With their bombastic third album “The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night” due out next week, TLOBF’s Oh! Canada column took some time to catch up with Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas of The Besnard Lakes to find out the story behind their new record, a conversation that took in spies, lookalikes and equipment chanelling the spirit of Jimmy Page.
First off, who are The Besnard Lakes? By that I mean, do you consider it to be the two of you and whoever comes in to guest, or are you more a full band…
JL: It has always been the two of us since we met in 2000 in Vancouver….then we moved to Regina to save money to move to move to Montreal. People have come and go. our drummer Kevin has been with us since 2005, and Rich since 2006 and they are core but we continue to evolve. Because its a lot of me and Oggy just in the studio building up the songs its kind of difficult to keep members interested because we don’t really rehearse the record until its time to go touring and the records already done.
So it sort of transforms from studio to a live project?
JL: Yeah, We put recordings together and loose drum tracks then we give Kevin free rein to come in and add his creative touch to it and re-record them, and the same with Rich. He’s a way better guitar player than i’ll ever be, so thats when we get him in to do it. It’s way more efficient that way because you can see what’s happening.
It kind of has to be that way- we don’t have a lot of time-. when I’m not working on the band, I’m in the studio recording and producing other bands. We just don’t have time to rehearse 3/4 times a week. But we always knew being in the studio was the best way to make records.
Do you live at the studio?
JL: No, but we try to make it as homey as possible for bands and ourselves.It’s a full blown 5,000 sq feet space with a 1,300 live room, We built two echo chambers, a friend has a silk screening facility in it….I guess unusually no window in the space so its a lot like being in a rehearsal space, You can loose yourself and there is less pressure than having an engineer staring at you all the time. Some people can’t deal with it for the first few days…then they love it.
You were “The Dark Horse”. Now you are “The Roaring Night”. What are The Besnard Lakes?
JL: I always tell people it’s psychedelic rock- each song is its own little world, an atmosphere. I’ve always been enamored with these songs that take forever to get going, long songs that build, with a story and a long build to a climax…very much like that. Each song is a story and we really want people to listen to the record in its entirety. We are album people. we grew up in that era. we even try to keep our album between 42-45 minutes so it can go on vinyl..i think thats the perfect amount of time for a record. It was made without individual songs in mind, but more of a whole.
It really seems to be a record that feels like it needs to be listened to on vinyl- it needs the space that digital compression sometimes lacks.
JL: Yeah that’s a problem I have to deal with as an engineer too. It’s a compromise. I know some places are doing less compressed stuff now which is great- you can’t stop people downloading but you can try to get them to listen to it in better quality. I know lots of people who don’t really care…..iPod culture and laptops mean your not going to tell the difference from those tiny speakers. I think our fans are aware of it though. A lot of our fans are audiophiles, you know older dudes (and dudettes) who grew up listening to vinyl. We had a lot of super fans coming up to us who were older people…a lot of collectors, nerds and comic book dudes…you know. They still buy vinyl records. As long as nerds are still buying records we’ll be fine! Totally!
You have talked about your songs being like a story. What comes first the plot or the music?
JL: The story comes dead last- we are very much in to the construction of instrumentation- we know where the vocals will be but for the most part they are put together at the very end.
OG: Jace and I have different philosophies that we draw upon. Jace has his story line and plot about his spies and war, but I take more from personal experience when I’m writing. Like “Albatross” is taken from experience of when I was living in Vancouver and I met this man who had a profound influence on my life. And all I have left are these words, as a memory, so it is a little bit more personal. So we approach it differently but it always works for some reason…..and thats how we will carry on.
As Olga mentioned, the album sees a return to the theme of spies which has been recurring throughout all of your albums. What’s the story?
JL: Yes spies as always. It started on Vol 1 and carried on through all the albums. This time lyrically I wanted to develop the characters and have the listener get an appreciation for who they are. The main character is a retired spy who worked during the war and he is now a lousy musician. He’s spying on a woman who is also a spy. But the idea is his mind might be playing tricks on him- is he really a spy? Does the woman really exist? or is he just spying on a woman?. Which is creepy. I guess it looks at the delusional and confusing aspects of life. I’ve always been interested in spies, and codes and things like that.
On “…Dark Horse” you used coded recordings from number stations. This time you use morse code. Is there a hidden message?
JL: There might be! I don’t know what it is. After “Dark Horse” was done I wanted to verify number stations were really real. I picked up the Conet project which is a 5 disc compilation of creepy transmission from sw radio that are allegedly message to spies who are in various positions and they can hear there orders for the day. The numbers mean nothing without the codebreaker…..so it is the perfect way to send a short message without being found out…..
So I bought a SW radio and within a week and a half I had heard two transmissions and some morse code stuff. So I recorded it and that is what’s on the record. There is a message in their-we just aren’t sure what it is .
