It must be hard these days for surfers with above-average guitar licks and a knack for writing catchy tunes. I mean, ever since Jack Johnson conquered the world (and immediately began trying to save it), it seems every other wave-riding musician who comes down the line is pigeonholed somewhere below the meticulously mellow part-time Montecito resident-forever damned as being some sort of a less-deserving, watered-down, coattail-riding Jack wannabe. Certainly this way of thinking has its moments of truth, but, generally speaking, it is just plain wrong. Take for example, Oxnard’s Timmy Curran. Once a fresh-faced, knocked-kneed poster boy for the New School of modern surfing, Curran was, and remains, one of the best surfers in the world, famous for groundbreaking aerial acrobatics and a seemingly innate relationship with the deep, dark depths of front-side barrel riding. Now, though the whole professional surfing thing is still very much his nine-to-five, the 30-year-old, curly haired goofy foot is making waves in the world of music, opening up for rock ‘n’ roll heavyweights like the Foo Fighters and Switchfoot, and releasing his first solo album, Word of Mouth. With a humility that borders on outright denial, Curran admitted in an interview with The Independent last week, “The music stuff has been a total surprise to me. I never saw this coming.”
Turns out Curran comes from a family tree that, aside from producing world-class surfers such as himself and younger brothers Nathaniel and Josh, has more than a few branches that bud with musical talent. Hoping to one day join in on the Curran clan jam sessions that marked all major family holidays, Timmy started playing guitar in his early teens, even penning his own lyrics shortly thereafter. However, all did not go according to plan. Simply put, the songs sucked. “They weren’t so good” recalled the former ninth ranked surfer in the world with a laugh. “And I definitely got that hint from my friends and family.”
Undeterred, Curran kept playing and writing with the simple goal of one day “not sounding like an idiot.” It took a while, but eventually he cracked the code. Traveling for a surf contest in Japan a few years ago, Curran was alone in his hotel room when, what he calls a divine “blessing” came to him. It was there and then that he wrote, and immediately recorded on his mini-disc player, a tune called “If I Only Had a Way.” Playing it later for a jury made up of his wife, Shanoah, and a few friends, Curran learned that this one didn’t suck, or, as he put it, “didn’t seem to bother them too much.” This creative high was followed by a burst of songwriting during downtime at a contest in Brazil, where he wrote eight more songs-many of which can be found on Word of Mouth.
From there, in a mercurial rise that is eerie in its similarity to how Curran first stormed the surf world in the ’90s, he quickly found himself cracking the mainstream commercial music world, and his songs began appearing almost overnight on international compilations, surf films, and all over the ever-ready Internet. Now, three short years later, Curran can add to his list of surfing accomplishments an impressive musical resume that includes not only the aforementioned opening gigs, but also frequent solo-acoustic performances in surf towns the world over, shows at world class venues like the Santa Barbara Bowl and the Sydney Opera House, impressive sales numbers on iTunes, and now the critically well-received Word of Mouth (out now on Adeline Records). Summing up the experience Curran explained, “It was something I always dreamed about doing, but I never thought it would actually happen. It’s been a blessing really.”
As for holding Curran up to a Jack Johnson measuring stick (and I say this from experience, as I once wrote a review of an early Curran show where I prematurely dissed him for being a less-impressive knockoff of the chart-topping UCSB alum) such a point of comparison is sorely misplaced. Curran’s music is not only more melancholy, moody, and surprisingly introspective than Johnson’s multi-platinum blend of pop folk but, more importantly, it is the work of an artist who is very much his own man with his own, albeit reluctant, vision of artistic expression.
“Surfing is still my number one priority,” said Curran. “It pays the bills”-though he added with a laugh that he is “nervous” about getting any bigger in the music world than he is right now. Then, in what could easily be taken as a response to critics (and in what I couldn’t help but take at least a little bit personally), he stated simply, “You can’t please the world, that’s for sure. You just have to do what you love.” Lucky for us, Curran is just as talented at as he is enamored with the art of crafting a good song.