The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horses. A fitting album title for these Montreal, Quebec, Canadians, as much as it was a challenge for a band who’ve skirted success but in turn garnered acclaim for their lush and psychedelic sound. Their most recent album The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night appeared in early 2010, and once again it was that intimate and expansive sound, coupled with vocalist/guitarist Jace Lacek’s Beach Boys-like falsetto that saw the band release their most definitive collection of songs yet. Touring Australia for the very first time, Chris Berkley of Static caught up with Jace and drummer Kevin Laing of The Besnard Lakes to talk about the slow rise of the band and their move into film scores.
Welcome gentlemen. It only took you three albums but we got you here.
Kevin: It’s a long way. That’s a crazy plane ride… That’s like 36 hours of travelling with stop-overs. That’s really crazy.
It’s not like you were coming to Hell or anything…
Kevin: No, paradise. It’s upside down Canada… (laughs)
I guess the fact that it took The Besnard Lakes so long to get here is a bit of a metaphor for the band’s career anyway, is it not? Is it definitely a case of slow and steady wins the race?
Not coincidentally you named your last album … Are The Dark Horse? Do you still feel a bit like that?
Kevin: Definitely. I think it’s been a bit of a slow-burn for us, and I think that’s fine too. It lets us sit back and concentrate on the music we want to make.
It was almost the fact that you called your record that that got you attention. Did you feel that the tide did begin to turn with that last album?
Jace: I don’t know, maybe…
You don’t still get mobbed walking down the street do you?
Jace: Oh no, oh god no (laughs). Not even close. Montreal was a pretty interesting time when that all came out. We had a friend in Montreal who called us ‘the dark horse’ because all of our other friends were becoming well-known and going off touring all the time and we were the only band going (in mopey voice) “we’re a really cool band, does anybody want to sign us?” (laughs).
There must be Seattle bands that have those stories too you know. I’m sure you need to sit around with Tad and talk about why it was Nirvana and not them…
Jace. Totally! But like Kevin says, I love a slow-burn, I think it’s wicked. We can just take it easy and figure out how things work as it goes along instead of jumping into it and getting lost in the shuffle.
You guys have learnt how to step out of the shadows a bit, I mean, heaven forbid, you’re showing your faces in press photos…
Kevin: We’re not that interesting… (laughs)
Jace: Yeah, we are, totally! (laughs)
Kevin: We don’t sit in the genre of what seems to be happening. We’ve always been on the outskirts of what’s considered hip and what the young kids like. It seems now that everyone is starting to come to us, which is nice.
Jace: I think even …Are The Dark Horse, we were pinching ourselves, even the moderate success that it had. We were like “well, I hope we sell a couple.. a thousand records, would be nice”. It was pretty much gravy.
It also seems to be the thing though, in a 21st century age of information, I like the fact that there’s still a bit of mystery about The Besnard Lakes. You haven’t pulled away the curtain too much.
Kevin: I’ve always liked that. I remember when I was a kid, growing up in a small city in Canada, and it was hard to get magazines and there was no internet, so you would know very little about the bands you were in love with. All I could do was stare at the artwork. I was really enamoured by that, and still am. It’s the information age and everybody got to consume and know everything about the band, but I love the fact that there’s always a bit of mystery.
With that slow-burn of the band, have you felt you’ve been gradually arriving at a sound for The Besnard Lakes, or was it something formed in your heads from the outset?
Kevin: We just get into the studio and do it, usually.
Jace: We don’t really rehearse material, we just go in and put some ideas down and the studio kinda helps us construct it. Usually when we make a record, we’re just waiting for a block of time where we can go in and do it, and it just comes together that way.
But I guess there’s certain ingredients. For example, have you always sung falsetto, Jace, or was that something you found out you could do and apply to The Besnard Lakes?
Jace: I sang falsetto when I was a kid and everyone made fun of me, so I stopped. On the first record, Volume 1, I didn’t sing falsetto at all. It was natural for me to sing in that range, so I felt comfortable then. When ….Are The Dark Horse came along, I was ‘you know what, screw it. I’m just going to do it and if everyone hate’s it, I don’t care”, but I gotta be comfortable doing what I do, so that‘s how it happened.
Were you guys snickering at the first rehearsal when that happened, Kevin?
Kevin: Not at all, actually…
Jace: He’s got a better falsetto than I do! (laughs)
Kevin: I don’t know about that, but uh… We love the Beach Boys and Roy Orbison… I was really listening to a lot of Beach Boys when I first met Jace. I was doing some recording in his studio and I heard Volume 1 and there’s a little bit in there, but when you said. …Are The Dark Horse coming out more with the falsetto, the vocals are in the background on Volume 1. It was a nice change to bring the vocals upfront. I liked it, actually.
So do you have a lot of discussions about how a record is going to sound or is it literally what happens when x number of you get in a room?
Jace: It just comes together.
Kevin: A skeletal structure, put our heads together, into the studio with the songs and then rehearse them later (laughs).
Jace: That’s a great formula. I don’t know about these guys, but I hate rehearsing. I just wanna play shows. Normal band plan would be like, you know, rehearse songs on tour, rehearse new songs for about a year and then go in the studio and record them and then again play them for another two years on the road. We have the luxury of being able to just go into the studio and make the songs and then we have to figure out how to play them. And then so our rehearsals before we go on the road to go do them, they‘re working out these songs that are totally brand new to us. When we start playing them live they’re still exciting and fresh, instead of dead and worn out because we‘ve been playing them so long.
Is this because you’ve got that luxury that you run a studio in Montreal called Breakglass that puts you in a unique position do you think, to be able to work out songs?
Kevin: Definitely. Well, the studio has to have time for us sometimes.
But, you must hang around the studio and hear a lot of bands you don’t want to sound like.
Jace: I always say that I’ve been very lucky with bands coming into the studio. I pretty much love all that comes in. The people are amazing. But I always find that being stuck in a studio and working with so many bands sometimes somebody will do something I’ve never really thought of, so then I’ll just make a mental note of it and then just steal it and use it for our records (laughs).
Another adjective that gets bandied around for The Besnard Lakes is ‘cinematic’ and now you guys have done some of that. I was reading that you did a Mark Ruffalo score?
Jace: We did a score for Mark Ruffalo, his first sort of directorial debut, a film called ‘Sympathy for Delicious’, a film that is still … I think it’s still coming out. I had a short little email conversation with him about a week or two ago and he says it’s coming out at the end of April, finally. And then we just finished another one from a director in France and she contacted us, the film’s called ‘Memories Corner’ and we just finished scoring that, so we’ve done two films now.
Kevin: It’s awesome, wicked fun. You really have to practice restraint.
No seven minute songs…
Kevin: We love to layer shit. It’s a really cool task to be able to make you music seem like it’s not there. It’s super fun.
And a lot of bands think they’re scoring imaginary movies, but you get to do that. So does this mean a load of budding Australian directors are going to come out of the woodwork now that they’ve heard you say that.
Kevin: Bring’em on. It’s a lot of fun.
Jace: And maybe we’ll come score it… here. Just fly us down.
Kevin: Just film us on Bondi Beach, we’ll play the music to it.
Hopefully it won’t take you another three albums to come back here.
Kevin: Oh no. Now that we’ve been here, we’ll be back every month (laughs).
Jace: I might not leave… (laughs).
Interview broadcast on Static on 10/03/11. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) and via the Internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).