Have you heard the one about the gentleman who recorded his debut in an abandoned grain silo in Ontario? You should have by now. That man is Tony Dekker, his recording name is Great Lake Swimmers and the album (Great Lake Swimmers) is one of the finest you will hear all year.
Released originally in Canada in March of 2003 (weewerk), then in Europe a year later (Fargo) - we now have access to this genuine treasure via the fitting American label Misra. Home to such songwriting luminaries as Will Johnson, Jonathan Meiburg (Shearwater, Okkervil River) and Matthew Houck (Phosphorescent), Dekker - trading as Great Lake Swimmers - should feel quite at home in Austin, Texas.
Fresh on the homecoming of his self-titled debut in America, Misra is set to release Great Lake Swimmers second album, Bodies and Minds, in August.
Tony: We started recording the bed tracks in the silo for the debut Great Lake Swimmers album in August 2001. The tracks were finished between August and October, 2001. We spent most of 2002 mixing it, and adding more of the instrumentation (piano, organ, etc.), and passing these mixes around to friends. It was officially released in March 2003 in Canada.
+ On that note - how was the texture captured? (equipment and recorders.. .)
used 2 main condenser microphones, 2 Shure 58's, one overhead condenser
which was suspended about halfway up the silo, and 2 plate microphones
which were attached to the sides of the walls.
+ Much of the press (all glowing, mind you) chooses to tag you as "heartbroken" or "lonely" based on the music you make - would you say this is a fair reflection of your "life"?
I think that people who make music and art are generally drawn towards extremes. I'm not necessarily always sad or heart broken, but the songs represent extreme feelings that I had. To me the songs are more like a way of seeing things than an autobiography. I think I was more concerned with capturing that mood I was feeling than a particular instance.
+ Other than the move from a silo to a church - what differences can we expect on the next record, Bodies and Minds?
The new record will have more instrumentation, but it's not a drastic change from the mood of the debut. It's still concerned with subtle accompaniment which hopefully doesn't detract from the songs. The instrumentation and arrangements are there to best serve and reinforce the songs, which start out being really stripped down at first. Bodies and Minds has a bit more instrumentation and contribution from the backing members in comparison to the debut.
+ What attracts you to these locations (first a silo, then a church in rural Ontario) for recording? Are there any other "unconventional" recording sites that you would consider for the next record?
Location recording to me is a creative way to present the songs. I set out to capture the natural sounds of the structure and document them in a way too. You just can't get that kind of reverb from an effects box. The places we recorded in also felt like they were charged with a certain amount of energy in a way, too. For example, the silo we recorded in was completely abandoned after the house and farm it was on burned down, decades ago. It was like they just picked up and left. It was all overgrown and being reclaimed by the wilderness. I've got a few other ideas about places I'd like to record in but I'm really focussed on doing some touring and getting the word out about the first two records right now.
+ When mentioning the music you grew up with, you've stated that "country and punk rock are not really that different." How have both genres of music influenced you?
In the farming community that I grew up in the local radio station which everyone tuned in to played mostly a lot of old country records, so that was my first real experience with music. That's the kind of music I can feel in my bones. But as I got older I discovered the world of punk music and the energy and spirit of it really appealed to me in my musically formative years. The DIY ethic and the audacity of it as a whole stuck with me, to a certain extent. The ideal that music is for everyone and can be made by anyone, whether it be with three or four chords or with solos at Mach 4, they're equally as valid. I never really associated myself with the asthetics of that genre, but for a short time the music was really influential and created a healthy ethic in me. My view of early country music in relation to that is that early country and folk music is really the original outsider music, meaning that it was music that was made about being on the fringes of society and also about the clashes with it. And punk rock is a little like that too, in a way.
+ Any known of plans to tour the US in support of the new album?
We're hoping to do a full tour of the US and Canada in Fall 2005, with some solo dates probably leading up to that this summer.
+ You were recognized in 2004 by receiving the Favorite Roots/Folk Album nod from the Canadian Independent Music [Association] - how cutthroat is the competition up there?
In my experience, independent Canadian bands are generally more concerned with helping each other out than out-doing each other. It was nice to be recognized by the Canadian Indie Awards but I'm not really concerned with that stuff. The music itself is alot more important to me than accolades and in the end, music is its own reward.
+ Do you sense a new trend in artists choosing to record in grain silos?
didn't really know of other people who were doing similar things when
I started out recording the album, but I've since had people point
me towards other music that has been recorded similarly and I think
What makes you happy?
I'm happy making music and traveling around, sharing it with people. But making music is sort of a vocation for me. I'm happy when I have the opportunity to go out into the wilderness and look at trees, too. It's nice when those two things coincide.
Great Lake Swimmers
Great Lake Swimmers
( MISRA ) 2005
"The world let me down.. . in a big way."
I fucked up. I was so drawn in to Great Lake Swimmers self-titled debut on Texas-nestled Misra Records that I decided to search the system for more information. Unknowingly, I came to a label page that had over 11 pages of reviews archived for this one album - amazingly well written reviews that said everything I thought and then some. Hell, the bio even states ".. .this debut is an emotional, stirring album that is not meant to just be listened to. It's meant to be soaked in." Yeah, an album bio is honestly supposed to be the perfect review to accompany an album - and that line above serves this purpose. The appropriate names being dropped were just the faces I see when I listen to this album: Jim James, Al James (of Dolorean) and Marc Manning (of Everything is Fine).
Great Lake Swimmers is that album you hear once a year [if you're lucky]. This is the album that labels catch notice of and wonder why the hell they didn't release it - most likely due to the fact that they were all to busy shoving "more of the same" down our infected throats. Misra records isn't one of these labels. Alongside such proven talent as South San Gabriel / Will Johnson / Centro-Matic, Summer Hymns and Phosphorescent - Misra now has this amazing album to answer for. Here's hoping you followed the above nod to the archived reviews for Great Lake Swimmers, 'cause I found it rather difficult to add any more praise - and this album deserves all the recognition it receives. Here's what I came up with - hear this album:
Watching your house burn down. Driving your family off a high road, into a river. Sawing off your own limbs. Each of these tragic events, though riddled with pain and finality, could quite easily be numbed or even lightened if ingested while Great Lake Swimmers debut album plays beneath you. As solid a set of somber anthems I've had the pleasure of hearing (though not putting the family to death), to think this album has been in some collections for more than two years (originally released in March 2003 outside of America) leads me to believe I'm hanging with the wrong crowd. A lone voice, accompanied by choice moments of delay and reverb, and often just his magically plucked guitar guide GLS's Tony Dekker through moments of isolation (see: "This is not like home"), the paranormal ("The man with no skin") and - for the much of the album - a continual coma of electric blanket-like warmth. Moments that do share the space with additional instruments, be it the waltz percussion of "I will never see the sun" or the slide that floats throughout "Great Lake Swimmers" - you can rest assured that every note is fittingly placed, and Dekker's tales hold every stitch together.
Truth to the tale - you could begin anywhere on Great Lake Swimmers and find an instant attraction, and you'd be quite wrong if you thought you'd find a spot to skip between the incredible opener "Moving Pictures Silent Films" and the closing title track.
If you hold your early Hayden albums (The Closer I Get, Everything I Long For) as standards in the collection, and/or found warmth and comfort in Dolorean's prized debut Not Exotic - Great Lake Swimmers is about to become the greatest set of songs you've heard in far too long.
"There are some things better left unknown" (from "Moving, Shaking") - this untouchable album is not one of these things. Go ahead - blame Canada.