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Interview with The Besnard Lakes

In Interviews on February 1, 2011 at 12:24 pm

The Besnard Lakes were formed in 2003 by husband and wife duo Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas. Two of their three albums, including their most recent, The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night (Jagjaguwar 2010), have been nominated for the Polaris Music Prize. I caught up with the band during their North American tour.

Midday Procrastination: You’re a married couple, and where some would say it’s best to keep work and play separate you’ve ended up combining the two! How did you guys end up making music in Montréal together as a married couple?

Olga Goreas: Well I met Jace 12 years ago in Vancouver, and at that time I’d been playing with another band, but as both of us were musicians it always seemed natural that we’d play together, and so I ended up leaving that band. But at that time we weren’t if we wanted to stay in Vancouver, and we ended up deciding that if we wanted to make music, then Montréal would be the place to do it.

Why do you like Montréal so much?

Because it’s got such a great culture, and has the right atmosphere to be a musician; cheap rent! More than that though it has such a cool history. From the 1960s avant-garde music scene, through to the 1990s scene with Godspeed You! and all those other bands on Constellation Records it has had a great vibe.

I had a glance at your Wikipedia page, and noticed a quote in which you describe your latest album as ‘psychedelic rock’. What do you mean by that, and which other genres influenced the album?

To me, psychedelic rock is sort of spacey and trippy music that has it roots in rock’n’roll. So on our new album we bring in psychedelic sounds, but also progressive rock and 1990s shoegaze sounds. I think the one place we wanted to take the album to a new level was vocally, because I think we’re still classified as an indie rock band, and for me indie rock bands have always been defined by really varied vocals and vocal harmonies, so we wanted to do that.  We tend to draw influences from everywhere though, like the creepy music from David Lynch films.

Are there any particular artists who have particularly influenced you?

Well we’re always listening to Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac! So I guess you could say its lots of 1960s and 1970s music, for example bands like Love or the Zombies. And we love AC/DC! We’ve even played AC/DC covers before, and we always read rock biographies and watch rock documentaries. Basically we’re obsessed with the magic of classic rock, and the lineage from the Beatles and Rolling Stones to us.

When I hear one of your songs like “Chicago Train” I get very interested in your song writing process, because the song has quite a dramatic musical change half way through, and the lyrics seems to change with the music. Would you say there are two parts to that song?

Well that song in particular was written around a crunchy guitar riff Jace had in his head, which we ended up putting at the end of the song. When we got to the studio we then realised that the first part should be soft and atmospheric and then the guitars should come and sort of blow the whole thing out of the water! As for the lyrics, well the music always comes first in our songs. The lyrics are not usually there till after the music is recorded. Personally, my lyrics are always personal, and come from snippets of memory or something, whereas Jace likes to tell a story, so he’ll write things down early on and decide which ones he wants to use in a particular song, like he did for “Chicago Train”, which was his song. So basically the lyrics are sensitive to the flow of the music in the song, which means that he is always attentive to a change in the music, which, as you described, brings about a lyrical change.

What about you? How do you approach linking lyrics and music, especially for a delicate song like “Albatross” (click to play/download)?

When I do vocals I’m very private about it, and actually self produce my own voice. I’ll do different takes and take the ones I like and add the effects I like to it. Having said that, Jace is there a lot of the time, and he’ll come in to check and see how it’s going. For “Albatross” in particular the vocals came very quickly. I had the melody in mind, and just went in and sang it, and it was one of those magical takes where it just clicks. I also believe that the first take of the vocals can often be the most vulnerable take, which is often why they work the best. Especially in a song like that, where the lyrical content is very emotional and introspective.

You’ve been nominated for big prizes like the Polaris. How do you see big industry awards like that, considering that taste is obviously always subjective?

Well we’ve been lucky enough to be nominated for the Polaris Prize twice, and the whole evening is just a great time. There are all these great artists are in a room, and there’s just a great feeling of camaraderie between all the different artists. There’s no animosity when someone loses or someone wins, I just think they are nice events to celebrate the art form we work in.

Finally, as someone who only moved to Canada relatively recently, I’ve always been intrigued by the Canadian Content rules for radio play etc. How do you see these rules, do you think they play an important role in protecting local culture from the effects of musical imperialism?

Yes I do think those laws play an important role. We are very lucky here in Canada because there are a lot of government programs, and bands can go on the road, and tour, and get funding because The Arts are supported very well. Going back to the Canadian Content thing, well, it’s funny because to me that was almost a genre of its own back in the day, whereas now Canadian music is so well respected and world renowned I can’t really describe a band as being ‘Totally Can-con!’. Back in the 1980s that was a typical joke on the circuit. Basically I don’t mind these regulations at all, but I also don’t think it matters where you’re from anymore because the music scene is so completely global that nowadays anyone anywhere can make a record and release it.

The Besnard Lakes are currently on a North American tour.

-By Steve Eldon Kerr

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