For Tony Dekker, recording – like real estate – is all about location. The Great Lake Swimmers frontman has made a habit of working in unusual settings, beginning with his Toronto-based group’s 2003 self-titled debut, recorded in an abandoned grain silo. Since then, Dekker has opted for churches, legion halls and even an historic castle in the Thousand Islands to commit his atmospheric folk-rock songs to tape.
With its fifth album, New Wild Everywhere, the Great Lake Swimmers chose what was, for them, an exotic location: a real recording studio. “It was a new challenge for us,” laughs Dekker. “We’ve been so used to all the work that goes into putting together these location recordings. Andy Magoffin, our longtime engineer who produced the new album, was really excited to hear what we’d sound like in a so-called proper studio.”
Recorded at Toronto’s Revolution Recording, New Wild Everywhere benefits from the freedom to focus on music rather than location logistics. It’s also enhanced by the group’s current lineup. Says Dekker: “We developed great chemistry touring the last album [the Polaris Music Prize-nominated Lost Channels] and that’s given us a really natural, organic sound.”
Songs like “Cornflower Blue” and “Fields of Progeny” (along with its French counterpart “Les champs de progéniture”) are slow waltzes steeped in the rural sounds of Dekker’s youth. But the spirited title track and the rousing “Easy Come Easy Go” are easily the band’s most uptempo songs to date.
That new energy is another byproduct of the confidence that comes from lengthy touring. Dekker, who started Great Lake Swimmers as a solo project, has long been hailed for his fragile songs and ethereal voice. Now he has a solid band to stretch out with. The use of a string quartet, with arrangements by Higgins, has further enriched the sound.
As with all of Dekker’s writing, New Wild Everywhere deals largely with spirituality and nature, especially the elements of wind and water. “I love the kind of harsh reality that underlies the natural world,” says Dekker. Growing up in a rural location will do that. So, too, will studying the works of Walt Whitman, William Faulkner and Henry David Thoreau, as Dekker did.
One exception to his rural-world focus is “Parkdale Blues,” a song set in the Toronto neighborhood that recalls Bruce Cockburn’s brand of urban reportage. Another is “The Great Exhale,” which was recorded in Toronto’s unused Lower Bay subway station. Clearly, Dekker couldn’t resist the chance to make at least one location recording.
“It was a very nocturnal session, because we had to record when the trains above weren’t running,” he explains. “And because it’s like a ghost station, that gave it some amazing ambience.”
• Great Lake Swimmers’ current lineup is guitarist and banjo player Erik Arnesen, upright bassist Bret Higgins, drummer Greg Millson, and newcomer Miranda Mulholland on violin and backup vocals.
• Tony Dekker grew up on a working farm in tiny Wainfleet, Ontario.
• He’s also earned a literature degree from the University of Western Ontario.