I’m sure TLOBF readers might be able to help on that…we could put out an appeal
JL:That would be amazing! If anyone can decode it we would love to know!
[see bottom for instructions]]
Moving on to the new record: Albatross is the single- and it forms a pretty good insight into what is to come in the rest of the record. Do you see …”the Roaring Night” as a continuation of “…Dark Horse?”
OG: I don’t think we had a conscious plan to make it. We just see what happens, It evolves. It wasn’t like we said “This will be more rock”, or “lets have no guitars” or anything like that.
Well that certainly didn’t happen!
JL: No! There are more than last time! We just see what works best. And this time it was best to be loud with guitars!
Which brings us to the fact that you bought the mixer from Led Zepplin’s Physical Graffitti for your studio and recorded the album on it. How did that come about? You don’t just wake up and say “Oh, it’s a Tuesday, I’ll buy the Led Zep mixing console”
JL: If only….We were looking for a large frame console in 2007, and had contacted some people. it’s a pretty small market, but it’s hard to sell- most people want small digital desk. Everyone else is downsizing and we’re idiots so were trying to go bigger! So this guy emailed us and told us he had the console Kashmir was recorded on, do you want to see some photos. And we were like “TOTALLY FUCKIN RIGHT! Send that fuckin photo over right now!” It’s a beautiful console, its a hybrid -like a frankenstein console so we thought it was really cool. It was a beast to get running. We had to crane it in to the studio!
Hold on, what?
JL: We had to take a window out to get it in to the kitchen. Then we had to take two walls out to get it into the control room. It wasn’t that big a deal because we built the studio anyway so it wasnt hard to take it out and put back in. The hard part was it dangling 3 floors up from a wire. My partner Dave is a nervous man. He was just passing back and forth going “ohmygodohmygod”. We had to lock him in the control room till it was done.
After all that you couldn’t really release a minimal folk record could you?
JL: Yeah, we couldn’t go in and tell Dave we weren’t going to use the console because we wanted a really clean sound…maybe that can be the next record! When we got in, It was like a little bit of Jimmy Page’s spirit sinisterly whispering “PLAY MORE GUITAR”! Rich is such a great guitar player I kind of wanted to showcase his talent.
There are times where there are bits of Bonham in the mix too…
OG: [Laughs] Kevin even looks like Bonham – or like a cross between Bonham and Dennis WIlson.
As well as the album, you have also recently recorded the soundtrack to Mark Ruffalo’s film “Sympathy for Delicious”. How did that come about?
JL: The story he tells goes like this. He was sick and checking out itunes in bed and stumbled on our stuff and spent the night listening to our stuff in a feverish sweat. When he got better he got his supervisor to call us up and find out if wed be interested in this film he was scoring. So we did it because we always wanted to do film. In fact we were shocked we hadn’t been approached before- you know, we make this long atmospheric filmic type music, so it kind of makes sense. Mark liked what he heard and called us back and said that he wanted to do it and would give us free reign to do what we wanted…..So it went well and it was so much fun. He came up to Montreal and we ran through some stuff and refined it….in the end we ended up with 40 minutes of instrumental music (with a few oohs and ahhs) It was such a blast and so fun, and definitely something we would take the opportunity to do it again. It seemed to come so naturally. It isn’t difficult for us to do-we have the luxury of our own studio and make changes really quickly and get it done. We get to pick our own studio rates!
And finally- is there anyone you are listening to at the moment you think TLOBF listeners should seek out?
JL: Well it’s always the stuff that I’m currently working on- as I don’t get to listen too much to music outside of that. I just finished working on a record by this band called Zeroes from Montreal- that’s pretty incredible. And I’m also working on the new Land Of Talk record which is going to be amazing, extraordinary even. It’s still very Lizzie, but a bit heavier this time-approaching it in a more experimental kind of way.
As you read in the interview, The Besnard Lakes are The Roaring Night contains morse code recorded by Jace from a SW Radio broadcast. The band are offering a pair of tickets to any date on their UK tour for anyone who can decode the message, or give the best suggestion as to what the message might be. Simply download the track “Land of Living Skies Pr.1: The Land”, let us know what you think the code says and email it to [email protected] before March 20th with the subject line BESNARD LAKES COMP. Please include your name, contact details, and preference of which show you want to attend.
The Besnard Lakes Play The UK:
March 25 – Liverpool, UK at Liverpool Academy 2
March 26 – Bristol, UK at Arnolfini
March 27 – Leeds, UK at Cockpit
March 28 – Glasgow, UK at Captain’s Rest
March 29 – Manchester, UK at Dulcimer
March 30 – Birmingham, UK at Hare and Hounds
March 31 – London, UK at Cargo