Great Lakes (band)
Great Lakes is a band formed in Athens, GA in 1996 and has been based in Brooklyn, NY since 2002. The group was formed by Ben Crum, James Huggins and Dan Donahue. Huggins' involvement dwindled over time, and Donahue and Crum split acrimoniously in 2008. Since that time Crum has carried on playing shows and making records as Great Lakes.
The group started as a songwriting partnership between Dan Donahue and Ben Crum and officially formed with James Huggins III in 1996. The original lineup included bassist/vocalist Craig Ceravolo and played one show at Birmingham, Alabama's The Nick under the name "Cherry Valence" (not to be confused with The Cherry Valence). They called themselves Wheelie Ride for a time, as well, before settling on Great Lakes.
In the band's early days sometimes Crum, Donahue and Huggins collaborated on songwriting (occasionally aligning individual pieces into one full song), but for the period from 1996-2008, Crum wrote the band's music and Donahue wrote the band's lyrics, with Huggins heavily involved as a multi-instrumentalist and occasional songwriter (he contributed "Virgl", which was featured on the CMJ magazine CD included in the publication's US circulation in 2000, and the short instrumental "Free Scene" to the band's catalog, as well as the bridge to the song Parachutes). Around the time of the band's first album, during the heyday of the The Elephant 6 Recording Company, a live lineup of the band came together: Ben Crum handling most lead vocals, guitar, bass, and piano; James Huggins on drums, various keyboards/synthesizers, harmony vocals, and a variety of other sounds; and Dan Donahue operating as the lyricist and art director.
Donahue considers' himself to have been the conceptual center of the group circa 1996-2008, but Crum considers the claim to be wildly untrue. According to Crum, he and Donahue wrote the songs collaboratively, and Donahue wrote none of the band's music--only its lyrics. Donahue claims he added many psychedelic soundscapes and other effects to the band's recordings, but according to Crum, Donahue's role in the band was limited to writing lyrics, making visual art, and playing synthesizer and organ during the band's live appearance pre-2005.
By the release of their first album, the group's rotating lineup swelled to around a dozen or more live & recording members, and at times included Dottie Alexander, Bryan Poole, Kevin Barnes, Derek Almstead, James Huggins from Of Montreal, members of Elf Power (Andrew Rieger, BP Helium), The Essex Green & Ladybug Transistor, with major studio and live contributions from Heather MacIntosh (cello) and Scott Spillane (horns) of Neutral Milk Hotel.
2000 - 2008
Great Lakes released their self-titled debut album in 2000 on Kindercore Records along with a 7" single on Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records. The debut was produced by Crum and Huggins, and mixed by Robert Schneider of The Apples in Stereo. The LP package included a psychedelic 3-D cut-out mobile meant to sit atop the vinyl record and spin as it's played, designed by Donahue with Chris Bilheimer. (Notably, all of the group's art design and album sleeves were done by Donahue during the time that he was in the band.)
After releasing a number of singles, including a split 7" with Elf Power, they released their second album, The Distance Between, on Orange Twin in 2002. Their sophomore effort was conceived, recorded, and mixed by Crum, Donahue, and Huggins in Crum's Athens, GA home studio. The Distance Between was selected as one of the top ten overlooked albums of that year by Magnet Magazine, which noted the band's ability to "spew out a fuzz-laced garage assault" and complimented their "knack for fusing melancholy with feats of ballroom levitation." The band toured in Europe at the time, including stops in Scandinavia and the UK. A highlight stateside found them supporting Belle & Sebastian to a sold out crowd at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, Ga. Around this time, in 2002, both Crum and Donahue relocated to Brooklyn, NY, and continued writing while Huggins continued to tour with the band of Montreal, still remaining an occasional recording and arranging contributor to Great Lakes, though no longer playing live with the band.
The third Great Lakes album, Diamond Times, featured songs written by Donahue and Crum, and came out in 2006 on Empyrean Records. Diamond Times is the last recording to feature a lineup including many of the original members of Great Lakes, including Huggins, Poole, Alexander, and Barnes. It features numerous contributions from other NYC-based musicians, whose contributions were overdubbed under Crum's direction after the initial "live" band tracking in Athens, GA in 2005, with Jason Nesmith engineering. With their third LP, the band's sound evolved into what Uncut magazine called "powerful, accomplished pop music" and "utterly great." Crum assembled a new three piece lineup in New York in 2005 to tour behind the Diamond Times album, which included Kyle Forester on bass and Kevin Shea on drums. This lineup toured the US with The Clientele in 2005, and also toured Europe multiple times in 2005 and 2006, with Ladybug Transistor and others. The three piece lineup in that era sounded like this: http://southernshelter.com/2006/08/great-lakes-the-earl-8606/
2008 - Present
Since 2008, the band has gone through numerous rotations in line-up, toured Europe and the Eastern US, and has continued to play regularly in New York City. The fourth album Ways of Escape  is the first release in the Great Lakes catalogue to feature Crum as sole songwriter. Of the album, Allmusic wrote: "On the group's fourth long-player, lone founding member Ben Crum holds the reins, and his gentle delivery, lyricism, and obvious love of late-60's and early-70's country and folk-rock help make Ways of Escape the perfect late-summer road trip companion." With its frank and personal folk and country-influenced songs, the record has a bare emotional style that's far from the innocent optimism and lighthearted psychedelia of the band's early records. Ways of Escape is notable for the introduction of vocalist Suzanne Nienaber into the band's lineup. The album also features, among others, Kevin Shea on drums (see Storm & Stress), Joe McGinty on keyboards (see Joe McGinty), David Lerner on bass (Ted Leo and the Pharmacists), and once again featured long-time Great Lakes contributor Heather McIntosh on cello (see The Instruments).
In 2011, Crum reconvened the group of musicians who played on Ways of Escape to begin a new album, Wild Vision, which is expected to see release in 2014. Since that time, a new, consistent, Brooklyn-based lineup came together, with Kenny Wachtel (guitar), David Gould (bass), and Gabe Rhodes (drums) joining Crum and Nienaber. This lineup has proven to be the band's most consistent in many years. They opened for Elf Power and played the Lost Colony Records CMJ showcase in 2013, and continue to play regularly in and around New York City.
Donahue & Huggins are both currently releasing new material with various groups and their principle songwriting outlets, Dream Boat, and James Husband, respectively. Donahue has contributed lyrics to several other bands' albums including Of Montreal's City Bird, Elf Power's The Taking Under, and Bear In Heaven's Space Remains and has designed art/album covers/videos for the bands MGMT, Pavement (band), Belle and Sebastian, and R.E.M.
- Great Lakes (CD/LP) - Kindercore/Track & Field Organisation - 2000
- The Distance Between (CD/LP) - Orange Twin/Track & Field Organisation - 2002
- Diamond Times (CD) - Empyrean/Track & Field Organisation - 2006
- Ways of Escape (CD) - Orange Twin - 2010
Singles and EPs
- "Happy Happy Birthday to Me singles club: March" (7") - HHBTM - 1999
- "Kindercore singles club: May" (split single with Elf Power) (7") - Kindercore - 2000
- "Come Storming" (CD) - La Suprette - 2001
- "Sister City" (7") - Hype City - 2001
- "A Little Touched" (7") - Track & Field Organisation - 2002