The group started as a songwriting partnership between Dan Donahue and Ben Crum and officially formed with James Huggins III as a song writing trio in 1996. Crum, Donahue, and Huggins are the three founding members who formed a live band to tour and record in Athens, Ga. The original line-up included bassist/vocalist Craig Ceravolo and was temporarily billed under the name "Cherry Valence" (Birmingham, Al). While all three collaborated on songwriting (often aligning individual pieces into one full song) the group effort produced a sound greater than the sum of its parts with 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, art director, and conceptual center of the group, also adding many psychedelic soundscapes and other effects to the tracks. After officially relocating to Athens, GA, the first 2 albums and international tours saw the group swell to around a dozen or more live & recording members. Their lineup has 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." The debut LP 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 (except 2010's 'Ways of Escape'). Dan Donahue has also designed art/album covers/videos for the bands MGMT, Pavement, Belle and Sebastian, and R.E.M. The Great Lakes song "Vrgl" (the only solo Huggins vocal) was featured on the CMJ magazine CD included in the publication's national circulation in 2000.
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 the Athens, GA home studio engineered by Crum. 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 extensively in Europe at the time, focusing on Scandinavia and the UK for several months. A highlight stateside found them supporting Belle & Sebastian to a sold out crowd at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, Ga. Around this time, both Crum and Donahue relocated to Brooklyn, NY, and continued writing while Huggins continued to tour with the band of Montreal, still remaining a recording and arranging core contributor to Great Lakes.
Their third album, Diamond Times, came out in 2006 on Empyrean Records. Diamond Times is the last recording of the original members of Great Lakes and the past members of the live/recording band ensemble. It has numerous contributions from other musicians, overdubbed in NYC under Crum's direction after the initial "live" band tracking with Huggins, Donahue, Alexander, Barnes, and Poole in Athens, GA, 2005-2006 recorded by Jason Nesmith. With their 3rd LP, Diamond Times, the band's sound evolved into what Uncut magazine called "powerful, accomplished pop music" and "utterly great." Some time after, Crum temporarily joined the band 'Ladygug Transistor' as a touring/recording member and co-wrote some of their material at the time. Donahue has contributed lyrics to several other bands' albums including Of Montreal's City Bird, Elf Powers The Taking Under, and Bear In Heaven's Space Remains.
Since 2008, the Great Lakes has seen numerous rotations in line-up and has often performed as a solo act for Crum in and around Brooklyn, NY. The fourth album Ways of Escape 2010 is the first release in the Great Lakes catalogue to feature Crum as sole songwriter and band member. Donahue & Huggins are both currently releasing new material with various groups and their principle songwriting outlets, Dream Boat and James Husband, respectively. Since 2010, the band has become a solo recording project for Crum, who continues to write & perform under the name "Great Lakes."