Great Lake Swimmers’ latest album New Wild Everywhere is the band’s excellent fifth venture into rustic folk. I spoke to Tony Dekker about where that album title came from and plenty more, I even got indulged with a cottage playlist compiled by Dekker himself. Enjoy
Some of your earlier albums featured great album art, do you feel the move toward digital music has killed that medium? Or do you think it affords you greater creativity in your ‘branding’ with websites and the like?
We go to great lengths to take special care when it comes to the artwork. For the artwork for “New Wild Everywhere,” for example, we had woodcut artist Nick Wroblewski create an original woodcut. He spent over a month carving it from a block of wood, by hand, and we spoke at length before the process started about how it could best reflect the content of the album. It’s still really important to us.
A band like your own relishes in the quieter moments, do you think that makes it difficult to reach the general populace’s idea of “commercial success” ie – having 10 seconds of a great song bastardized to sell Crayolas.
It’s difficult at times to make a forceful impression and keep people’s attention with acoustic instrumentation, as opposed to say, amps turned up to 11, but I think there’s room for us on the quieter end of the spectrum. I feel like we’ve remained true to the vision of GLS while at the same time progressing with each new album. We’re certainly not aiming for that kind of commercialization, so really, there’s no perceived difficulty for us.
As a follow up, how do you define success? And does success even matter in contrast to staying true to your art?
Success means a couple of things to me – firstly feeling satisfied with the music as an artistic statement and secondly, being able to pay the bills. The integrity of the song has always been the most important thing to me.
Where did the title ‘New Wild Everywhere’ come from?
The title was initially a line in a very long, twenty-four verse poem that I wrote. I put it away for a while, and when I came back to it, that phrase just leapt off the page at me. Through some editing and reworking, the poem became the song, and I thought it was a good springboard for the album. To me it represents that moment just before a thunderstorm, where you feel as if the natural world is on the cusp of something. In a broader sense, maybe it represents a kind of new start or rebirth.
As a ‘country boy’ who has moved to the city and kept that rural sound in his art, do you ever feel antiquated/out of place?
No I don’t feel out of place. I think there is a place for acoustic music in the chaos of the digital world and urban environment. People seem to appreciate natural sounding songs as a respite from the fast-paced bombardment of information and other processed forms of art, culture and music. It’s music that’s more familiar somehow.
In 2010, I saw you perform at a church in Toronto, while in 2008 I saw you play the much different Sony Centre. Do you prefer playing more intimate venues or the big glitz and glam?
I really think we’ve been able to get across intimate-sounding performances despite the size of the venue we’re in. It’s great to play at venues where there are natural acoustics at play though, and churches especially fit our sound really well.
While it is clear that you’ve listened to artists like Neil Young, Nick Drake, Palace and yes, even Blue Rodeo, are there some artists whose music you enjoy that might surprise people?
I’m a music fan as well as a musician, and my tastes range from American Anthology & Folkways-type stuff to New Orleans brass bands, 50’s R&B, and Roger Miller, and everything in between really.
Lastly, your music is pretty pitch perfect for a northern Ontario cottage, would you indulge me in a personal 10 song cottage playlist of your own?
- The Carter Family – “My Old Cottage Home”
- Lucinda Williams – “Jackson”
- The Band – “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”
- Neil Young – “Powderfinger”
- The Innocence Mission – “The Lakes Of Canada”
- Gord Downie – “Trick Rider”
- Hank Williams Sr. – “Settin’ The Woods On Fire”
- Freakwater – “My Old Drunk Friend”
- Dave Rawlings Machine – “Ruby”
- Jenny Whiteley – “Halls Of Folsom”
Tony Dekker’s cottage playlist, for Criticize This!: