Published Aug 17, 2018Great Lake Swimmers are one of Canada's top folk acts, but frontman Tony Dekker hoped to defy much of what we've come to expect from them on The Waves, The Wake. For their new LP, Dekker tells Exclaim! that he wanted to "Get away from the 'guy with an acoustic guitar' image and do something different."
He did that and then some for these sessions, enlisting everything from a pipe organist to a concert harpist to stretch Great Lake Swimmers' sound into fresh, uncharted territory.
"One track just has marimba and a vibraphone on it, nothing else," the soft-spoken Dekker says with clear enthusiasm about "Holding Nothing Back," for which he recruited virtuoso player Michael Davidson. "We tried adding other instruments to the track, then realized 'This is all it needs.'"
The result: a highly honed counterpoint to Dekker's voice, though the means were every bit as interesting as the end for the frontman. He recalls how "The marimba was almost big enough to take up the entire room. It was interesting to spend a day with Michael, and see his process up close. He plays around Toronto regularly and is big in the jazz world, and to know his level of playing happens as an everyday thing is amazing."
Dekker was equally enthralled with other contributors to The Waves, The Wake, like harpist Mary Lattimore on the song "Falling Apart," and flutist Joseph Shabason on "In A Certain Light," along with cellist Kirk Starkey and pipe organ player Bryan Gloyd on "The Real Work" and Blue Rodeo pedal steel player Bob Egan on "The Open Sea."
But Dekker, of course, doesn't discount conventionally folkier stringed instruments entirely, giving a special shout out to Kevin Kane, who headed up huge swaths of the guitar work on the album. However, his strumming and fretting doesn't adhere to folk stereotypes on the album, instead laying out an intricate ambiance. Dekker says Kane is "such an intuitive player, and he really locks in. The song 'Mouth of Flames' has him taking a really atmospheric approach with his playing, and he does that extremely well."
That collaboration with Kane was special for Dekker because he'd been a fan of the elder guitarist since his heyday with the BC band the Grapes of Wrath. "He's a thrill to work with," Dekker says of Kane, adding: "Now I'm dating myself a bit, but in the late '80s and early '90s, I was a high school kid and the Grapes of Wrath were one of my favourite bands, and Kevin is still one of my favourite guitarists."
Dekker is quick to point out that he was inspired by all the collaborators on this stacked LP, and adds that he was all the more moved by what their contributions said about the Toronto music scene that they're all part of. "I knew the talent was there, but I was really heartened that people not only responded and came out, but also by their enthusiasm and energy. Having so many specialized players reminded me just how diverse the pool of talent is here."
The Waves, The Wake is out now on Nettwerk.