Artist of the Week: The Besnard Lakes

What do you think of when you hear The Besnard Lakes? Does Besnard Lake in North-Central Saskatchewan ring a bell? How about a psychedelic style, shoegazey, progressive band that hails from Montreal, Quebec, Canada? Those are The Besnard Lakes I am talking about. The group was formed in 2003 by the husband and wife duo of Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas. They got their name from the previously mentioned lake in Saskatchewan.

Since 2003 the band has released two albums Volume 1 in 2003 and The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse released on Jagjaguwar in 2007. All of the songs on these records were written by the couple,  Lasek is the lead vocalist and plays guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. Goreas plays bass and sings. The other members of The Besnard Lakes include Nicky Lizee on keyboards, Steve Raegele on guitar and vocals and both Richard White and Kevin Laing on guitar.

There is a short blurb on their myspace site that may give some sort of explanation to their 2007 album, The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse:

“It seems true spies are rarely happy. Some are even driven to the point of suicide. It’s hard to keep secrets. Especially from the ones you love. Follow the Dark Horse. The flames will be your guide.”

You don’t have to listen closely to hear the muffled sound of a woman’s voice speaking in some sort of combination of letters and number. If you further investigate it turns out that those numbers are not rubbish but recordings from shortwave radio number stations.

“What does this all mean?”

Well, these voices were originally broadcast reading streams of numbers, words, letters, tunes or Morse code. These recordings were first used in The Conet Project which was a four-CD set of recordings of numbers stations, believed to be operated by government agencies to communicate with spies. Many artists, such as Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and Mike Patton have used them, and so have Boards of Canada.

The album was recorded spy free at Lasek’s own Breakglass studios in Montreal with contributions from members of Stars, The Dears and Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Silver Mt. Zion. Acts such as Wolf Parade, Voilà!, Bionic, Islands, The Unicorns, The World Provider, and Sunset Rubdown have recorded their albums at this studio.

I understand that Besnard Lake is near your home, but how did you decide that would be your name?

Olga Goreas: Besnard Lake is not really near our home, it’s actually very far away. You need to take 2 hours of logging roads just to get there. It’s basically in the middle of nowhere. It’s so secluded you feel you are the only people on earth. It is a place near and dear to our hearts.

What is it like working as a husband/wife team?

Olga Goreas: It is a work in progress all the time.  Couples have to work at having a satisfying relationship together, so it is no different for us being in a band together.  If anything, we are lucky since we get to share in some of the most amazing experiences together.

BTR: The Montreal music scene is quite intense, with a lot of great bands. What is it like to work around so many talented musicians?

Olga Goreas: It’s really great and it certainly keeps me on my toes all the time.  Indeed it is pretty intense because there are so many multi-talented individuals in this city.  Any given musician or artist has their hands in more than one field here, usually five or ten, be it artistic or otherwise.  There is also a fair bit of cross-pollination and constant progression of people’s art here, so that you end up with something totally original.  I’m thinking of the Sam Shalabi and The Egyptian Light Spectrum show I recently saw here. There was a very traditional element and a very futuristic element to his songs that was both entertaining and spiritual, as well as completely authentic.

Why are the Besnard Lakes the Dark Horse?

Olga Goreas: Because it is the title of an album.

BTR: Why do some of your songs reference spies?

Olga Goreas: I don’t reference spies at all in the words that I write.  Jace does and that is something more of interest to him. However, I am fascinated by the idea that perhaps the listener is a spy.  There is something strange and perverse to write about personal things and have people you don’t know listen to it.  I’ve had to go through a bit of therapy to come to terms with this notion of lost privacy or, I don’t know, a fragmented identity.  See, I’m giving away lots about myself now too.  It’s all good though.

BTR: Are you guys into Morse code?

Olga Goreas: Myself, no.  I suppose it’d be neat to learn it though.  Isn’t that why Amelia Earheart perished?  She didn’t know Morse code when she did her round-the-world trip and, combined with exhaustion? That’s how the story goes anyway.  Another one of those unsolved mysteries.

BTR: How did you end up on Jagjaguwar?

Olga Goreas: Kind of the good old-fashioned way. We sent a demo to Darius, who is the co-head of Jagjaguwar, and he contacted us saying he really loved the songs. He came out to see us perform and then we were signed to the label.

BTR: Any musical friends that you think need recognition that haven’t received it? Anyone you would like to talk about?

Olga Goreas: Yes, this band The Sunday Sinners who recorded a great album that they’ve had in the can for awhile. I would love to take them on the road with us one day, if it’s possible.  I think their album is a really great-sounding psychedelic record.  It takes you somewhere of your choosing.

BTR: What if someone called you a shoegaze band?

Olga Goreas: Oh, some have and some always will.  It doesn’t bother me at all.  I don’t think it’s a completely accurate description for us but I have listened to bands of the shoegaze variety, and I enjoy some of them, so there’s no reason to be bothered by the comparisons.

BTR: Any plans for an upcoming album?

Olga Goreas: Yes, we’re writing songs and hope to have an album out for around spring of the new year. Also, side project-wise, Jace recorded an album with his dear friend Mike Gardiner.  I think it’s a brilliant album and hopefully it’ll find a home soon.


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