|Tony Dekker - Great Lake Swimmers |
Having released one of 2009ís most beautiful and unique records with Lost Channels Ė a reader and staff favourite at the year end polls Ėthe Great Lake Swimmers is probably the best Canadian band around at the moment. Big words, yes, but you need big words to match the grandeur of their forth album, recorded in the Thousand Island region in Canada. In this interview, we speak to the angel voiced singer and songwriter Tony Dekker about turning Great Lake Swimmers into a band, the recording of Lost Channels and why heíll probably never set his foot in a studio again.
Interview by Soren McGuire
Lost Channels has been out for some time now. What are your thoughts on the album? Where do you see you and the rest of the Great Lake Swimmers going?
I still kind of see it as a progression for the band. I still see it as more of a band effort. There has been some great chemistry happening between the musicians on the recording. Earlier Great Lake Swimmers records were solo records, but Lost Channels I definitely see as a true band outing.
You already began that process of turning the Great Lake Swimmers into a band a few albums back, didnít you?
Well yeah, Bodies And Minds was probably the beginning of that. I still played most of the instrumentation on that album, so it was really on the third album, Ongiara, that I started moving away from the solo aspect of it. I donít know, at first the Great Lake Swimmers was a vehicle for my solo songwriting, especially on the first album, but then it sort of developed into a band pretty organically.† †
Was it always in the cards that the Great Lake Swimmers would evolve into a band?
I always envisioned it as a band, and thatís also the reason I named it Great Lake Swimmers instead of just using my own name even though it was essentially a solo thing at first. I think I also envisioned putting a band together to represent the sound.
Why did you go up to the Thousand Islands region in Canada to record Lost Channels?
It was sort of a continuation of the recording process we had used in the past on the first three albums. The idea was to utilise an interesting acoustic space. We wanted to harness not only the naturally acoustic sound of the Thousand Islands, but also to sort of harness the definitive take of a song within an environment. And with the Thousand Islands, we were lucky to find a number of different acoustic spaces to work with. The identity of the region sort of creeps into the tracks and the whole album.
It sounds like a beautiful place.
It really is. Itís a series of islands that spill into the Saint Lawrence River where Lake Ontario pushes out into the Atlantic. Thereís literally thousands of islands within that one particular region between Ontario and New York State, and itís a pretty unique space. Ecologically speaking.
You didnít just go up there and find the first island you came upon and set up a studio, did you?
No, we recorded the album in three primary places in the Thousand Islands. One of them was a church called St. Brendanís. Itís on a rock cliff overlooking the river. One was in an art center in Brockville, Ontario, originally and old theatre, and the third place was a castle built by someone who made his name in the Singer sewing machine company, financing sewing machines. They built a castle there which is now known as Singer Castle. It was built on a small island and takes up most of the island.
It must have been an amazing experience for you?
Yes, it was definitely a great experience, and that was a big part of the whole process for us. This sort of set-up, to create a place of reverence to record and spending all the extra time between recordings. That made it more special for us. We were in the region for a couple of weeks and had an amazing time.
How do you think an experience like that, being up there in this without doubt beautiful part of the planet, affects the sound of the band?† ††
Sonically, it adds another layer to the sound. Itís as if this recording space almost operates as another member to the band, like a canvas we use to record the songs on to. On another level, I think it kind of seats us in a sense of place. Musically, I think itís important to try and tie into that sense of place and have a reference for where the music is being made.
Did you have all the songs written when you went up there?
I would say I was about 80 percent done writing. Some of the songs were still in progress when we went up there.
When did you get the idea to go to Thousand Islands? You were invited up there by a fan, right?
We got the invitation to go there, and when I started brainstorming on where to record our next album, I called Ian Coristine who is a bit of a story collector and a photographer. He pretty much set it up for us.
Do you think you could ever just go into a normal studio and record there?
I would probably have trouble with that. The projection of the band is that weíre becoming more and more elaborate with our location recordings, and I think itís become a pretty crucial aspect of the band, recording in these different interesting places to harness some kind of sonic quality in a given place. So I donít know if I could go back to any sort of studio recording. It would feel claustrophobic. I like the live sounding space, where you can hear everything bounce off the walls.
So where do you think youíll record the next album?
I donít know yet. Not that I havenít had my sights set on different set ups, but it still feels too early.
Late last year, you toured the UK with Will Johnson and Jason Molina. Tell me about your relationship with those two?
I had toured with Will and his band, Centr-O-Matic before in Europe and the US, and even though I donít normally tour solo these days, it seemed to fit for this project that Will and Jason were doing. I thought it was a good opportunity to go back. I basically started out touring solo as Great Lake Swimmers. And also, on a creative level, Iím a big fan of both Will Johnson and Jason Molina, so I also saw it as a chance to connect with two great songwriters.
Great Lake Swimmersí latest album, Lost Channels, is out now on Nettwerk. For more info, go to Greatlakeswimmers.com