The Besnard Lakes are a Canadian-based indie rock band with Greek roots; formed in 2003 by the married couple Olga Goreas and Jace Lasek, the band includes drummer Kevin Laing, guitarists Richard White and Robbie MacArthur, and Shennah Ko on the keyboards. Having twice been nominated for the Polaris Prize for albums ‘The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse’ and ‘The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night’ respectively, their most recent full-length ‘A Coliseum Complex Museum’ was released at the beginning of 2016. If you just so happen to be in the Athens area on June 1st, you can check them out performing at Six d.o.g.s with Tango with Lions.
Let’s start at the very beginning. For those who haven’t been following you over the years, how did The Besnard Lakes first come together?
Jace and I met in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1997. I was playing in some bands there and he was attending art school. We started putting some musical ideas together, and were discussing starting a studio together so we could make records. We decided we wanted to come to Montreal to do that. In 1999 we moved for a year to Regina, Saskatchewan so we could save some money to move to Montreal. We had a variation of the band that started there back in 1999. At that time, our songs were instrumental mostly. If there was any singing it was very sparse. When we moved to Montreal in 2000 we were more occupied with trying to establish a recording studio, and by the time 2003 rolled around Jace and I decided to record an album as the two of us, with our limited skills in writing and recording. That was ‘Volume I’ and so I suppose the beginning of it all!
‘A Coliseum Complex Museum’ came out last year, so you’ve had some time to digest the release of it. What went into recording this album?
The album before ‘Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO’ was a very heavy record for us to make as it was written right after my father died. ‘A Coliseum Complex Museum’ was a much more liberating, lighthearted album to make in comparison. We also had two new members come on board who breathed fresh life into the band. Overall, the songs came together very quickly and we had a surplus of songs that went into the two EPs ‘Golden Lion’ and ‘The Besnard Lakes Are the Divine Wind’. So yeah, I’d say it was an easy record to make.
‘Golden Lion’ is probably my favorite track off the LP, how did you write this song? Do you normally start out with lyrics first? Melodies later?
Jace came up with the initial song structure for ‘Golden Lion’. The basic melodic blueprint of the song comes first, then various parts are added in and the lyrics and vocals are last. That’s pretty much standard for us.
I love the cover art to ‘A Coliseum’, where did this come from?
The cover was made by a friend of ours Chris Gardiner. We like the art to reflect the title of the album, and there were motifs we wanted represented, such as the giant orb and lights off in the distance. The fact that it’s a lake also reiterates the band in a certain sense. It was also a departure from the last three album covers that were made by another friend of ours Corri-Lynn Tetz. She made paintings while Chris made a digitally based work. The album art is a big deal for us, so I’m glad you like it!
I hear that yearly pilgrimages are made to your namesake, Besnard Lake. How does this area of Canada inspire your writing?
Initially Jace and I would go to Besnard Lake to recharge our batteries and just be in nature. We’re both very outdoorsy people. However the last few years we had basically germinated the ideas for the last couple albums, and we had a little recording set-up in a crappy little trailer. I think mainly the inspiration is cinematic. It provides us the visual grandeur and the adventuresome spirit to create. We’ve really become interested in many things unique to that experience, such as fishing and foraging. It allows us to live the libertarian dream, and to provide for ourselves in every capacity that is important to us.
What are your inspirations? Whether musically – albums, artists, etc – or through other forms of art, such as film and literature?
Hmmm…I really love to dig into a television series, as I’m sure many do! I’ve been watching “Star Trek: The Next Generation” lately. I used to watch it sometimes when it first came out, but I wouldn’t say I was a serious Trekkie or anything. However, there seems to be a new significance for me to this show. To me, the world Gene Roddenberry created represents hope. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling humans have screwed the world up royally. Something drastic has to happen, and maybe space exploration is it, maybe it’s the idea of the singularity or a new sentient being. Somehow “Star Trek” seems to encapsulate all that, and it may very well have been informing a vision of the future that is maybe not perfect, but is far more compassionate. Who knows where we’re going, you know?
You’ve just gone through a leg of tour dates in the US, what’s the funniest story to come from this tour?
We have yet to do this tour, but I’m sure there will be stories to tell!
What’s a favorite track of your own? Now I know most people can’t choose because it’s like choosing a favorite child, but if you could theoretically choose..
Ha ha, yes they do feel like our children sometimes! I have usually been enamoured with certain songs then something else comes up and takes it place. I think one of my favorites off ‘A Coliseum Complex Museum’ is ‘Pressure Of Our Plans’. It’s really comfortable for me vocally, and it’s challenging enough to play to keep it interesting. It’s got an epic-ness to it that makes me feel good.
Your newly released 12” ‘The Besnard Lakes Are The Divine Wind’ contains two tracks written around the same time as ‘A Coliseum Complex Museum’, is that right? Are you often left with tracks you had wished were put on your current album at the time? Was this refreshing for these tracks to see the light of day?
Well, yes these tracks were written at the same time as ‘A Coliseum Complex Museum’, and no, we aren’t always left with tracks that we wish were put on the current album. We have always put out EPs with each album release, and it’s usually by design to not have them on the concurrent LPs. ‘Laura Lee’ and ‘The Divine Wind’ we definitely did not want to be on the LP. However, from the ‘Golden Lion’ EP, we originally wanted ‘The Motorway’ to be on the LP, but we knew that ‘In The Forest’ was going to be an EP release. But then again, it sometimes comes down to things like having an ideal LP length. It just seems to come down to voodoo sometimes!
‘The Divine Wind’ is a sweeping psych treat, could you tell us a bit about the story behind this song?
Jace had been listening to some podcasts about the wars and the topic of Japanese Kamikaze pilots came up. The Divine Wind is the English translation of Kamikaze, and I don’t think it gets any more psychedelic than that!
Your track ‘And You Lied To Me’ is an opus, what went into making this song off your Polaris Prize nominated second LP ‘The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse’? Now ten years old, might I add!
I’ll preface by saying that you may have noticed that Jace has a thing for wars and spies and this song, and a lot of ‘…Dark Horse’ in fact, is about fictional spies, with embellishments of real-world things that had happened, such as the numbers stations that proliferated during the Second World War. We recreated the transmissions from the numbers stations in ‘And You Lied To Me’, and maybe you’ve noticed that it’s in Greek: ‘Ena, Tessera, Mavro Thereo’ which are my creative takes on the things that were heard in the transmissions. It’s kind of creepy! But whatever, I feel I have creative license since both my parents came from Greece. I speak Greek better than I write it, although my version of Greek is more like Greeklish.
You’ll be performing with Tango With Lions at Six d.o.g.s in Athens on June 1st. What can gig-goers anticipate from a live Besnard Lakes performance?
You’ll just have to wait and see. Anticipation is great isn’t it?
And what can we expect from The Besnard Lakes in this coming year? What do you all have on the horizons?
We have a bunch of new songs that we’ve been working on. Jace has many other projects in the studio that he’s involved with as a producer and recording engineer. I’m continuing my exploration of the culinary arts and mushroom hunting. Life is good!