October 25, 2010

Light Shows and Fog

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Fresh off two weeks of touring with Band of Horses, Montreal natives The Besnard Lakes will travel to Ithaca tonight to perform at Castways as part of a Dan Smalls Presents bill. The Besnard Lakes, built around husband and wife duo Olga Goreas and Jace Lasek, have been a Montreal mainstay since breaking onto the scene with their first album, Volume 1, in 2003. Their latest album, The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night, has been a critical success, earning accolades from many publications and blogs, as well as appearing on the shortlist for the 2010 Polaris Music Prize. The Sun caught up with Lasek this weekend to discuss his personal music history, the indie boom and how his band functions.

The Sun: How did you originally get into music?

Jace Lasek: When I was 14 or 15, a friend of mine was in a bunch of punk rock bands and he had a bass guitar. He ended up leaving it in my basement, because we used to skateboard there. One day he left the bass guitar there, and I just picked it up and started playing it. I don’t know, when you’re 15 years old and there’s something like that lying around the house, you kind of become enamored with it pretty quickly.

Sun: So do you see The Besnard Lakes as evolving out of that?

J.S.: I had been playing in bands after that for many, many years, and when I moved to Vancouver to go to art school, I met my wife Olga in like ’97 or ’98. She was already playing in bands in Vancouver when I was going to art school, so we met and started playing music immediately after we got together. That’s sort of where Besnard Lakes began, sort of in Vancouver in our living room.

Sun: Do you think that art school had any effect on how you approach music?

J.S.: I actually went to art school to be a better musician. I was prepared when I was going that people were going to find me out and think I was an art snob. Listening to bands and reading about them, a lot of them had gone to art school. So I thought, if I’m going to become a better musician, I need the artistic training to fully realize what I wanted to do musically. So I went there and I got a degree in photography, and I loved it. The art school, it’s called Emily Carr, and when I was there they had a really great experimental film faculty, which led to them having a really nice sound studio there, so I took a couple of sound classes, which gave me access to the recording rooms in there and I got to experiment with interesting sounds.

Sun: You currently run Breakglass Studios in Montreal. What is the role of production in the Besnard Lakes’ sound?

J.S.: I think it weighs pretty heavily on what we do. We don’t really do a lot of rehearsing, a lot of it is actually constructed in the studio, so the fact that we have a studio really helps put the songs together. We go in and build a song, kind of like a jigsaw puzzle, so the studio helps sort of create the test so we can see where we’re going.

Sun: You talked about constructing and jigsaw puzzles. What is the songwriting process like for a track?

J.S.: If we were trying to get a sound to record an organ part, and while we’re trying to get that sound, someone is basically, for example, holding down a chord on the organ and it creates this very cool thing with a Leslie speaker or something. We’ll record that, and just put it aside, and that might become the ambient part of the beginning of a different song. If we have an idea, we’ll record that idea and fully realize that section, and then put it aside. So we might have songs that end up being just a chorus, and then we have to figure out what’s going to be on other sides of these. It’s fun that way because it becomes this puzzle that we have to figure out. We have the luxury to take our time in the studio, and I think it helps to make our music a bit more interesting because we have time to sort of sit and listen to the way its all moving.

Sun: I know this is a hard question, but how would you describe the sound of the Besnard Lakes?

J.S.: Yeah, that is a really hard question. Someone came up to our merch table last night and said we sounded like a psychedelic metal band [laughs], which I thought was pretty complimentary. I really like the fact that people have a bit of a problem pinpointing what we do, because I don’t think we really know either.

Sun: In the file for The Roaring Night the your label sent me, it has your genre listed as “indie.” What is your definition of indie?

J.S.: I don’t know, indie is a weird word these day. It used to be a band not on a major label, distributed independently and on a restricted budget. That isn’t really what it is anymore. Indie rock is a weird definition of music that isn’t specifically meant to be played on music charts, but if it gets there, then that’s an added bonus. It’s a very trendy word and I think people like hearing it. It kind of gives the band this badge of honor.

Sun: The sound that you guys do, its kind of shoegazy, noise with a pop center. Why do you think recently there has been such a surge in output and the popularity of this style of music?

J.S.: I don’t know. Maybe its because back when that kind of music was happening, it ended abruptly. If I can recall, shortly after that whole shoegaze movement began, Oasis happened and that whole British pop thing. So I don’t really think it had time to develop and be itself, sort of that whole process to develop as a genre. So maybe people from that time who remember that music and people who are just coming into it and discovering that style of music now are realizing that there isn’t really a lot out there. There are a few quality bands from that genre, that movement, but there’s a lot of stuff that just doesn’t hit the mark. I think there’s still so much room for that genre to develop and the ideas from that time can still be molded and moved around and interpreted.

Sun: A lot of your songs have this juxtaposition of strings and falsetto and then a lot of feedback and noise. How do you find a balance between the two?

J.S.: That comes back to the idea of putting the songs together like a jigsaw puzzle. We’ll have certain choruses of songs that will have these long atmospheric openings, and we get to the point where its like if we keep going this way it’ll be incredibly boring. I think we sort of push the barrier of how far we can take droning and things before we actually have to create something you can actually grab on to.

Sun: You’ve been talking a lot about “constructing” a song in the studio. How do you replicate this in a live show?

J.S.: Well that’s the fun part.  A lot of bands will rehearse before they go in the studio and they’ll create the songs, and by the time they’re getting ready to go on the road, they’ve already played those songs to death. For us, when we start performing the songs after they’ve been recorded, we’re approaching them as if they’re brand new. Its almost like we’re covering our own music. There’s a lot of instrumentation in the band, and only a limited number of musicians, so we put a lot of thought onstage to interpret what we’re up to. I think it translates very well, and in a lot of ways it becomes more powerful. I think any live situation should translate records more forcefully.

Sun: If someone has never heard The Besnard Lakes, what would be one thing that would make them go see your show?

J.S.: Come for the psychedelic light show. And the fog machine.

For some new takes on their recorded songs, check out The Besnard Lakes tomorrow night at Castaways.

Original Author: Peter Jacobs