For a time, Swollen Members may have been the biggest hip-hop act in Canada. The Vancouver-based group has platinum records in its home country and four Juno Awards on its shelf (basically the Canadian version of the Grammys).
Similar Stateside success never followed, though Swollen Members have been touted in U.S. underground hip-hop for two decades and are one of the more successful acts in independent rap.
“In this industry, it’s peaks and valleys,” said Swollen Members rapper Kiley Hendriks, aka Prevail. “We went from an underground group to basically a household name in Canada to burrowing back to our original home and making a mainstay in the underground.”
But that all came close to crashing down. Shane Bunting — aka Madchild, the group’s other emcee — entered rehab for opioid addiction and the Swollen Members faced an uncertain future.
“There were points of questioning what would happen if this all went away,” said Prevail. “Not so much, 'Well, this is over,’ but 'What if this does end up terminating here?’”
Making matters worse, the trio, which also includes producer Rob the Viking, wasn’t allowed to tour the United States with all three members anymore. After years of touring the States and successfully applying for work permits, Madchild was denied entry into the country about four years ago. In interviews, he’s said he was questioned at the border about his past associations with members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club, but assault charges from when he was a young adult were given as the official reason for denying his entry into the country.
“It really took us by surprise,” explained Prevail. “It was completely out of the blue. We had gotten work permits for years and years, and that’s not something that they dole out like it’s a prize in a Cracker Jack box.”
As Madchild navigated the immigration bureaucracy, Swollen Members toured the States sporadically without him.
“We understand when you want to go see a group, unless it’s advertised as such, you want to see the whole group, so we tried to just do it tastefully and make sure that the fans know that, 'hey, it’s just going to be two of the guys, but when Mad can get back, we’re coming back into the States full force.”
Four years later, Madchild is finally able to enter the U.S., and earlier this year, Swollen Members made its first trek across America in half a decade. The group also just released its 11th album, “Brand New Day,” and it’s the first to be released on the group’s own Battle Axe Records imprint since 2003’s “Heavy.”
The album isn’t a drastic departure from the often introspective, sometimes dark hip-hop upon which Swollen Members made their name, but the idea of turning the page and starting new resonates throughout.
“It’s nice to be able to still be making tunes and making songs and still be in a place of relevancy; it could have (certainly) gone the other way,” said Prevail. “What I found really amazing — and part of the reason for the name of the new album, 'Brand New Day’ — is that we really stuck together as brothers and bonded together as musicians and friends. I think that we fought through something that I know for a fact tears a lot of bands apart.”
When: Doors at 8 p.m., show starts at 9 p.m. Wednesday, July 16
Where: Bear Tooth Theatrepub
Tickets: $32 at beartooththeatre.net