Great Lake Swimmers make all the pieces fit together. There's something natural about the group's dynamic, like they have been playing together since they were kids, which is surprising, given the revolving door of the bands roster. At GLSs core is Tony Dekker, a man hell bent on taming the wide open spaces of his youth in Wainfleet, Ontario into something tangible and torrential. After numerous albums and a spread of styles and modes, Dekker finally adopted the balance he sees fit with New Wild Everywhere, the bands fifth studio LP. It came just three years after his breakout album Lost Channels (his fourth), the one that earned Dekker nods for both the Polaris Music Prize and a Juno Award.
The award-caliber folk of Great Lake Swimmers is on display here, as evident in performance as on their new collection. Dekker's crystalline blends beautifully with Miranda Mulholland's strings and harmonies. Erik Arnesen's diverse musicianship adds new parts to each song to keep each track sounding fresh. The Canadian five-piece played our showcase at SXSW, and we were lucky to see the group play from their wide discography, including the immediate "Think That You Might Be Wrong" from their immense new album. New Wild Everywhere is true through their newly formed equilibrium, the band is made new, and wilder than ever.
New Wild Everywhere is the follow-up to Great Lake Swimmers' critically acclaimed, Polaris Music Prize shortlisted and Juno nominated 2009 album Lost Channels. Their fifth album in just under a decade, this new collection of 12 tracks reveals a depth and maturity previously only hinted at by lead singer and songwriter Tony Dekker.
Featuring the touring band from Lost Channels (with long-time collaborator Erik Arnesen on banjo and guitar, along with new addition Miranda Mulholland contributing backing vocals and violin, Bret Higgins on upright bass, and Lost Channels drummer Greg Millson), New Wild Everywhere thematically picks up where the previous album left off, exploring transcendence in the natural world to describe the universal themes of love, mortality and escape.
"There is something very elemental about this album as a whole," says Dekker.
Indeed. Throughout New Wild Everywhere, there is an elemental energy that moves from physical to spiritual and from the immediate present to an all-encompassing future, all represented by Dekker's ability to weave insightful lyrics into deceptively simple, hook-laden tunes. This is perhaps best exemplified by lead single "Easy Come Easy Go," the most upbeat and up-tempo song ever penned by Dekker, which explores finding a center to grasp amidst a chaotic and often temporary world. The title track talks of "a fire in the static, a whisper in the dark," while "Changes With The Wind" finds the "wild in the wilderness." "Ballad Of A Fisherman's Wife" is a protest wrapped in an ode to the families affected by the BP oil spill on the gulf coast of Louisiana. In the sadly satisfying album closer "On The Water," the lone passenger on a small boat amidst a raging storm says, "I thought of my maker, and what might be above / and the cabin in the woods that I had not yet built."
For a band whose storied location recordings in increasingly out-of-the-way places have brought their output to an almost mythical status, longtime Great Lake Swimmers producer Andy Magoffin was thrilled to be asked to capture the new album in a real studio. Magoffin recalls, "I finally got what I always wanted: Tony Dekker asked me to help his band make a record in a real studio. No extension cords, boat rides, generators, buzzing flies, squirrel noise, missing connectors, furnace cycles, motorcycles, faulty rentals, bad weather or bad headphone mixes to mess things up. We chose to work in Toronto at Revolution Recording, a brand new studio with brand new everything, except for the old stuff which is also brand new. We had access to a great many microphones, instruments, processors and people we would not normally have had the privilege of working with."
"We wanted to try something new, expand our horizons, and flex a bit of the creative muscle we've built up through years of touring," says Dekker. "It came as a bit of a surprise how well we functioned as a band in that environment. We were able to focus completely on the songs, rather than the logistical obstacles of waiting for the boat to dock, or the rain to stop. The folks at Revolution felt like extended family and the studio itself is a real Toronto gem."
However, no Great Lake Swimmers album would be complete without at least one field recording. The song "The Great Exhale" was recorded in an abandoned Toronto subway station, down three long flights of stairs where Magoffin and the band had to wait until the wee hours of the morning for the trains to stop overhead before they could hit the record button.
"We set up a studio from scratch on the moist florescent-lit oil-coated subway platform of the unused Lower Bay Station. It was bleak. I could not tell if the recording was any good, because our playback system was nearly useless in the echoing, cavernous tunnel. When we finally listened to the results, we were amazed to hear how beautifully the song fit with the other album tracks," says Magoffin. "Somehow, Great Lake Swimmers sound just like they should no matter what tools they're using or how far they get from civilization."
Dekker has spent the last decade entrancing listeners with his unforgettable voice and compelling songwriting. Great Lake Swimmers have long been a word-of-mouth favorite in their home country of Canada for whom critical mass was inevitable. They've been regarded as a national treasure by the CBC, with Lost Channels (2009) topping the charts at CBC Radio 3 and on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter Chart. In the U.S., Lost Channels debuted at #10 on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart and was a favorite among influential bloggers and NPR staff. The band has received public endorsements by the likes of Feist, Robert Plant, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams and cyclist Lance Armstrong. The latter two have both raved about the band on their personal websites; the former have handpicked the band to open shows and whole tours. Josh Groban has been known to open his show with a Great Lake Swimmers cover, and the band has shared the stage with such varied artists as Calexico, Sarah Harmer, Bela Fleck & The Sparrow Quartet, Hayden, Sloan, Goldfrapp, and Bill Callahan of Smog.
With timeless melodies telling undiscovered stories, Great Lake Swimmers' New Wild Everywhere maintains an acute respect for the folk tradition, while at the same time transforming it for new listeners everywhere.