A&E » Music

Music for rural souls

Great Lake Swimmers play free show at WOP Sunday



For some musicians, touring is just a necessary step to making more albums. Not everyone loves it, but by golly, if you want to make more albums, you better win some fans.

And see, Tony Dekker — the mastermind behind Toronto-based indie-folksters Great Lake Swimmers — loves making albums. There's nothing quite like writing songs and recording them with friends. Nothing at all.

Since the release of their fifth album New Wild Everywhere last April they've been touring steadily, with a three-week stint in Europe and another month-long jaunt across North America. It is, he says, a "product" of what he does — it's something that he has to do.

"(Touring) is a way of keeping the conversation going, I guess, with people who have been into our music," Dekker says.

"It's a completely different thing from the writing process and you just have to put yourself in a different mindset for it, I think."

Dekker is speaking by phone in Toronto. And while he lives in Canada's largest urban centre — a place that provides a diverse culture and rich musical landscape — urban music New Wild Everywhere is not. This is music that speaks to the rural-bound, evoking images of golden wheat growing along rolling hills and small (or great) lakes with clouds of mosquitoes twirling about. It's the sound of mammoth white clouds drifting slowly across the sky while a solitary man lies on the grass looking up and contemplating existence.

"I try to be in rural environments as much as I can," he says. "Toronto offers a lot of great things culturally and my band is based here but I really find true inspiration from being out in the woods, out in nature."

Dekker says he has that "in his bones." He grew up in Wainfleet, a small farming community in southern Ontario. Great Lake Swimmers became a vehicle for his songwriting and was, for most of its history, a solo project. His first two albums, 2003's self-titled debut and 2005's Bodies and Minds were lessons in understated indie-folk, beautiful and haunting ruminations exploring the spiritual aspects of rural life — themes that Dekker would revisit time and again in other albums.

"I think thematically the things that I'm working with, I still think there's a lot of work and a lot of room to get at the point," he says. "I think that if I felt like I had made my point somehow, I feel like I'd be ready to be done with it. But I do really feel like there's a lot more to do to get to that point, I guess."

In 2009, he found critical favour with his fourth album, Lost Channels, drawing comparisons to Fleet Foxes and Iron & Wine. By this point, Dekker had assembled the ideal band to complement the songs he was writing.

The same band contributed to New Wild Everywhere. They added violinist Miranda Mulholland to the mix, who Dekker says adds a dimension that had never previously existed. The recording process, he says, was far more collaborative than on any other record in the band's nine-year career.

"It's a lot of responsibility to take care of a band too, you know? And it's hard to keep a band together, so for me it was always easier to see Great Lake Swimmers as a solo project but I really feel like we have a really solid group together right now."

Great Lake Swimmers will play a free show at Whistler Olympic Plaza Sunday, the first time they've played Whistler since performing during the Olympics in 2010.