In the course of twelve years and half a dozen studio albums, Toronto’s Great Lake Swimmers have epitomized the sepia-toned indie folk of the new millennium despite being a less significant blip than some its musical kinfolk on the music press’s radar.
Neither excessively derivative nor something new under the sun, one would be unlikely to mistake the band’s patent-pending melancholy – to quote my own DigBoston review of their 2012 show at the Middle East Downstairs – for the effort of any other group that works from a similarly sparse and elegiac creative template.
Having recorded previous sessions in abandoned silos, churches, and castles, singer-songwriter Tony Dekker took to Ontario’s Tyendinaga Cavern and Caves to record the vocals and acoustic guitar for several songs on the recently released 12-track offering A Forest of Arms (2015, Nettwerk Records). While the Great Lake Swimmers continue to season its sound with banjos and violins, A Forest of Arms finds the group being a bit more generous with lively beats that demonstrate the quintet’s equal capacity to make you bop your head and stomp your foot on a sunny day as to hide your head under a pillow on a cloudy one.
Great Lake Swimmers’ tour in support of A Forest of Arms includes a May 2 stop at The Sinclair in Cambridge. I conducted the following interview with Tony Dekker via email in the wake of the new album’s release and ahead of his band’s visit to Harvard Square.
How does A Forest of Arms serve as a step forward in the band’s evolution?
We’re not a band that’s trying to go for a hit single or that will only be around for a couple of years and then disappear. And we’re not being heavily managed or pushed in a direction. We’ve evolved naturally as a group, and the tone and overall message has remained consistent, I think. Hopefully we’re getting better at what we do. I definitely think that our live show has improved a lot since we started. I think the new album presents a lot of our basic strengths as group and hopefully rises above the sum of the parts.
What was the strategy in the sequencing of the album? Did it differ from previous releases?
We spent a lot of time on the sequencing for this album actually. Initially the last song was first, and the first song was last. That was probably more the way we would’ve done things in the past, and potentially it would’ve been a bit more predictable, but I really like how the two got switched, and that there’s a liveliness at the start of the album. The opening track feels like a bit of a breakthrough for us.
How does it feel to be part of Canada’s fertile music scene of the aughts?
It’s been amazing to be connected with such a great, fertile music scene that seems to have hit its stride during those years and has gotten really exciting. It’s maturing, for sure, but it’s been really fun to be a part of the growth spurt, particularly within our hometown of Toronto. It’s our community, and we’re proud to be a part of it.
What inspired you to record two versions of certain songs on this album and New Wild Everywhere? How did you select the song with which to do so?
On the new album we turned over a lot of stones in terms of tempo and rhythm, and we came up with two versions of a song that we were equally happy with. “Something Like A Storm” actually has the scratch vocals left in. The song wasn’t even fully written yet, but it felt like the performance was really there. We decided to bookend the album with the two different variations, and the closing track, “Expecting You,” is essentially a reprise of the opening track. Heck, Tom Waits did it, amongst many others. If you listen to the album as whole statement, I think it makes a lot of sense. To answer the other part of your question, on our last album, New Wild Everywhere, we recorded the song “Fields of Progeny” in the French language as well. That was an important statement to us because Canada is a bilingual country and I felt it was important to recognize that.
Great Lake Swimmers albums tend to be mostly slow to mid-tempo with a few mid- to uptempo songs to shake things up a bit. Do you foresee a mostly mid- to uptempo album in the band’s future?
I think the possibilities have really opened up and a large part of that has to do with our current lineup. We’ve been called an atmospheric band, and we have 12 years of recording and touring to back that up, for sure. But we’ve really grown as a live band. We’ve resisted the impulse to release a “rock record” and I think there’s something to be said for that. I’m more interested in exploring the possibilities of acoustic music, and digging deeper into that.
Fill in the blank: “I wish that I were half the singer/songwriter that ________ is.”
GREAT LAKE SWIMMERS with DIETRICH STRAUSE. SAT 5.2. The Sinclair, 52 CHURCH ST., BOSTON. 617-547-5200. 8PM/18+/$15.