Surf Stronger Talks to Surf Legend, Musician Tom Curren

Tom Curren is known as one of the greatest surfers of all time. A World Champion three times over, and style master nonpareil, he has etched an indelible impression on modern-day surfing. While some might be satisfied with such accomplishments and acclaim, Curren has pushed himself in new directions –  into new art forms — specifically in the realm of music. For the last twenty-plus years he has quietly gone about making music, honing his craft, and just recently put out his third full length album, In Plain View. And while he has called songwriting “a big mystery” his determination to do it has paid off.  In Plain View is a fluid and strong album, with a California soul that is hard to deny.

We spoke with Tom about the making of his new album, making music and his upcoming West Coast tour that starts Thursday April 11th in Solana Beach, California.

Where did you record the new album? Over what period of time?
The album was recorded at Village Studios in LA last summer.

What was the driving force for making the album?
A little while ago, a friend of mine, William Kimball, was doing an album and a showcase tour over on East Coast, and he asked if I wanted to open for him. We did that, and it happened that the guys in his group were involved in a studio in LA. They asked me if I wanted to record my songs, and I took them up on it.

You are primarily known as a guitar player. Do you play any other instruments on “In Plain View”?
I played a ukulele and an 8-string uke and a little bit of piano.

Tom Curren playing guitar

The songs are rich and feature lots of great sounds. How did you come up with the instrumentation? Are they mostly your arrangements? Did you have a musical collaborator?
Thank you. I had a lot of the instrument and arrangement ideas, though not all. John Alagia, the producer, had had some of the ideas as well.

Recording an album can be hard work, it can take a lot of patience. How was the experience for you?
It went smoothly. The studio and crew were really good, so it made it pretty easy. We had good results recording the tracks. The overdub process can feel a bit redundant after awhile,  and  you get sort of tired of the songs actually, but then there’s some really nice moments as well. When John, the producer was happy with the sound I figured it was good to go.

The new album has a great feel to it, what I’d call a “worldy” vibe. For example, “You and You Alone” has some really nice textures and sounds — percussion, bells, chimes, also a great guitar riff. Where does this influence come from?
That song, in particular, started as a surf-guitar type song, but when I learned it on the uke, there were a few new notes that I hadn’t found on guitar due to the different tuning. And I added some xylophone to accentuate those notes.

How is live performance similar, or different from competing (surf competition) in front of a big crowd?
It’s fun as long as the sound is working right. It is a lot more interactive than surfing, especially with a band.

How do you feel about playing out? Is it something you look forward to?
Yeah, I like it. I like interacting with the other musicians — the part where you interact with the band, and you make everything work – with all the different moving parts. And if it is good enough, it enables you to play out at nice places with good, quality sound. There’s a lot of energy and the electricity on stage — in the amps maybe — but it can be fun when it’s all working.

What can fans expect on the April tour? Is it quiet acoustic style, or more full band, rocking style?
Actually both. We have some shows opening for Ben Howard which will be more acoustic sounding. Otherwise we will have a full band.

It looks like the upcoming spring tour hits some surfing hot spots like Solana Beach, Santa Barbara, San Francisco. How is to play in such great surf towns?
It has been a privilege to surf and play as well in some of the places we plan to go to. Many road trips over the years, and many fond memories.

The Santa Barbara area has a strong lineage of talented musicians — from Jack Johnson to Jackson Browne; From Toad the Wet Sprocket to Spencer the Gardener. What do you think it is about the area that influences this?
I think SB is very idyllic and there is a lot of natural beauty — ocean and mountains both. Very peaceful. Maybe that has something to do with it.

What is your routine like on the road, between gigs on the road? What do you do for relaxation on the road?
I like running, or if possible, surfing of course.

What’s on the musical horizon for Tom Curren after this tour?
We have more gigs coming up, around California,  and the East Coast in August. Beyond that, keep plugging away and coming up with ideas for new stuff. At this point I’m really happy with the band I’m working with and that’s really nice.

Catch Tom Curren on his West coast tour:
April 11th: Belly Up, Solana Beach, CA (Supporting Ben Howard)
April 13th: SoHo Music Club, Santa Barbara, CA
April 14th: The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA (Supporting Ben Howard)
April 15th: The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA (Supporting Ben Howard)

For the full tour and tickets, visit, TomCurren.com.

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