Great Lake Swimmers meets Great Bear Rainforest 

Ontario band comes to Whistler with a new album that is a tribute to the environment

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Off to Turkey Great Lake Swimmers are going on a European tour following their Whistler gig.
  • Photo submitted
  • Off to Turkey Great Lake Swimmers are going on a European tour following their Whistler gig.

The Great Bear Rainforest, a stretch of land along the B.C. coast between Vancouver Island and southeast Alaska, inspires many.

Singer-songwriter Tony Dekker of Great Lake Swimmers is no different.

The Ontario band's sixth album, A Forest of Arms, was released several months ago and grew out of his experience of the land and its people.

"It came from a trip in 2013 that I took with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)," Dekker recalls. "The point of it was to see firsthand what the circumstances were in the Great Bear Rainforest. I wanted to spend time there and speak with the local communities, some First Nations communities that are speaking up about the management of the land and resources, particularly when it comes to the Northern Gateway pipeline."

The WWF also brought photographers, writers and researchers on the expedition, which went from Kitimat to Bella Bella.

"The trip was really inspiring and I felt an urgency to add my voice to some of the sentiments that were coming from that area. The writings that I made on the trip were the cornerstone for the new album," Dekker says.

Taking an environmentalist stance is not something new to Great Lake Swimmers, but Dekker believes A Forest of Arms explores it more than their other albums.

"The through line for Great Lake Swimmers as a band is this respect for and almost fear of the environment. It was a nice dovetail, thematically, for the writing that eventually became A Forest of Arms," he says.

"One of the things I took away from the trip was... (the Great Bear Rainforest) is a Canadian issue, not just a B.C. issue."

Along with Dekker in Great Lake Swimmers are guitarist and banjo player Erik Arnesen, Miranda Mulholland on violin and backing vocals, Bret Higgins on upright bass and newcomer Joshua Van Tassel on drums.

There is more focus on percussion and rhythm on the album, thanks to Van Tassel joining the band.

"There is a liveliness in this new group of songs that maybe we haven't gotten to before in the past with the band," Dekker says.

"Josh brought a lot of new elements to the band and it felt more collaborative. It has become an important thing for the band now."

The band has been touring steadily, Dekker says, mainly summer festivals across Canada and the U.S. — this will be expanded after its Whistler show, which takes place at on Friday, Sept. 6 at Whistler Olympic Plaza at 7:30 p.m."We're getting ready for leaving for Europe after the Whistler show," Dekker says, adding this will include their first-ever concert in Turkey.

What gets a Canadian indie band to play in Turkey?

"(Higgins) has a family connection through his wife and our booking agent has connections in Istanbul. He's been trying to start something in the music scene there with indie music and get them coming through Turkey. And we've got a little bit of a following there, too," Dekker says.

"It was a confluence of factors and serendipitous in some ways. All of the things were in place."

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