Tony Dekker, the whisper-thin singer-songwriter who has been the beating heart and tremulous soul of Great Lake Swimmers for seven years, has plenty of reason to feel celebratory nowadays. The Torontonian has seen his Swimmers swell from solo endeavour to full-fledged band, during which time he has shared the stage with some of Canada’s finest indie musicians, including Final Fantasy and Feist. And now, the Swimmers are about to embark on their first major headlining tour of North America and Europe. Plenty of the Canadian dates have been sold out for weeks, and fans are eagerly anticipating the band’s fourth album, Lost Channels, which comes out next Tuesday (March 31).
Recorded in the heady and historic Thousand Islands region that nestles the borders of Ontario and New York, Lost Channels doesn’t depart greatly from the atmospheric folk-pop gems Dekker is famed for crafting. When it does venture left, it’s to lightly embrace the roots and blues of Dekker’s countrified influences, as evidenced on the twangy guitars of “She Comes to Me in Dreams” or the gently confessional first single, “Pulling on a Line.”
WE spoke with Dekker over the phone, a few days before he hit the road.
You’re headlining your first major tour. Do you feel you’ve achieved a milestone?
Dekker: Sort of. It’s been a slow and steady build for us. It doesn’t really feel over the top or anything. (laughs)
You don’t have to put on dog-and-pony shows in the back room yet.
Exactly. We don’t have fire cannons. Yet.
Do you have a special relationship with Vancouver fans?
Well, definitely the connection to Nettwerk Records, our label. We’ve always been fortunate to play really nice shows in Vancouver, usually at Richard’s. I’ve never played St. James Hall before, but I’ve played in Gastown as well, and back when the Sugar Refinery was open — that was a really great spot.
You have a reputation for recording in unusual locations an abandoned grain silo, for instance. How were you drawn to the Thousand Islands region?
A local historian and photographer got in touch with us after hearing us on Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Café radio show. He was really taken by the music, and sort of invited us to come to the region, and when the time came to record the new album, I gave him a call and brainstormed some great spots. It was just a chance meeting, but it turned into a really great connection with the region overall, and for recording and writing.
Was there a particular venue that stood out for you?
Being able to record in the Singer Castle was amazing. It’s just a full-blown turn-of-the-century castle that takes up almost an entire island, and we had to hire a boat captain to get us out there, with all of our gear and instruments. We were able to record in this really cool place with, like, secret passages and everything.
The word atmospheric gets used a lot to describe your music. Is that accurate?
I think so. I think that comes from recording in these places that have a natural reverb in them. It’s almost like the atmosphere of the place becomes another member of the band, you know? More accurately, I think it’s this acoustic space that’s a type of a canvas that all the songs are painted on, so it gives it that extra texture or sound that really adds another layer.
When you’re writing songs, are you looking to create a feeling or more of a story?
For me, it’s always about trying to find a balance between both. I’m trying to become more concise as a writer, but I think there’s a balance between delivering a narrative and a mood.
Was there an artist you wanted to emulate as a kid?
Not really. I was sort of into punk rock then, more so as a genre. My first foray into the world of music was kind of through that. The spirit of [punk] really mobilized people; it mobilized me to pick up a guitar and play. I guess the musicianship was secondary to expressing yourself. I think that’s really stuck with me to what I’m putting out now, definitely the DIY spirit and the energy of the thing.