By Alex Kruse

On May 23, Great Lake Swimmers will touch down at Crocks in Thunder Bay to promote their latest album, Forest of Arms. The band began in 2001 as a songwriting and recording project for lead singer, guitarist, and harmonica player Tony Dekker, and by 2005 a full-fledged band had formed.

Their unique and very Canadian name was originally a reference to an area of land between three of those oh-so-Great Lakes (Erie, Ontario, and Huron—Superior is sadly absent), but has now been expanded to “an acknowledgement of the beauty of and our connection to the shorelines of the Great Lakes.” Dekker cites Leonard Cohen as a consistent musical influence, along with a smattering of folk and country icons (think Townes Van Zandt and Lucinda Williams), blending with a DIY punk aesthetic for Great Lake Swimmers’ unique sound.

The new album was profoundly influenced by Dekker’s experiences working with the World Wildlife Fund on major environmental issues, and even the names of the songs reflect this focus; nature words dominate the track listing. With a new album comes an extensive tour around North America. Dekker is looking forward to “[continuing] the conversation that starts when the songs are released. There are positive things about connecting with people in a show, and there can be really great energy when the band is truly inspired.”

The crowd on May 23 can expect a live band at its strongest yet looking to “take the music beyond the sum of its parts.” With a new drummer joining the ranks, tracks from Forest of Arms are purposefully rhythm-heavy. As Dekker puts it, “I like to think of it as passionate music with a story to tell, or poetry with a pulse.”