Since The Great Lake Swimmers debuted over a decade ago they’ve released four albums, taken home the award for favourite folk/roots artist/group at the Canadian Indie Awards, nominations for a 2009 Polaris Music Prize, a Juno Award for roots and traditional album of the year — group and a Canadian Folk Music Award.
The band was originally built around the songs of Tony Dekker.
“My family wasn’t musical at all,” said Dekker. “I was kind of the oddball. I’m totally self-taught. I learned to play the guitar on my own. It’s not so much that I got into music but that music got into me. I’m not even sure how.”
With the depth of Dekker’s the lyrics it’s no surprise that the early Leonard Cohen albums were a big influence on him musically.
“I was 16 when I learned to play the guitar. It was a really crappy Les Paul,” he said with a laugh. “I totally started writing songs and figured out a few chords. Immediately after I was writing little songs using power chords.”
Dekker played in “scrappy rock bands” through high school and said he’s been in bands for more than half his life now.
It was after university that he found himself diving more seriously into songwriting.
“After the release of the first album it really seemed like there might be a possibility to do a bit more with it,” he said.
When Dekker is writing songs he said he strives to find the spirituality in the natural environment.
The artists making up The Great Lake Swimmers have changed over time.
Currently, Dekker shares the stage with Erik Arnesen on banjo, electric guitar and harmonium, Greg Millson on drums, Bret Higgins on upright bass and Miranda Mulholland on violin and backing vocals.
“I sort of just met people playing in the music scene in Toronto. There’s a pretty healthy musical environment there and things just fell into place,” he said.
In the early years of The Great Lake Swimmers Dekker describes the band as a “revolving door of musicians in and out.”
“This current line-up has been playing together for about two and half years and I feel like this is the most stable line-up.”
Earlier this month The Great Lake Swimmers debuted their fifth studio album, New Wild Everywhere.
The release was met by rave reviews from publications like The Globe and Mail, exclaim! and Paste.
“It’s interesting to listen to all our albums in context,” said Dekker. “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle where all the albums fit together in some way. You can definitely see a growth from the beginning to now. Not only in sound but hopefully in songwriting and musicianship.”
The Great Lake Swimmers have had the opportunity to work with a number of other Canadian musicians including Sarah Harmer, Owen Pallett, Serena Ryder and Bob Egan.
“It was great to have someone like Owen Pallett channel his energy to one of my songs. It was fascinating to watch how he works and he’s just such a great string arranger, and just an awesome creative person. That was a real thrill,” said Dekker. “Sarah Harmer is such a great songwriter and Canadian institution. It was an honour that she was interested in singing with us.”
With the growth of Canadian music on an international level, Dekker said that there seems to be a real sense of camaraderie among Canadian musicians.
“It’s interesting to watch the response to our new album because there are a lot of people who have no idea we’ve been recording and performing in relative obscurity for the last 10 years,” said Dekker. “It’s great though that you can discover a band and find out that they have a back catalogue of five albums that span the last 10 years.”
The Wednesday, May 9 performance at The Royal will be the first visit to Nelson for The Great Lake Swimmers Dekker said the band is excited to play as many towns in Canada as possible.
Tickets for The Great Lake Swimmers are on sale now at The Royal, liveatheroyal.com, Urban Legend and The Music Store. Tickets are $20 and doors open at 7 p.m.