The Immersive Music of Great Lake Swimmers

I’ve been haunted, or is it blessed, by the song “Pulling on a Line” by the Canadian band Great Lake Swimmers from their new album Lost Channels. It’s a simple but gorgeous folk song, deploying a sly fishing metaphor, gently strummed guitars, and a persistent melody that, once you’ve heard it, doesn’t easily drift away. Moreover it strongly evokes a sense of place, with images of water, snow, and “electric flushes” in the “dark sky” conjuring a northern landscape of natural wonders.

It turns out that head Swimmer Tony Dekker is all about soaking up his surroundings. He and his band recorded the album in the Thousand Islands region off the coast of Ontario, laying down songs in places that included a castle, a church, and a theater repurposed as an arts center, according to an article in Thousand Islands magazine:

The native of Wainfleet, Ontario, near Lake Erie, said the band wanted to record the album in a setting reflective of the group’s name as well as the spirit of its folk rock music.

“I grew up along the Great Lakes,” said Dekker. “I like that through music you can tell the story of the place where you’re from.”

Dekker’s fondness for rustic recording sites is also the focus of an article in the May-June issue of Tape Op magazine (article not available online), which presses him for the technical details of wiring an empty grain silo for a session, as he did for the band’s 2003 debut album. But he’s not just interested in the way sound bounces off the walls:

“The space becomes an instrument in a way. You can see it as providing texture, but I think it does more than that–it helps tell the story. The effect of singing or playing in a room changes the way you perceive the sound.”

And in an interview with Stereogum, he allows that there might be more than one metaphorical thread running through “Pulling on a Line”:

“The line being pulled in the refrain could be the act of writing or creating. … Sometimes I think the creative process is a lot like fishing, or like flying Benjamin Franklin’s kite, in the waiting for inspiration to strike.”

Sources: Thousand Islands, Tape Op, Stereogum

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