Interview with Great Lake Swimmers
With their fourth album, Lost Channels, Toronto folk rock band, Great Lake Swimmers continued to find critical success. What they might not have expected to find was
they would still have to do interviews for terrible blogs a nomination for a Juno Award, as well as being short-listed for a Polaris Prize. With the band’s fifth album, New Wild Everywhere, out tomorrow (April 3), would these recent award nominations increase the pressure or perhaps provide for inspiration?
PeteHatesMusic caught up over email with the brains and voice behind Great Lake Swimmers, Tony Dekker, to see if the pressure had turned him into a recluse like Howard Hughes, how the songwriting process has changed over time, and about the possibilities of recording a song in the Mariana Trench.
PeteHatesMusic (PHM): I have come across all sorts of pretentious adjectives from journalists and bloggers to describe your music. For readers who might not know Great Lake Swimmers, can you describe your music in your own words? Bonus points for being unpretentious.
Tony Dekker (TD): I guess the most accurate description would be indie folk-rock. It draws on folk traditions while also being independent from them, if that makes any sense. I’m not a big fan of labels, so I’ll leave the colourful adjectives for the journalists.
PHM: You are from Wainfleet, Ontario (note: west of Niagara Falls – yes, I had to look it up). The guys from PeteHatesMusic are originally from a small town on Lake Simcoe in Ontario. Having grown up in a small town, we spent a lot of time outdoors (when we weren’t grounded for “seeing if the cat likes motor oil”). Now given the great lakes in the band’s name, and the geography and landscape lyrics in songs, how much of a role does your small town upbringing have on the band’s music and lyrics?
TD: Having grown up in a rural farming community, things like weather systems and seasonal cycles were taken very seriously and often meant the success or failure of a farm. I think that I was very much in tune with those things from a very young age on my parents’ farm. When I take a step back and think about what I can offer in terms of a unique perspective, it’s that relationship with the natural world. I feel it in my bones.
Great Lake Swimmers – Easy Come Easy Go
PHM: The band’s last album saw both a Juno nomination and being shortlisted for the Polaris Prize. Does this inspire the band when writing songs for the next album, or raise expectations and make you want to lock yourself in a closet?
TD: There was zero pressure coming into the recording of New Wild Everywhere, so everything was able to unfold at a very natural and organic pace. Being nominated for awards was incidental, and certainly not inspirational, at least not for me. The music and the songs always come first, and there are enough reasons to be inspired in life that have nothing to do with awards nominations.
PHM: You’ve put out a lot of material over the past decade. Is the songwriting and lyric writing getting easier or harder with each song you create? Are you a near-bottomless well of ideas and themes to explore, or do you frequently hit writer’s block? Any epic songwriting tantrums and Martin Scorcese-esque band fights?
TD: As you would imagine, Great Lake Swimmers is generally a pretty gentle outfit. So there haven’t been any epic battles between band members. As far as the songwriting goes, I don’t think I’ve run out of ideas yet or have truly made a statement that I can hang a career on. Until then I’ll keep trying to draw the map.
(note: I had imagined the band as a fisticuffs / beer bottle smashing type of band. Thanks for crushing my imagination!)
PHM: This is the fifth studio album for Great Lake Swimmers. How does the song writing and recording process change from album to album? Is there a conscience effort to change things with each new album?
TD: This is our fifth album, but technically it’s our first “studio” album. Up to this point, our music has been recorded on location, so this was a new challenge for us. I think we do try to challenge ourselves with each new album. I see the songwriting as an arc, and the process is always different from song to song.
PHM: Do you have the desire to branch off and try drastic musical things you don’t think you could do under the Great Lake Swimmers name (without waking up to an angry mob outside your door), or because there is a sort of fluidity with the band members, that this allows for any musical flexibility you desire?
TD: So far I’ve been content to focus fully on releasing music under the banner of Great Lake Swimmers. Who knows what the future holds.
