Swim away with Great Lake Swimmers

The band dials it down to simplicity in their new EP, Swimming Away

Toronto-based indie-folk group Great Lake Swimmers just released their newest EP, Swimming Away, and are set to tour Canada and the United States.The EP alludes to the new musical direction the band is headed in, singer-songwriter Tony Dekker said. “I think I’ve come around again to a very less-is-more attitude, and I think that’s sort of the direction I see for the future of this group too—focusing in on the quieter and more intense part of the songwriting again,” he said.

Great Lake Swimmers has garnered a lot of success over the past 15 years. They were nominated for a Juno Award in 2009 for their album Lost Channels, and made the Polaris Music Prize shortlist. The band even received public endorsements from Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin and cyclist Lance Armstrong. However, Dekker did not expect to achieve any fame when he created the group over 15 years ago. “I released [the first] album with really low expectations, and basically as a vehicle just for songwriting,” he said. “It actually started as a kind of songwriting project that added people over the years as I crossed paths with people who were like-minded.”

Now, the frontman is excited to share a new aspect of his music on this tour. “It’s back to scaling it back and bringing it back to its basic elements, almost. You know, so that the message and the lyrics don’t get lost in the music,” he said. Dekker said the band will feature some of their previous work in their performances as well. “We’re focusing on some of the older songs from our catalogue, some of the quieter ones, some of the more quietly intense songs, you could say,” he said. “We did a tour like that in Europe last year and it was really well-received, so we thought we should do this across Canada.”

The band’s first stop on their Canada-U.S. tour was at La Sala Rossa in Montreal on March 22. “We’ve always had a good following [in Montreal],” Dekker said. “We’re really excited to be back in Quebec, for sure.” They will be heading as far east as Halifax, N.S., and then to the American mid-west to Michigan and Wisconsin. Joining Dekker onstage are Bret Higgins, who plays the upright bass, the mandolin and keyboards, and James Taylor, who is filling in for full-time band member Erik Arnesen on the banjo. Singer-songwriter Megan Bonnell will also be joining them. “We’re lucky to have her on tour,” he said.

The band has always been expanding and contracting in terms of membership, however, Arnesen and Higgins have been with Dekker for the longest time compared to the other musicians who have played with the band in the past. “[Erik and I] have been playing music together for 15 years or more,” Dekker said, “Bret has been with the band since 2008, so it’s almost 10 years now.”

Dekker said he finds himself most inspired by nature when creating his music. It is a theme that can be heard on all Great Lake Swimmers albums. Dekker said it’s because, while he now spends the majority of his time in the city of Toronto, he was born and raised on a farm in a small town in rural Ontario. “One of the main things that is a thread throughout the album is that I take a lot of inspiration from the natural world,” Dekker said. “I feel like that’s the kind of thing that’s in my bones—a more pastoral imagery.”Dekker also has a degree in literature and a deep passion for telling stories through his music. “The whole reason that I do this is to really express an idea through music and in song and in writing,” he said.

The artist will take hours, days and sometimes years to develop the lyrics and add a level of complexity to his music. It once took him five years to develop a single song. “I spend a lot of time with the lyrics, and I think there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface,” Dekker said. “I think that’s the type of thing that becomes rewarding once you start digging into it a bit more. I think there’s a reward in really investigating it, you know?”

The band will be playing in smaller venues than usual for this tour to be closer with the audience. “I think that the main expectation is to make a real sort of connection with audiences on a more intimate level,” Dekker said. The band hopes to record a new album following the tour.

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