The Great Lake Swimmers’ performances at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival this weekend launched a two-week tour stint that has the group right in their element.
“I’m endlessly inspired by the mountains of British Columbia,” frontman Tony Dekker told the Straight in an interview at the festival site Saturday.
The singer and songwriter spent time on the B.C. coast last fall as part of a trip organized by the World Wildlife Fund along some of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline oil-tanker routes.
“I got to really see first-hand what a really bad idea this proposed pipeline is, not just for potentially breakages in the mountains, but this extremely delicate and fragile ecosystem," he said.
The trip even included a rare Spirit Bear sighting, he noted.
“It’s one of the last unspoiled rainforests on earth—it’s been stewarded by the First Nations for as long as anyone can remember,” he said.
“Unfortunately, we have a federal government that really wants to exploit all those natural resources right now, at the expense of destroying some pristine natural habitat, so we hope that the First Nations, we can amplify their voices, and also urge the Government of British Columbia to stand up to this.
"These huge corporate interests are economically monolithic—it’s a very difficult fight.”
That recent B.C. journey also resulted in a lot of songwriting—something that Dekker finds easiest to do when he’s “alone in the woods".
"If I’m off by myself, that’s my element,” he explained.
After the band’s current touring stint, which will also take them to stops including the Calgary Folk Festival and the Banff Centre, the group will head back home to Toronto to continue working on their next album.
Although their latest record, New Wild Everywhere, was their first to be recorded in a conventional studio, Dekker said the band is scouting potential new locations for the next album.
It could be hard to top some of their previous recording sites, which include a grain silo, a church, a concert hall, a castle, and an unused Toronto subway station in the middle of the night.
“I really do think that that kind of sonic texture and those locations and ambience of places like that really add another sonic layer to our music,” said Dekker.
“It’s almost like we use the location as another member of the band. So I’m kind of excited to go back to that with what we’re doing now.”
After a main-stage performance Friday evening and workshop shows Saturday with artists like Wintersleep and Fish & Bird, the band members are currently enjoying a bit of time off and taking in the final day of acts at Jericho Beach Park.
“We decided to hang out an extra day and just see music," Dekker said. "It’s a rare thing, for us to get a day off to just hang out and watch music."
He noted the band enjoys the collaborative nature of the workshop stages incorporated into folk festival programming.
“The band that we have now, it’s just really skilled technical players, so it’s really easy to collaborate,” he said.
Sitting under the awning of a large tree in Jericho Beach Park while a mischievous crow tossed twigs onto an unsuspecting media table below, Dekker acknowledged that the setting of the Vancouver festival is a pretty big draw too.
“I really like the environment here. I mean, you can’t beat this,” he said, gesturing toward the ocean and the mountains. "It's amazing."