The distance between

Great Lakes are wet with possibilities, despite logistical hurdles

Wednesday January 8, 2003 12:04 am EST

It's no wonder Sarah Martin fell so hard for Great Lakes: With about nine revolving players, the formerly Athens-based band is nearly as big as her own group, Belle & Sebastian. Birds of a feather and all that--but it's always nice to have fans in high places.

"Yeah, opening up for them in Atlanta was pretty great," says Great Lakes co-founder Ben Crum from his new digs in New York City. "She called us out of the blue after our first album came out on Kindercore, and that's how we got the gig. They also offered us the opening slot for their tour, but we just couldn't all do it."

Such reality is stark — the two nights Belle & Sebastian did in New York alone drew over 5,000 fans. And with Crum's songwriting partner Jamey Huggins in San Francisco and drummer Dan Donahue, the only other permanent member of the band, in Athens, the logistics of keeping this precious but rugged pop band together takes lots of work.

Yet despite the miles between mates, they've recently found time to get out another album of smart songs. Consisting of some previously released rarities and a dose of fresh 'n' raw cuts, it's called, appropriately, The Distance Between.

Great Lakes was formed in a basement in Marietta while they were still in high school. The basis of the group remains Crum's music combined with Donahue's lyrics and "heavy involvement" from Huggins. Their hodgepodge psychedelic sound was a natural fit for the Elephant 6 scene in Athens in the late '90s, but the withering of that fabled collective in the new millennium gave the Great Lakes an opportunity to seek new challenges.

"I'd lived in Athens for six years, and I'd always kind of wanted to live in New York," says Crum of his departure from Georgia. "The small Southern town was kind of wearing me down a bit."

Yet even as he's left his roots in Athens, he's kept busy with like-minded musicians such as Ladybug Transistor and former label mates at Kindercore, Essex Green. The big city is a lot more welcoming in the arms of friends.

Laura Carter, bass player for Elf Power, is also among Crum's good friends. Her Athens-based record label Orange Twin seemed to be a logical step for Great Lakes, so they left the scrappy environs of Kindercore late last year. "The record was already done, and we knew we had a distribution deal in Europe for it. So I just figured we'd wait and see if an American label would pick it up," says Crum. "We were kind of going back and forth on what to do, but in the end we're happy how it turned out. We have minimal needs, and so do Orange Twin."

Crum is aware of the fragility of the situation — disparate members, a small record label, a fan base more local to Georgia than New York. But if the band had resigned to its obstacles, they wouldn't have made it this far. Unbelievably, the full group — well, six of them anyway — have even managed to tour for a month in Europe this fall. The support from Sarah Martin has definitely helped the band overseas. "With that many people in the band, it's just hard to tour even the U.S. much," says Crum. "We're more focused on making our little music and getting out when we can."

And to that end, Crum is optimistic on the future, no matter who is in Great Lakes or where they are located. "There's another Great Lakes record coming," he promises. "It's written and ready to go."

If he can get everyone into the studio at the same time, they might even be able to record it.


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