Great Lake Swimmers – New Wild Everywhere
PHM: Historically, the band has a bit of a changing lineup, with musicians varying from album to album. Do you think the current lineup will stick around permanently, or is it an album by album decision?
TD: It’s understandable that some people need to take a step back from music, touring, and being in a band at certain points of their lives, like when their priorities change, and I think that’s happened a lot with this band. Even though it started out as a solo project essentially, and as a vehicle for my songwriting, it’s difficult to keep a band together even in the best of circumstances. That being said, I think the vision and spirit of the band has remained intact, and I hope that this version of the band grows old and grey together.
PHM: What does newcomer Miranda Mulholland bring to the band (besides a lack of facial hair)?
TD: Miranda is an extremely talented violin player and singer and brings both of those things to the band. It’s been amazing to have a fiddle player of her caliber in the band, and I think it adds a lot of fire to the songs.
PHM: The band has recorded in all sorts of interesting locations, such as old churches, castles on islands, and deserted silos. Director James Cameron just got back from diving to the Mariana Trench – the deepest part in the entire ocean. Now how would recording THERE sound on a Great Lake Swimmers record?
TD: That would be amazing. Sign me up.
The band is about to embark on a European tour, playing at Cargo in London on April 12. Great Lake Swimmers then head back to North America to play some shows there, including June 2 in Toronto at the Music Hall. Full tour dates are below, so add “buy tickets before they sell out” to your list of things to do (right above “Buy milk for alley cats”).
Great Lake Swimmers – Your Rocky Spine
European Tour with Special Guest Barzin
April 10 – Middelburg, NL @ De Spot
April 12 – London, UK @ Cargo
April 13 – Birmingham, UK @ HMV Institute
April 14 – Manchester, UK @ The Deaf Institute
April 15 – Brighton, UK @ Green Door Store
April 16 – Brussels, BE @ Botanique
April 17 – Diksmuide, BE @ 4AD
April 18 – Ottersum, NL @ Roepaen
April 19 – Groningen, NL @ Vera
April 20 – Berlin, DE @ HBC
April 21 – Hamburg, DE @ Prinzenbar
April 22 – Dachau, DE @ Kultur Schranne
April 23 – Basel, CH @ Sud
April 25 – Brest, FR @ Dialogues Musiques
April 25 – Brest, FR @ Le Vauban
April 26 – Paris, FR @ Petit Bain
April 27 – Turnhout, BE @ Warande
North American Tour with Special Guest Cold Specks
May 1- Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
May 2 – Madison, WI @ High Noon Saloon
May 3 – Minneapolis, MN @ Cedar Cultural Center
May 4 – Winnipeg, MB @ West End Cultural Centre
May 6 – Edmonton, AB @ McDougall United Church
May 7 – Calgary, AB @ Central United Church
May 8 – Lethbridge, AB @ Southminster United Church
May 9 – Nelson, BC @ The Royal on Baker
May 11 – Vancouver, BC @ Commodore Ballroom
May 12 – Victoria, BC @ Alix Goolden Hall
May 13 – Seattle, Washington @ Tractor Tavern
May 14 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
May 16 – San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
May 18 – Los Angeles, CA @ Troubadour
May 19 – Phoenix, AZ @ The Compound Grill
May 20 – Tucson, AZ @ Club Congress
May 22 – Dallas, TX @ Prophet Bar
May 23 – Austin, TX @ Stubb’s Jr
May 24 – New Orleans, LA @ One Eyed Jacks
May 25 – Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse
May 26 – Asheville, NC @ Grey Eagle Music Hall
May 27 – Washington, DC @ The Rock N Roll Hotel
May 28 – Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s
May 30 – New York, NY @ The Bowery Ballroom
May 31 – Boston, MA @ The Middle East
June 2 – Toronto, ON @ The Music Hall
June 20 – Ann Arbor, MI @ The Ark
June 21 – Indianapolis, IN @ Radio Radio
June 23 – Cincinati, OH @ Taft Theater