Great Lakes (band)
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Great Lakes is an American rock and roll band formed in Athens, Georgia in 1996. The band was formed by Ben Crum, James Huggins, & Dan Donahue. Great Lakes were among the “second wave” of bands included in The Elephant Six Collective.
The debut self titled album ‘GREAT LAKES’ was recorded btwn (1997-1999) on their 8-track analog home studio in Athens, Georgia & was released in 2000 on Kindercore/Elephant 6. The group consisted of founders Ben Crum, Dan Donahue, & James Higgins III. After relocation to Athens, Ga from Birmingham, Al. the trio soon met like minded musicians in fellow Athens bands Elf Power, Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Of Montreal. Great Lakes quickly grew from a three piece recording project to a full-blown rotating ‘mini- orchestra’ featuring over 12 musicians for the recording sessions & live tours for the first 2 albums. The 3rd release included the core writing & recording team of Crum/Huggins/Donahue but was later remixed & added to by Crum in Nyc with a host of ‘session musicians’.
*The Ben Crum led live band changed to include a group other players & a new direction creatively. Crum is the sole remaining ‘self professed’ member/leader of the band, & continues to record under the name ‘Great Lakes’, (without support from Donahue or Huggins) The other 2 founding members have released music through their other songwriting outlets, Dream Boat & James Husband respectively. James released the album A Parallax I and continues to work on J.Husband and 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. Donahue has designed art, album covers, and videos for the bands MGMT, Pavement, Belle and Sebastian, and R.E.M.
The group started as a songwriting partnership between Dan Donahue and Ben Crum with James Huggins III joining band when it officially formed in 1996. The original lineup also included bassist/vocalist Craig Ceravolo and performed and recorded demos in Birmingham, Alabama, under the name ‘Cherry Valence’. For a time the band was also called ‘Wheelie Ride’, before it changed officially to ‘Great Lakes’.
2000 - 2008
The final track of the debut self-titled album GREAT LAKES, titled: “VRGL” (penned by Huggins) was the one track included on the ‘Best Of’ CD included with the CMJ music magazine sampler for 2000 as a featured song. Great Lakes released a self-titled debut album in 2000 on the label Kindercore Records. The album was produced by Crum And Huggins, and was re-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 technical help from long time R.E.M. designer Chris Bilheimer.
After releasing a number of 7” singles the band released their second album. ‘THE DISTANCE BETWEEN’, on the Athens, Ga label Orange Twin in 2002. Their sophomore release was written by Crum, Donahue, and Huggins. It was recorded and mixed in the band's home studio in Athens. It 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 did a tour in Europe, including stops in Scandinavia and the UK. A highlight stateside found them supporting Belle & Sebastian at the Tabernacle in Atlanta. During that year, both Crum and Donahue relocated to Brooklyn and continued writing, while Huggins toured with the band Of Montreal. He remained a recording and arranging contributor to Great Lakes for the third album, but no longer performed live with the band.
The third Great Lakes album,‘DIAMOND TIMES' was initially recorded in Athens Ga with the extended live band all in tow for recording sessions that were eventually reworked in NYC with additional players as overdubs. These sessions saw Crum at the helm & was the turning point of the band. Donahue and Crum fell out creatively soon after. ‘Diamond Times’ and saw a very limited release by Empyrean Records. 'Diamond Timess’is the last recording to feature many of the original performers, including Huggins, Poole, Alexander, and Barnes. It includes numerous contributions from other NYC-based musicians, who were dubbed over after the initial "live" band tracking in Athens in 2005, which was engineered by Jason Nesmith. After the album's release, Crum assembled a new three-piece lineup 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 toured Europe multiple times in 2005 and 2006 with Ladybug Transistor and others.
2008 - present
Since 2008, the band has been the sole outlet for Ben Crum. Ways of Escape came out in 2010 was the first release to feature Crum as sole songwriter.
Ways of Escape is notable for the introduction of vocalist Suzanne Nienaber, and features, among others, Kevin Shea of Storm & Stress on drums, Joe McGinty on keyboards, David Lerner of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists on bass, and long-time Great Lakes contributor Heather McIntosh on cello.
In 2011, Crum reconvened the group of musicians who played on Ways of Escape to begin a new album, Wild Vision, which was released January 22, 2016. In 2016, Crum and band released Wild Vision on the Loose Trucks label. Of the album, The Vinyl District wrote, "Wild Vision represents a creative peak for Crum and Great Lakes" and enthused, "The Great Lakes of the 21st century registers as a near completely different proposition from the one that existed during 2000 to 2002. Diamond Times links the promising yet ultimately minor early work to the considerable achievements of the last two LPs. The confident and appealing Wild Vision serves as the pinnacle of this unforeseeable but welcome circumstance."
In 2018, Ben and his Great Lakes bandmates returned with Dreaming Too Close to the Edge. Again, the album features Crum with Nienaber, Shea, McGinty, and Wachtel, and includes guest spots from Andrew Rieger and Luis Leal. Brightest Young Things called the song "Time Served" from the album "gorgeous and deceiving"  and Backseat Mafia described the song "End of An Error" as "classic noisy indie rock". The current lineup features Kenny Wachtel on guitar, Chris Talsness on bass, and Kevin Shea on drums, in addition to Crum and Nienaber. This lineup has continued to play regularly in and around New York City.
- 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
- Wild Vision (CD/LP) - Loose Trucks Records - 2016
- Dreaming Too Close to the Edge (CD) - Loose Trucks Records - 2018
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