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An Interview With Tony Dekker of Great Lake Swimmers

So to start, I couldn’t find much about your upcoming album due out this fall. You’ve recorded in abandoned silos, churches, castles and caves, what can you tell me about the new record?

We’ll be making an announcement soon. We’ve pulled together a really great group of musicians and artists from Toronto, Niagara, and London to make it work. The new record is more about the songs, and less about the band, if that makes sense. Our member lineup has changed with every new album, and for this one I was more conscious about finding the right people for the songs, instead of trying to work with a preset backing band like we’ve done in the past.

Like previous records, did you record it in an unorthodox place?

We did all of the initial tracking at Bishop Cronyn Memorial Church in London Ontario, which is associated with the Aeolian Hall there, and which houses the El Sistema music program. We also took an impulse response of the space and used that sonic map on all of the subsequent overdubs, so the sound of the space is really all over the new record. We also worked closely with the team at Union Sound in Toronto and Chris Stringer, who co-produced the album.

What was the experience recording this time around?

I find again and again that the space really informs the whole process. There are a lot of extra technical concerns to worry about and there is always a chance that when listening to the playback, there will be sound issues, but I figured that even if at the very least all we got was a creative use of the space, it would have been enough. Working on the songs in the church helped them along, I think, and made them better. We got so much more though, in the natural acoustics, and the extra sonic layer that you can’t quite put your finger on. The air. Not to mention that there was an excellent piano and fully functioning pipe organ that we incorporated into some of the songs. It was awesome.

How does this album serve as a step forward in the band’s constant evolution?

I really wanted to step out of our zone of acoustic guitar and standard folk singer/songwriter instrumentation and implement different instruments and arrangements. One song in particular, which will be our first single, is made up entirely of woodwinds and vocals only. Another only has harp, piano, and vocals. It will feel familiar to long time listeners of our music, but I hope we’ve taken it out to left field a little more. Overall it’s a bit more challenging and more minimal. I wanted to strip away anything that wasn’t crucial to the song and as a result I think that there isn’t much left that’s ornamental or superfluous. It’s all about the feel.

The band has become infamous for recording in unorthodox places. Where has been your favourite place to record?

The Thousand Islands region in general left a really deep impact creatively and is still a source of inspiration. When we recorded Lost Channels there, it coincided with a real creative high point and things dovetailed really nicely with that setting. It was also a highlight to collaborate with photographer Ian Coristine and learn about the rich history of the area, which in turn reflected back into the music. It’s not every day that you get to record in a castle, let alone on an island called Dark Island in the middle of the St. Lawrence.

Great Lake Swimmers has been active for over 15 years now, how have you seen the band evolve over the years, and in turn how has the Canadian music landscape changed alongside the band?

I’m thankful that we were able to establish in the early 2000’s and that our label afforded us the opportunity to grow and change. But it’s tough out there right now. It’s a labour of love for me, and songwriting is something that I try to work hard at every day. I think that’s the heavy lifting, and there’s absolutely no reason to do it unless there’s an absolute compulsion to. We’ve unfortunately entered a time when the majority sees music as something disposable, and there is less and less recompense for the years put into making and producing an album. There’s more great music out there than ever, especially Canadian music, and that’s a great thing, but it’s become a challenging industry to navigate.

You’re originally from Wainfleet, does this St. Catharines show act as a hometown show of sorts for you?

I actually live in Niagara-on-the-Lake now, and still have lots of family in the Wainfleet and Port Colborne area so this definitely feels like a hometown show. I was just talking to someone about seeing so many great shows in St. Catharines early on (anybody else remember the Hideaway in the 90’s?) and how my high school bands would play along St. Paul St. all the time. This will be our first time playing at the new Performing Arts Centre and we couldn’t be more excited about it. We’ll be playing some of the new songs for the first time there.

Great Lake Swimmers perform at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre on March 1. Information can be found at firstontariopac.ca

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