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  • The Besnard Lakes
    Wednesday, February 14, 2007

    The music of Besnard Lakes is big. It's big, it's sparse, it's cold, and it's Canadian. Well, it's Canadian in the sense that it's big, it's sparse, it's empty, and similarities between it and Neil Young are not accidental. Or at least I think their music is Neil Young-like. Not that that's a bad thing, mind you, but truth be told, it's hard not to hear Mr. Young's influence on their music. Nor is it hard to ignore the downright amazing harmonies, the utterly beautiful string arrangements, and the grand, cinematic and reverb-drenched melodies found on the band's second album, The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse. Comparisons to the Beach Boys, My Morning Jacket, and other bands of that sort can also be made to the music found therein. Jace Lasek, the man behind the curtain, is an interesting fellow to talk to. When we spoke, I'd just accidentally broken a CD, and though I was having a stressed-out day, he was jovial and friendly and made the day a little more pleasant.

    ...Are the Dark Horse is your debut for Jagjaguwar, but it's actually your second record. I wasn't able to find much information about your debut. Could you tell me a little bit about it?

    We pressed it ourselves, in a small press run of 500 copies. It sold out, actually, but it never got picked up by a label, except in England, where it was put out on Earworm. That's the only place that still has it.

    Sonically, does the new record pick up where the debut left off?

    The first record was a little more ambient sounding, though it had a little bit of reverb and went on a little longer, but it was still kind of epic sounding. Dark Horse, by comparison, is way more pop, with more traditional pop stylings in terms of vocals and melodies.

    So did Besnard Lakes start as a studio project?

    Not really. It sort of naturally took that route, because I own the studio we use. It started off as a band. The original lineup of the band split up, and at that point Olga and I decided we were going to make a record at the studio, and we worked together on the record and we liked what we did. We kind of did the same thing with the new album, but the main difference is we had a few other people, minor players at the time, that helped us expand our sound.

    Listening to the record on headphones, it's amazing to hear how it expands in ways you don't normally get from the first lesson. Did you spend a lot of time in the studio working on it?

    We spent tons of time on it. Since I own the studio, we could track and track and track the album for days, and we spent a lot of time adding little nuances and embellishments.

    To me, it's very simple, yet very complex music.

    Yeah, that was sort of the point. The first record was a little more prog-rocky. This one, I still wanted to retain some of that quality, yet make a record that's more poppy/rockish in nature. Like you said, I like the idea of putting headphones on and listening and getting more and more out of it when you listen closer. Plus, it's a bit easier to perform live.

    Was taking the band out of the studio something you wanted to do?

    Yeah, definitely, but at the same time, it's a little hard for us to figure out how to do live what we do in the studio. The first record, I don't think the way we toured it was successful. I was trying to fine-tune live what the songs sounded like on the album, and I think I wound up annoying people. (Laughs) We would tour with giant amps and when we would get to where we were playing, we'd set up and the music would overwhelm the vocals. On the record, the vocals were buried, and you couldn't hear them anyway. When people go out to see a band, they really want to hear the singing, and we came off as a massive wall of unintelligible sound. Some people, some people said it was cool, but the majority of people who came out, you could tell they were grumbling about us. (Laughs) For this record, we decided to take a different approach. We went to combo amps instead of 4 x 12's, and we turned down the stage volume quite a bit and worked more on our vocals; we worked on our harmonies, and when we started doing that, we started to get a really good live show, and we became more of a live band. I've always wanted to be a live band, to be able to translate these things live, on stage. With this current lineup, they are all really accomplished players, so they were able to translate the most important parts of the record. Obviously, we can't play everything, so they're able to bring together the most important parts of the record.

    Live, is it the six of you, or are there additional players?

    There's the six of us. Usually, when we play around here, it will be the core six: three guitars, organs, bass, drums, and we'll also have a choir of girls and a small string section, or a small horn section, or a combo, like violin and horn. Usually, that's just here in Montreal where we are like that. But it's really, really cool when we can do it like that. WE couldn't really take that full combo on the road, though, but those arrangements sound excellent.

    One of the most impressive aspects of the new record is Nicole's arrangements.

    Oh yeah, she's amazing! She's a modern composer, and she's totally accomplished. Right now, she's writing some things for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Her compositions are played on the radio here; they're played on the CBC and around the world. She's really, really incredible. The cool thing about her is that her arrangements are strange. They aren't typical, "let's do this in sync with a guitar line," types of things. Her work really adds a dimension to the record.

    When you wrote Dark Horse, was she a member of the band, or did she come along after and add her arrangements?

    Olga and I wrote the music together in the studio, for the most part. She was just sort of playing keyboards, and she said, "Do you want string arrangements for the record?" I gave her a song I was working on, and two weeks later she gave me some arrangements she'd done on her computer, and they slayed. It really helped; I'd kind of run out of ideas about what to do on some of the songs, and she came along and added her element on that song, and I knew I'd want to have her come in and have a go at the arrangements. I think it totally turned out well.

    I notice that a lot of the songs deal with the theme of leaving or departing--even the cover, with a horse running away on it. Were you trying to capture a theme of transition?

    When I write--and I can't speak for Olga--I like to write about espionage. There are a lot of references to spies in my songs. There's a bit of mystery, and a bit of darkness. I have a character in mind when I write my lyrics. It's a retired spy who becomes very lonely, and he's dreaming about his former life and running around the world on all sorts of adventures.

    Sitting on the sideline, watching life pass him by.

    To me, that's kind of sad, and I can use that metaphor to relate to everyday people. That sense of leaving a world you love and know so well is sad, but that's life.

    Besnard Lakes' The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse is released February 20th on Jagjaguwar

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    posted by joseph kyle @ 10:12 AM  
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