Posted Mar 16th, 2009 (8:30 pm) by Matt Midgley

Great Lake Swimmers is a fantastic folk-rock band based out of Ontario, Canada (I’m starting to notice a pattern in bands coming from our Northern Neighbors). Besides Tony Dekker (Vocals, Guitar) and Erik Arnesen (Banjo, Guitar, Harmonium), the band has somewhat of a rotating cast of characters. Currently signed to Nettwerk (Official Site), GLS have three intricately beautiful and emotionally stunning albums under their belt, with a fourth (Lost Channels) set to drop at the end of this month (March 31st in the US/Canada). They’ve set a high bar with past releases, but we’ve had a chance to take some time with it, and we’re unanimous: It doesn’t disappoint.

Out on the road touring in support of Lost Channels, Tony Dekker took a few minutes out of his day to do a quick phone interview with us.

InYourSpeakers: Lost Channels, your new album, is about to come out. You must be very busy. Is life pretty hectic right now?

Tony Dekker: Yeah, things have been crazy for a while now. It’s a good kind of crazy though.

IYS: You’re on tour right now?

TD: Yes. We’re in Halifax [Nova Scotia] right now, setting up for a show tonight.

IYS: Channels was recorded in various places in the Thousand Islands area (Ontario). Can you elaborate on some of the different places and settings the recording took place in?

TD: Yes, of course. We recorded in three main places. The first was this old theatre called The Brockville Arts Centre [ Site ]. There’s this group that has been keeping it up for the last hundred years or so, and it’s really great. The second was this old church in Rockport [St. Brendan’s Church, Rockport, ON] . The third one is this fantastic castle on this little island called Dark Island, just off the coast of Hammond, New York. Singer Castle [Site]. It’s beautiful.

IYS: What made you choose these locations?

TD: Well, we mostly picked them for their acoustic capabilities. The histories of the different places were also important, and I think affect the music, but it was the acoustics that we traveled for.

IYS: Did you have specific settings picked out for specific songs on the album, or did that work itself out later?

TD: Yeah, we worked that out later. We went through and played all the songs in each place and then afterward went through and picked the version that best fit what we wanted for each song.

IYS: How do you think the locale affect the music?

TD: Well, obviously the acoustics are different, so the same song can have a whole different feel. Also, every place you play brings something different out of you, and that’s reflected in the music. Then there’s the also sometimes the atmospheric sounds that creep into the music. Actually, at one point, we even use the bells of Singer Castle as sort of a bridge between the two parts of the album.

IYS: Was the recording done completely outside of a studio?

TD: No, we also recorded in a few studios. The House of Miracles. Halla. The Lincoln County Social Club. We mostly just laid down the drum tracks before we went out to the different places to record the rest, and afterward did some mastering.

IYS: So what made you choose the Thousand Islands area?

TD: We were invited to go there by a guy named Ian Coristine, who is a photographer and sort of local historian of the area. He was the one who helped recommend some of the different places with unique acoustic capabilities.

IYS: When it's time to make a new album, what's your process? Do you just sit down and it comes to you? Is it a long process over time?

TD: Well, for me it’s always a long, ongoing process. When it was time to record Lost Channels, I had quite a few songs that were mostly all done, and it’s from those that we picked songs to go on the record. I did end up writing or finishing a few of the songs out in the different locations we were recording, but I’d say the majority of it was done by the time we got there.

I’m constantly writing, so to me a record is just a collection of songs I’ve written that feel like they go well together.

IYS: Do people often suggest different interesting places to go and record?

TD: Not too much. I have a sort of laundry list of places I want to go and record at in the future though.

IYS: Care to share any of those?

TD: No, not yet.

IYS: Lost Channels definitely has a fuller sound than previous albums; There's a lot more going on in each song. How are you recording differently to make it like this?

TD: I think what made the difference in the fullness of the sound was me being more open to the collaborative process with the band. Letting go of a little bit more control over how each song will go. I think that is what added all the different layers to each song.

