Tony Dekker makes Ontario sound mythical. Both in lyric and location of the recording process, the Great Lake Swimmers' latest effort, Lost Channels, explores the various caverns within the Thousand Islands region. From historic island castles to old-world churches, the album charts this mysterious terrain.
"For songwriting, I usually try to get into a really quiet space," says the Swimmers' singer/guitarist Tony Dekker, calling from his Toronto home. The band will play along with Kate Maki at St. Matthew's Church on March 11. "Close to some natural surroundings or out in the woods in a real quiet mental space is how I usually get the writing done for the records.
"When I bring the music to the band the songs are basically just in the form of guitar and voice and we just go from there. We build on them, arrange them and add instrumentation."
Great Lake Swimmers discography includes: 2003's self-titled release; Bodies and Minds (2005); Hands in Dirty Ground (2006) and 2007's Ongiara. Lost Channels is the band's second album released on Vancouver's Nettwerk Records.
After hearing the band on CBC's Vinyl Cafe, photographer and regional historian Ian Coristine invited Dekker and his fellow paddlers Erik Arnesen (banjo and electric guitar), Greg Millson (drums), Darcy Yates (upright and electric bass) and Julie Fader (flute and backing vocals) to tread within the murky waters and acoustics of the Thousand Islands region---particularly Dark Island's Singer Castle, Brockville's historic Arts Centre and St. Brendan's Church.
"It was really great to document the sounds of some of these places. That's a really important part of the recording process for me," says Dekker. "Not only to have a sense of space, but there is a sense of history and every one of these places is charged with a certain type of electricity that you can feel when you go into them."
Lost Channels draws both on the poetics of the area, historically referencing the passage of water where many crew members disappeared during a battle in 1760, and the metaphoric qualities the language conjures.
"Sorry to go overkill on the Thousand Islands---it is really a beautiful place," he says. "I think I've driven by it hundreds of times but never really knew it was there.
"I thought there was a lot to imagine in a title like Lost Channels. It works on a couple of different levels. It's a reference to a lost art, lost arts or ways of doing something."
The album's opening track "Everything is Moving So Fast," alludes to the pace of society and the loss of traditional ways. Serena Ryder lends her vocal talents. "Concrete Heart" navigates through city dwelling while Erin Aurich's violin solo layers the track with rich melancholy. "She Comes To Me in Dreams" features poignant percussion, but it's the church bells on "Singer Castle Bells" that may remind listeners of the title track from Tanya Davis' latest album, "Gorgeous Morning." Instead of the local Sunday morning Windsor Street symphony, Dekker relays the bells of St. Brendan's Church, perched on a cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence River.
"I didn't really have any over-arching concepts or themes when I was going to write the record. I kind of see it as just another collection of songs that I was working on," Dekker says. "That being said, after finishing the writing cycle and living with the songs for a while and recording them you get to know there are little things that connect them all together."
Dekker may presently hold a postal code in the city, but it's the natural world that's got his heart. Raised on a farm in Wainfleet, Ontario, Dekker keeps the woods and lake close to his sense of self.
"It's the sort of thing that I feel in my bones," he says. "When I'm not touring and making music my favourite thing is to get out into the woods and into some natural solitude. That's definitely my version of paradise. I find that a lot of times there is a lot of clashes between the city and these sort of urban rhythms and natural rhythms. I think that's sort of a conflict that propels me forward."
Great Lake Swimmers w/Kate Maki, Wednesday, March 11 at St. Matthew's Church, 1479 Barrington, 8pm, $20adv/$25, 1-888-311-9090, ticketpro.ca.