Great Lake Swimmers - 03.06.12

Interviewed by
Great Lake Swimmers - 03.06.12Thank you to Tony Dekker for taking the time to answer these questions, and thank you to Danielle Romeo for setting this up!

New Wild Everywhere, the fifth studio album from Great Lake Swimmers, will be available April 3, and the band will kick off their album promotion with a special debut performance of tracks from the new album in front of a live audience at The Grand Theatre in London, Ontario for CBC Q, which will be broadcast the following morning on Q with Jian Ghomeshi on CBC Radio One, along with a feature interview.

I remember interviewing you five years ago after seeing you perform in London at the Aeolian Music Hall. At the time, Great Lake Swimmers were just making a name for themselves outside of Canada it seemed; nowadays, everyone I talk to knows and loves your music. You have come such a long way since, which, as a fan and fellow Canadian, I find so incredible. How has the journey been so far?

It’s been a really great one. The music has taken us places that I never thought we would go, and everything has evolved really organically, which has been satisfying. It makes me feel like we’re not a flash in the pan, but a mainstay.

Could you tell us a little about the new album?

It’s the 5th GLS album, but our first proper studio album. We recorded it at a new studio in Toronto called Revolution Recording. It was a new challenge for us, because up until now we’ve gotten used to recording everything in fairly unconventional locations using relatively basic setups. Although, we also did three days of recording in a disused TTC subway station for this record, which yielded the song “The Great Exhale” and it ended up making it onto the album. But for the most part, we were working in a closed environment and could really focus on the songs. It was a really positive experience.

You worked with Andy Magoffin, a long-term collaborator, and had him produce this new record. What made you pick him for this record and how did the process go?

I made a list of people that I wanted to work with and Andy was at the top of it. We’ve been recording with him for eight years now, so he’s been at the engineering helm for our early records. It made perfect sense to me to ask him to step into the role of producer as we were taking this step forward with the album. As a band we’ve developed a really great rapport and working relationship with him, so working with him again and increasing his involvement was a no-brainer. He was really our navigator through the process. A great thing about working with Andy is that he is a songwriter himself, so he has a good working knowledge and appreciation of the nuances of a song.

The 2009 release, Lost Channels, was a critically acclaimed album, receiving Juno and Polaris-nominations. Did this put any pressure on you while recording the follow-up?

There was no pressure at all. We took a healthy break from touring for a little while to recharge the batteries and then tried make the best record we could as a group. The new record doesn’t feel like a departure or a new direction, it feels like a continuation of what we’ve been doing all along. I’m constantly working towards making the best and most coherent artistic statement that I can. The songs have always come first for me.

The last song on the record is French. What inspired this? And would you ever consider recording an entire record in French?

One day maybe we could try that – it would be a good challenge to attempt a whole album in French. We had actually already recorded that song in English, mainly because I didn’t have the full translation ready at the time, so it was first recorded as “Fields Of Progeny,” which is also on the album. I had always envisioned the song being sung in French, but I also wanted to make sure that the language was as accurate and economical as possible. As it turns out there was still time to record a French version after our initial sessions were over, so I had time to enlist some help with the translation, and we recorded a different version with French lyrics. It was meant as a bonus track, but I think it also makes a nice album closer. In a sense, it’s a nod to Canada’s bilingualism.

Great Lake Swimmers albums always seem to have the perfect mix of slow and catchy songs, keeping things interesting throughout. Is this a conscious effort?

I wouldn’t say it’s overly conscious, although sequencing an album is a difficult thing. I generally think of the songs in terms of the whole album, and for New Wild Everywhere, I put them into sequence very early on, even before they were completely finished being written. I think that really helped with overall flow and feel of it. I don’t make a conscious effort to balance slow and up-tempo songs though. Sometimes they change pretty dramatically when I bring them to the band.

On a somewhat related note – this will be your fifth release in nine years, which means you’ve been recording non-stop since 2003. In general, how do you manage to remain original in your song writing and avoid becoming stale and repetitive?

If I felt like I had really locked down what I was trying to get at, I wouldn’t be able to continue – but I honestly feel like I’m still just getting started. Sometimes I think of my songs as different facets angling towards the same truths. Life undergoes changes, and experiences change things, and over time you gain a sort of wisdom. Hopefully I can keep getting better at the distillation.

One of my favourite things about your albums is the way you always incorporate female vocalists so perfectly in your songs. How do you go about picking the musicians? Do you write the songs with them in mind or do you decide after the fact that it would be nice to have back-up female vocals mixed in?

With the new album, Miranda Mulholland has become a really important part of the project. She joined us shortly after the release of Lost Channels, and was able to fill that role since then. She handles all of the backing vocals on New Wild Everywhere, and it’s really a testament to the chemistry she adds to the group. She’s really influenced the shape of these songs with her singing as well as her extraordinary violin playing. I can usually hear if a harmony will work or not when I’m writing, and I wanted to keep away from doubling my own vocal tracks on this new record as much as possible, so having her sing backups was a really easy choice.

I’ve noticed that you play a few solo shows here and there from time to time, and you have also recorded songs on your own. Would you ever consider releasing a solo full length?

At this point I’m completely focused on Great Lake Swimmers, as a band. But I’ve always got songs brewing, so it’s not out of the question.

You will be at SXSW this year, which I’m extremely excited about. How do you feel about festivals versus normal shows? Do you prefer one over the other?

Festivals are great because most of the time it gives us a chance to connect with musician friends that we normally wouldn’t see much because of touring & recording schedules. SXSW can be an overwhelming industry event, but in general, I like festivals. It’s nice to be in the same city for two or three days, it’s a great way for us to see other live bands, and a good opportunity for creative people to connect.

To close the interview with a question related to the first – you have toured and collaborated with many Canadian musicians. Biased as I may be, I think we have an amazing music scene here, so it’s always great to see bands like yours “make it.” What are some of your favourite local bands? Are there any Canadian musicians that you’d love to tour or record with in the future?

The list is a long one and there are tons of great people making great music right now. Bahamas, Old Man Luedecke, Snowblink, Sandro Perri, Elliott Brood, Basia Bulat, The Sadies, The Burning Hell, Kindness Killers, Cold Specks, The Weather Station, Daniel Romano, Barzin, Holy F, Bruce Peninsula, Chad VanGaalen, Timber Timbre, Terra Lightfoot, Doug Paisley, The Beauties, Huron, The Deep Dark Woods, Snailhouse, and it goes on, this is just off the top of my head.
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