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Tall Poppy Interview: Great Lake Swimmers

082406GreatLakeSwimmers2.jpgThis weekend, the Harbourfront Centre plays host to Indie Unlimited. The festival’s lineup features Amy Millan, The Hidden Cameras, Bell Orchestre – and Great Lake Swimmers, who are coming off the end of their touring in support of their acclaimed 2005 album, Bodies and Minds. Frontman Tony Dekker took some time to talk with Torontoist about touring and what’s next after this weekend’s show.


Listening to your songs you seem like a singer-songwriter, but the name “Great Lake Swimmers” gives the impression of a band with a few members. Why use the moniker?
Great Lake Swimmers started out as a solo project, but I feel like a few of the backing musicians that I’ve played with and toured with over time have become really important core members. The people who have helped out with the recordings so far have changed from project to project, so that lineup is still pretty fluid, and also we have friends help us out with the live performance every now and then too, so that changes too. I guess ultimately I wanted the name to just be a vehicle for my songs, and let it take on whatever shape it wanted to. I still play solo shows sometimes too, under the name Great Lake Swimmers. It’s always changing.
Your songs are very atmospheric; what happens when you play live? Do you try to recapture a certain mood?
Well on one hand, we don’t really try to recreate the sound of the records live, because for one thing, it would be impossible, because location recording has been pretty important to those recordings. But also, it’s more important to me to get the essence of the songs across, to get the feel of them across. I’m not overly concerned with technicality or technical playing. It’s more like we’re trying to share a mood with people. Also, we’ve re-arranged a lot of the songs from the first record, which was essentially a solo record, to be able to play them as a band. They’re still concerned with being pretty subdued, and quiet, but they work nicely with a band too. I think that a live show by it’s nature calls for a different experience than what you would have at home with the records. That being said, we seem to play really well in smaller, more intimate settings, too.
What was your experience at this year’s Hillside Festival? There’s been a lot of criticism that it’s gotten too commercial.
If by commercial you mean well-attended and fun, then I agree. Unfortunately, they can only fit so many people on that island. I think they did a great job this year.
How does it feel playing live shows in Toronto? Is the response to the songs here any more important than abroad?
It’s a losing game to get overly concerned with the response to the songs. I can only play them, not control people’s responses to them. What people think doesn’t interest me all that much, and it doesn’t fuel me. That being said, the support we’ve received here as a band, or musical project or whatever, has been really amazing. It’s nice to be able to play to a show in Toronto and have our own city be supportive of that. But whether it’s Toronto or Barcelona or Nashville, in front of 5 people or 500 people, it’s not like we change it up. I think we just strive to deliver in the best way that we can, regardless of where we are.
Your songs deal with a lot of personal subject matter, like depression and spirituality. How does that affect how you respond to critical feedback?
I don’t let that stuff affect me, even though a lot of the criticism has been really positive. But it doesn’t get to me, because it’s just not what I’m in it for. Also, I like to think of the songs as not so much personal, but as a way of seeing things. It’s not that I feel detached from the songs, but sometimes I feel like I’m telling a story in the first person, if that makes any sense.
What’s next? More touring or will you be recording again soon?
Aside from a few more shows close to home, we’re taking a break from touring, because we’ve been touring a lot over the last year and a half or so, and it’s been hectic. We’ll be starting work on a new record this fall, which I’m really charged up about. I’m hoping it will be ready some time in the spring.
Great Lake Swimmers play the Harbourfront Centre this Saturday at 2 p.m. The show is free.
Photo of Tony Dekker by Adrian Fish.

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