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Featuring a blend of acoustic instruments, rural soundscapes, and wistful vocals, Great Lake Swimmers are an indie folk group led by songwriter/vocalist Tony Dekker. The group first appeared in 2003 with a haunting, self-titled debut that was recorded in a grain silo and released by Weewerk Records, a small label based in the band's native Toronto. Misra Records picked up the record and released it stateside in April 2005. Recording sessions for Great Lake Swimmers' second album began that same year, with the band taking up residence in an old church in rural southern Ontario. The finished product, Bodies and Minds, was released toward the end of 2006, featuring another blend of homespun folk and lush, intimate Americana.
Although already popular in Canada, the band began building a wider audience in 2007 by signing to a new label, Nettwerk, and releasing the well-received Ongiara. The album's first track, "Your Rocky Spine," topped the Canadian indie charts and appeared on the soundtrack to Showtime's Weeds. Such increased attention kept Great Lake Swimmers on tour for the better part of two years, but they still managed to take some time off to record a fourth album. Traveling between multiple locations in the Thousand Islands region and elsewhere in northern New York state, the group hit a creative high peak with Lost Channels, which was released in 2009. The Legion Sessions, an EP featuring live versions of several Lost Channels tunes, also appeared that year. In 2012 Great Lake Swimmers released New Wild Everywhere, their first album to be recorded in a traditional studio.
Great Lake Swimmers is a Canadian band built around the melodic folk rock songs of singer-songwriter Tony Dekker. Originally from Wainfleet, Ontario, the band is currently based in Toronto.
The current touring line-up includes Tony Dekker on lead vocals, acoustic guitar and harmonica, Erik Arnesen on banjo, electric guitar and harmonium, Joshua Van Tassel on drums, Bret Higgins on upright bass and Miranda Mulholland on violin and backing vocals. Past members included Julie Fader on backing vocals, Sandro Perri on guitar, and Greg Millson and Colin Huebert on drums.
The band's style has been compared to Red House Painters, Nick Drake, Iron & Wine and Neil Young, as well as Will Oldham (Bonnie "Prince" Billy) and Sufjan Stevens. Dekker has said his influences include Gram Parsons and Hank Williams.Van Evra, Jennifer. "Songs to dive into", The Globe and Mail, 2007-03-30, p. R4. "Inspired by nature to pen songs", Evening Chronicle, 2007-04-11, p. 2. Wilson, Carl. "Pop", The Globe and Mail, 2003-01-18, p. R20. Pidd, Helen. "Review: Pop: The Great Lake Swimmers", The Guardian, 2007-05-04, p. 42. McDowell, Adam. "Still learning to swim", National Post, 2005-04-02, p. TO4.
The band released two albums, Great Lake Swimmers in 2003 and Bodies and Minds in 2005, on the independent label (weewerk) before signing to the larger Nettwerk in 2007.
The band released its third full-length album, Ongiara, on March 27, 2007 in Canada and in May for the rest of the world. Although signing to Nettwerk early in 2007, Great Lake Swimmers continue to be managed by (weewerk). In September 2007, (weewerk) released a limited edition vinyl version of Ongiara. It was available in Australia through native indie label Speak N Spell.
Their fourth album, Lost Channels, was released on March 31, 2009. It was shortlisted for the 2009 Polaris Music Prize, and was nominated for a Juno Award, in the category of Roots & Traditional Album of the Year – Group, and a Canadian Folk Music Award.
In 2009 Great Lake Swimmers took part in an interactive documentary series called City Sonic. The series, which featured 20 Toronto artists, had Tony Dekker talk about his daily underground commute along Toronto’s subway system. In 2011, Dekker participated in the documentary series National Parks Project, visiting Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia with filmmaker Keith Behrman and musicians Daniela Gesundheit and Old Man Luedecke.
The band's fifth studio album, New Wild Everywhere, was released on April 3, 2012. The band also composed an instrumental soundtrack for photographer Ian Coristine's One in a Thousand, an e-book of photography from the Thousand Islands region of Ontario, also released in April 2012.
Dekker released a solo album, Prayer of the Woods, in October 2013. The album includes eight original songs as well as covers of Gordon Lightfoot's "Carefree Highway" and Human Sexual Response's "Land of the Glass Pinecones". In 2014 he followed up with Sings 10 Years of Zunior, an album of covers of other Canadian artists — including Old Man Luedecke, Chad VanGaalen, Christine Fellows, Ohbijou, Rae Spoon, Matt Mays, Martin Tielli, Jennifer Castle and Cadence Weapon — released to mark the 10th anniversary of Canadian web music store Zunior.
A sixth studio album by the full band is tentatively scheduled for release in 2014 or 2015.Polaris Music Prize – The 2009 Short List http://www.citysonic.tv/films/Tony-Dekker-Great-Lake-Swimmers-at-Spadina-Subway-Station.php Great Lake Swimmers: "Easy Come Easy Go". Exclaim!, January 9, 2012. "Great Lake Swimmers Pen Original Score for New E-Book". Exclaim!, March 14, 2012. "Great Lake Swimmers Frontman Tony Dekker Goes Solo for 'Prayer of the Woods'". Exclaim!, August 13, 2013. "First Play: Tony Dekker sings 10 years of Zunior". CBC Music, July 29, 2014.