IYS: You also had quite a few guest appearances on the album. Did they have any effect on how the songs played out, or were they just there to add their part?

TD: In some cases, working with the different people we did added in a big way to the songs. It was like each musician and each person who helped brought their own piece to the music.

IYS: Much of your music speaks of, or is at least seemingly inspired by the nature around you. Do you feel that lends to playing shows in certain places above others?

TD: Sure, some places make it easier than others, but I think the important thing is being able to convey the feeling and the message of the songs we’re playing to the audience, regardless of the setting.

IYS: These days you're touring all over North America and Europe. Are there any particular places you love playing?

TD: We love to play in unique venues, like old churches or old music halls. We try to find those more interesting places everywhere we’re going to play.

IYS: Any venues you’ve disliked playing?

TD: Playing in the more punk-rock-oriented venues is tougher. We did that a lot more in the beginning. We played in a lot of bar-dives. Those don’t fit well with our music, so they’re not as easy to play.

IYS: You've played with a lot of big names. Are there any bands or artists you've enjoyed touring with that stick out in your mind?

TD: We’ve been really lucky with some of the musicians we’ve been able to tour with. Leslie Feist, Andrew Bird, Sufjan Stevens. They’ve all been great.

IYS: Your music is often compared to that of Neil Young, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Nick Drake and the like. Do you listen to any of the guys to which you're compared?

TD: I actually hadn’t really ever listened to Neil Young until after I started being compared to him. Since then I’ve become a big fan of his entire catalog. So yeah, I listen to music like that. I’d say I listen to it more as an appreciator of music though, as opposed to listening for inspiration or influence.

IYS: Listen to anything absolutely unlike your own music?

TD: Especially lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of old soul records. So I guess that’s pretty different than our music. I love them though.

IYS: If you were to wake up one day, and decide to make a record completely unlike everything you've done, what type of music would it be?

TD: I make the music that fits me, I think. I mean, I’ve wanted to try making a country record, a traditional country record. We incorporate a little bit of that into our music already though. I guess it’d be fun to make a punk-rock album or something like that though. No plans for it.

IYS: Any recent records or bands that you've been getting into lately?

TD: Lately I’ve been listening a lot to a band from around here called Timber Timbre. They’re great.

IYS: Any type of music that you just don't get? That you can't stand?

TD: Not really. There’s music I don’t really listen to, but I think I can see where it’s coming from and it’s purpose. Why people like it. I don’t really think there is any music out there that is completely useless.

IYS: I know for some people, their music is a reaction to what is around them, while for others, it comes completely from somewhere within. Which would you say fits you?

TD: For me, I think it’s important to just channel everything around you. To show your surroundings through yourself. So I’m never trying to be political or even ever strictly narrative. I just try to play what I feel from my surroundings.

IYS: Being from Canada and touring in the States often, you're very familiar with the annoyances that can come up crossing the border. Is that getting better? Worse?

TD: Well luckily we have all our papers in order, so we’ve never had a problem. We’ve got our fingers crossed for the future.

IYS: How do you feel reception is in the States versus Canada?

TD: I think things have been getting better and better. There are people out there who are still just finding out about our first record, and that came out five years ago. We’re excited about the way things are coming along.

IYS: What with the economy being as dismal as it is, have you noticed a change in record sales or show turnout that you can attribute to it?

TD: Even in economic depression, people still find a way to get entertainment. Entertainment is one of the things that people always need. Even in the Great Depression, music still thrived. It’s important to people, so people find a way to make it work.

IYS: If you were to give a quick introduction to Great Lake Swimmers (and "Lost Channels" in particular) to those few of our readers who haven't heard you yet, what would you say?

TD: Well, to introduce the record, I’d say that Lost Channels is pretty much split up in a Side-A/Side-B way. It’s really set up like a vinyl record. The first half of the album is higher tempo and upbeat than we’ve done in the past, and the second half is the more mellow side. I think if people know that as they listen for the first time, it will make more sense to them.

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