail. Breath’s ominous beats collide with the vocals of their longtime friend Nelly Furtado. More on her later.

First up, let’s get back to Swollen Members’ strong ties to Whistler. MC Prevail said their popularity and presence here was two-fold.

"On the one hand, we all ride. Being from Vancouver, we all try and get up there whenever we can. I spent five months there one winter. We’ve played a ton of shows around the village over the years and have a lot of friends there."

On the other hand, Prevail said hip hop had become synonymous with board culture through representation on videos and at industry events, such as Snowscene.

When I told Prevail a lot of people in town had a "before they were famous" Swollen Members story, he laughed and said it was good to hear. Despite their mainstream success, these guys have still maintained respect from their original fans.

"It’s all about paying your dues," said Prevail. "The underground scene is dope for helping you figure out what works. Those crowds will tell you if they think you’re shit, and you need it. It’s a natural progression. You start out playing the smaller shows to help you figure out your own strengths, to develop as an entity, as a group. That’s when you learn how to control a show as well as how to appeal to an audience that matters."

So how did they go from West Coast to every coast? The defining element was a mix of factors, said Prevail.

"We won the Juno award while our first single Lady Venom was on rotation, and then the video came out. We were touring Canada as well and people were seeing for themselves the work we’d put in, I guess."

Swollen Members’ latest single, Steppin’ Thru, and the subsequent video clip has been a big step in pushing them through to the big league. These guys look and sound like they’re having fun. The Steppin Thru video contains a bunch of party people hanging out by a backyard pool, laughing and rhyming away. But the key element was the authenticity.

"We like to have our friends and family in our videos," said Prevail. "Because we’re independent we get to have a big say in the treatment of the production and since we’re pulling 16 hour days for the shoot, we ’mose-well have fun with it. I think part of the reason the video is so popular is because we created an atmosphere that was real."

The video for Breath is scheduled for production in December and Prevail is very excited.

"The creator of the comic Spawn , Todd McFarland, is directing it. He’s the one who inspired me to get into comic books. Because of him I have a Spiderman tattoo."

Breath , as mentioned, features Nelly Furtado.

"One thing about Nelly, she has always stayed true to herself and where she came from. We all grew up together and I can still remember seeing her walking around beat boxing. When we eventually went on tour together, it was so cool, just feeling the vibe and building off each other, it was such an amazing experience, we had to get her vocals on a track," said Prevail.

Let’s end this story on the album. If album sales don’t speak for themselves, maybe Prevail’s synopsis will help: "It’s a good indication of where we are, where we came from and what we’re capable of."

Tickets to see Swollen Members are on sale now for $28.75, plus GST and a booking fee. A $1 charitable donation will also be asked for at time of purchase to go towards The Province Empty Stocking Fund, raising money for kids that aren't doing so well.

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