Great Lake Swimmers' hometown show in Toronto

Singer and songwriter Tony Dekker on his new creative process, being a father and being inspired by the Toronto music community


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Tony Dekker started Great Lake Swimmers in Toronto 15 years ago

Tony Dekker began his musical life in Toronto as Great Lake Swimmers 15 years ago, first as a solo artist turning out poetic and thoughtful work such as 2007’s Ongiara. As collaborators and band members were carefully selected, the Great Lake Swimmers sound grew first with Lost Channels in 2009, followed by New Wild Everywhere (2012) and A Forest of Arms (2015). With the band’s latest effort, Dekker decided to change things up a little, looking inward for guidance and to Toronto’s musical community for inspiration. The result is a beautiful new Great Lake Swimmers album The Waves, The Wake that pushes the band’s sound to new sonic territory. The band plays a big hometown show on Nov. 22 (7:00 p.m.) at the Danforth Music Hall. Post City caught up with Dekker to find out more about his latest project. 

The album was recorded in part at the Bishop Cronyn Memorial Church in London, Ont., where you spent your university years. How did that come about?
It started with us playing at the Aeolian Hall, I guess almost two years ago now. The organizer of the show was telling me about a space they’d started managing and were developing a music program out of. They said it was a beautiful acoustic space and would we like to have a look at it and I said yes absolutely. 

And, it didn’t take long to figure out the spot was special?
I think I knew pretty much immediately that I wanted to record something in the space. It’s a beautiful old church. It sounds great. A lot of old wood and high ceilings. It’s just very ornate and beautifully designed for sound, including a fully functioning pipe organ and they’d moved a grand piano in the space as well, which sounded beautiful. It was really quite an ideal workspace. 

How did the recording go? Any issues?
We did an initial three-day weekend to try it out, and we discovered that we were probably going to get the best sounding stuff, especially the quiet parts of the recording, late at night. There was still quite a bit of outdoor street noise. So we ended up recording a week or 10 days in two separate chunks of recording, and most of that was overnight. 

You decided to change things up and do the songwriting for this album without your usual acoustic guitar. How did that work out?
It’s opened up so many avenues of collaboration that I wouldn’t have thought of initially. I think it was the most immediate way to try and directly do something different in putting down my main instrument and then sort of imagining other instruments to fill in the acoustics. It’s still very much an acoustic palette that we were working from, but it freed us up to think a little differently in terms of arrangement and orchestration and instrumentation on the whole thing.

That sounds like a positive experience. 
It worked, but also it helped me to look forward to the next thing too. It feels like we turned a little bit of a corner and there is still lots of room to go even further and deeper. I just feel there was a lot of great energy around all of that in general. 

And you had a lot of collaborators perhaps as a result of this new way of doing things, right?
I feel like the Toronto music community was the de facto backing band for this album because we really drew heavily on a lot of the talent that is within the city and it was surprising the level of skill and skilled musicians in the city we were able to call upon. It was eye opening in a way, but also reaffirming that Toronto is a great music city and there are so many great musicians. It was a real collaboration with the music community, and bringing the project to London was obviously important as well. 

So you’ve had a few very big changes, including the birth of your child and heading out of town down to Niagara. How are things, and how has this upheaval impacted your creative process?
Things are really good. Things just seem to be constantly changing. When you embrace change in that way it can be a really good thing. I just feel like creatively and in life, I feel like I turned a corner somehow and I think, becoming a parent is a big part of that. But I think it was maybe more of a confluence of things and new parent being a part of that. It sort of changes how you see the future and maybe how you see the present moment in some ways and that was a bit of a catalyst for the overall change in perspective and viewpoint.

For this project, although it was a collaboration, the way it unfolded came from something deeply personal. 
The journey for this album was more of an internal one. Previous albums, there have been some pretty awesome external factors, that weighed on the creative process and recording. This one, it felt like more an introspective thing. 

The album is so beautiful, and thoughtfully arranged, and of course the orchestration is wonderful. How are you going to translate that sound to a live show?
As much as we’d love to have a woodwind ensemble or marimba on the road with us, the space in the van is already pretty tight. 

But I imagine you’ll have some guests for the show in Toronto?
Oh yes, we are going to have some guests, I’m pretty excited. My approach the whole time was to approach the live show the way we approached recording the album and I think it will translate. To focus more on a minimalist approach, allowing the song to breath. It’s a pretty chilled out album and we’ll be presenting it in a pretty chilled out way. 

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