Team GDW have been strong fans of Great Lake Swimmers for several years now, and we were fortunate to catch them live twice last year. From the Homecoming concert in Port Colborne, ON, to their co-headlining event with Elliott Brood at The Aeolian Hall, we were treated to a great cross section of their music, from the somber sounds of the early days to the more recent upbeat releases. Whether touring as a trio or with any combination of a full band, The Great Lake Swimmers always captivate your attention through their stunning music.
With the knowledge that a new release is currently in the works, along with a series of concerts this autumn, Team GDW caught up with Tony Dekker to get the lowdown on these upcoming events. We are incredibly grateful and indebted to Tony for taking time to field our questions, and are happy to share this exclusive interview with you.
Fresh off your “Floating through the Forest” tour, you took your music to both the US and the Maritimes as a trio rather than a full band. Firstly, how did you approach the stripped down shows, and what key adjustments were made? Secondly, can you describe the differences, if at all, in the intimacy between yourselves and the crowd in this kind of environment?
The idea of the tour as a trio was to revisit some of our earlier songs and the quiet side of the catalogue, which we weren’t really able to play much with the full band configuration. We took requests through our website and Facebook page and tried to play as many of them as we could. So they were really for long-time followers who might have been with us since our first album in 2003. Also, touring as a three piece, we were able to get to a lot more places that we wouldn’t normally play, smaller towns and venues off the beaten path, because travel was easier and we were a lot more nimble with a leaner tour setup. It was really gratifying to play in a more intimate setting and I think the focus was really on the songs and the connection with the audience. Songs present themselves differently with somewhat sparse instrumentation and it’s an idea I’d really like to carry forward with the project.
You are taking part in the “Festival of Small Halls” concert series (Ottawa region) next month. What can your audiences expect from Great Lake Swimmers for these popular events?
We’re continuing the idea of scaled back instrumentation, and the festival is great way for us to continue the trip that we’re on of presenting the songs in a raw way. All of our band members are multi-instrumentalists so that has really opened up the shows for a diverse musical palette. We’re looking forward to playing in the intimate spaces.
You shall also headline the “Sandbanks Music Festival” in Prince Edward County, ON. Describe the adjustments you have to make for the festival environment in comparison to the preparations made for a regular Great Lake Swimmers show.
We’ll have a bigger band for the Sandbanks Festival and the focus there will be on the more upbeat side of our catalogue. Our band at this point can expand and contract with various satellite members coming in or sitting out depending on the setting, and what we’re trying to achieve musically. Sandbanks is such a beautiful place and I think it’s going to be a great scenic backdrop for our music.
We are very excited to learn that you are currently working on your next full album, tentatively scheduled for a 2018 release. Any hints as to the direction that you are taking with this new material: towards the lighter side of “New Wild Everywhere” or the haunting influences of “Lost Channels”?
I think the quieter sets we’ve played on tour this past year are going to translate into the new album. We’re taking an almost minimalist approach and building out from there. I think the new album may also be a bit more challenging musically than what we’ve done more recently. I became convinced at some point that we had to make a ‘band’ album and utilize the talents of five people in a room, but I think that also really limited the sonic landscape of the songs and created a more limited scope in a way. I’ve been very careful about listening to what these new songs are asking for, and have been bringing in musicians based on that. I’m also quite thrilled to be working with Chris Stringer from Union Sound on it, and we’ve done some really amazing location recordings so far. The will be a record that is all about ‘the songs’ and not so much about ‘the band.’
We love your creativity, and your ability to source such remote locations to capture and record your albums. Your 2015 “A Forest Of Arms” album was recorded in the Tyendinaga Caves in Hastings Count, ON. For the new project, you selected the “Bishop Cronyn Memorial Church” in London, ON. How did you source this location, and what was the decisive factor that convinced you to record here?
We learned about the church through the Aeolian Hall when we played there last year. It’s a new space they are working with and it sounds beautiful. It has a great piano and also a fully functioning pipe organ. We turned it into a de facto recording studio and its signature acoustics are all over the new tracks.
We last saw you perform live at The Aeolian Hall in London last December. You will be returning to this venue in November to help raise funds for their El Sistema youth music program. Describe how this opportunity arose, and the passion you have for such worthwhile causes like this.
I’m really proud to say that the benefit show for the El Sistema is tied in to our long history with the Aeolian Hall and our new recordings in London. The church currently houses the El Sistema music program and they were kind enough to allow us to use the space, so we’re glad to return the favour in the form of show to raise funds for the program. We’re behind it one hundred percent and glad we can help out.
You recently participated in “The Thesis Project.” Please tell us about the project, your involvement, and the impact that it had on you both personally and musically.
I was contacted by the organizer of the Thesis project, and even just a cursory glance of the idea behind it, and the people involved, made me want to take part. It’s not the type of thing I normally do but I liked that about it. It put me out of my comfort zone in a good way. It helped me think differently about approaching songwriting, composition, and improvisation, all mixed into one concept.
You collaborated for a selection of tracks with the Scottish duo Kinbrae for this project. How were you partnered (planned or random), and what insights can you offer about the experience?
The Thesis Project proposed the idea of the collaboration. Kinbrae make really exciting, deep, textural music and so it was a thrill to work with them. I’m really proud of the tracks we created together. There was a lot of back and forth in shaping the pieces and I feel that it is a true collaboration of our respective worlds. Again, I feel it pushed me in a good way to think about different modes of how a song can work. It allowed me to think about something I’ve been working at for many years from a different perspective.
Any hints about tour dates in the US? (We actually received this question from a reader of the blog.)
If all goes well, we’ll be touring in the US again in early 2018 with a new album.
Thanks once again to Tony Dekker and The Great Lake Swimmers for these wonderful insights. We eagerly await the new album, and look forward to hopefully catching the band live again soon (Central PA loves you – just sayin’).
Great Lake Swimmers Tour Dates:
Sat. Sept. 9 :: Dunedin ON :: Words In The Wood Festival
Thurs. Sept. 14 :: Elgin ON :: Chaffey’s Lock Community Hall
Fri. Sept. 15 :: Almonte ON :: Almonte Old Town Hall
Sat. Sept. 16 :: Sandbanks Provincial Park :: Sandbanks Music Festival
Sun. Sept. 17 :: Tamworth ON :: Tamworth Legion
Sat. Nov. 11 :: London ON :: Aeolian Hall (El Sistema Benefit)