Great Lake Swimmers: Make sure to coat yourself in Vaseline first

By Marina Foo

Treading through aural water, Tony Dekker is leading what originated as his solo project, Great Lake Swimmers, into a whirlpool of success. It started out in 2003 when Dekker recorded his self-titled album in a grain silo with an accordion, piano, lap steel and acoustic guitar, taking advantage of the silo’s natural reverb. Four years later, Dekker is getting ready to release his third full-length album, Ongiara–but this time Great Lake Swimmers has a few friends helping out.

“I’m still the one writing the songs and steering the ship,” Dekker explains. “But for the live shows we’ve developed more into a regular live band. The same two folks that we’ve been touring with, Erik [Arnesen] and Colin [Huebert], have played a key role on the record.”

Great Lake Swimmers have also brought a handful of special guests to shore for Ongiara, creating a solid, polyphony record. Owen Pallet–famous for his Arcade Fire string arrangements and Final Fantasy solo project–joins Arnesen and Hubert on the album along with Serena Ryder, Sarah Harmer and Bob Egan. With the collaboration of these artists, Ongiara explores Canada’s beautiful landscape, even if that wasn’t Dekker’s intention.

“I wasn’t trying to make a conceptual album or anything,” Dekker says. “We did spend a year and half to two years on the road leading up to the writing of the record. I think that [the environment] has been an important theme to me all along and it has shown itself a little more clearly on this new record. A lot of the songs have those environmental themes and the relationship with the landscape. It just kind of came through the writing somehow. It wasn’t planned.”

Growing up near the Great Lakes in Ontario, Dekker wanted to ensure that he emulated the geographical connection in his music that he felt to his surroundings. Steering clear of the typical recording studio, Dekker kept true to nature by producing the album entirely at London’s Aeolian Hall.

“It was a really nice acoustical space and I wanted to use the natural acoustics to record in,” he says. “[Aeolian Hall] is a pretty special building because it has a lot of great history to it.”

The use of Aeolian Hall gave Ongiara a pure and delightful sound, thanks to its construction in 1884. The hall was built at a time when amplification was an important architectural feature in attracting musicians. Dekker is attracted to places of natural beauty when scouting show venues as well.

“I’m really looking forward to playing in Canmore, Alberta,” says Dekker. “It’s going to be great to do the drive across Canada. I always look forward to the drive because it’s such a beautiful drive.”


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