The Besnard Lakes
At Their Own Pace
Apr 12, 2013 Web Exclusive
On The Besnard Lakes' fourth full-length effort, Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO, the Montréal shoegazers seem hopeful. That's saying a lot for a band that's ominously roared with a looming darkness in the past. But after bassist Olga Goreas' dad suddenly passed away in 2011, everything changed.
"There's always this really deep, dark sense of hopelessness on our albums in the past," says frontman Jace Lasek, who is married to Goreas. "I never really realized it until now, but actually talking about real loss has in some weird way given the album more of a sense of hope than the previous albums, where we were sort of just fictionally talking about the idea of loss."
Goreas' real-life pain opened the door for the group to create music that contained a "sense of hope and sun-bleached lightness," which ultimately separated the album from its predecessors. It's also different as it features other notable Canadian musicians including Moonface's Spencer Krug and Mike Bigelow and The Barr Brothers' Sarah Page.
Under the Radar spoke with Lasek about his Montréal recording studio, his relationship with Jagjaguwar Records, and the band's latest album.
Max Blau (Under the Radar): I know you co-own Breakglass Studios and have worked with artists including Wolf Parade, Patrick Watson, Suuns, and numerous others. How much does having your own place to record impact the music you make?
Jace Lasek: First of all, the studio is for hire a lot. I also produce a lot of bands, so getting into the studio to actually record can sometimes be a pain in the ass. So we kind of make the record in sporadic little chunks whenever there is time available in the studio, which is kind of few and far between. That's one of the reasons why it takes us so long to make the records. Also, we don't really rehearse songs beforehand. We'll come in with ideas and let the studio help us build the songs. We'll end up with a whole bunch of little snippets of music and then we'll sort of edit them all together into coherent songs, but it sometimes takes a while to do that.
What's an example of that on the new record?
We actually booked time at Breakglass and paid for it.... Our goal was to try to make this record a lot faster than the other records had been [created]. So we booked three weeks in the studio [around 2011] and went in there and came out with three or four songs. "People of the Sticks" was the only one that was finished at that time. That one came together really quickly.
It kind of depressed us a bit because we spent three weeks in the studio and we thought we'd be able to get most of a record together. The creative juices, I guess, just weren't flowing. We started, then, going back to the way we used to do it, where it was a few days here, whenever the studio wasn't booked we'd get in and sort of frantically try to finish the record. There was a bit of stress there and we would go in for two or three days because somebody would cancel or whatever and we'd be forced to try to come up with something. There was about a two-to-three month spell where we were going in and trying to record stuff and coming out with nothing because creatively we weren't in the right space-we were kind of being forced to do it.
We had a self-imposed deadline to try to get the record done, so once we said "Fuck this self-imposed deadline, let's just relax and make the record," once we did that we started writing again. I think it started January 2012: I wrote "Colour Yr Lights In" and then after that everything started coming together. We'd had maybe 13 or 14 pieces of music around January and we ended up just chucking a whole bunch of it, it ended up being absolute crap, and then starting over again. "Colour Yr Lights In" was the moment where we were like, "okay." We [had] "People of the Sticks" and "Colour Yr Lights In," and at that point also "The Specter" was done and then shortly after that we fused two songs together to make "And Her Eyes Were Painted Gold," and then "Catalina," and then "Alamogordo" I think was the last thing we did.
In an interview the Montréal Gazette, you mention how you love the idea of "song structure being more like movements," with "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" being one example. What about that fascinates you?
It's probably the element of surprise. I always get really interested in the structure of songs because there are basic elements in pop songs that are pretty simple. The basic pop song can have a pretty rigid structure, and when I hear records that kind of get out of that, it's like a breath of fresh air. It's just the simple fact that I like being challenged while listening to music a little bit. I'm not listening to a fax machine for 45 minutes, not that kind of challenging.... You gave the example of "Uncle Albert"-it's still kind of a pop song, but it's cool to see how you can kind of tweak the pop song just enough to make it interesting and just a touch experimental, even if it's just in the arrangements. That's something that I always found enlightening.
Do you get inspired or draw ideas from other bands that come in to record with Breakglass or do The Besnard Lakes have particular recording practices?
I don't know. Besnard usually have pretty much their own thing and I try not to impose that when working with other bands, but in the process of recording other bands and setting up textures and sounds to record for their record, sometimes we stumble on really cool ideas through just the process of chance. I'll make note of it and I'll even tell the band that I'm going to steal it for Besnard. Having a studio allows me to be experimenting with different things all the time. Sometimes I get to use the bands that I'm recording with to develop different styles and techniques and ways of recording things to both my and their benefit. It can make for some interesting sound recordings.
Do you have an example? Of the people I noticed you've worked with, Patrick Watson comes to mind as someone who creates sound in such an interesting way sometimes.
Totally. Last time I recorded Patrick was Close to Paradise, so that was quite some time ago.... For Wooden Arms, I was around for that too, but what comes to mind quite quickly is Suuns. They have a very strong sense of what they want on their albums so producing them is quite easy because they pretty much know exactly what they want. I think the way that they use analog synthesis has kind of inspired me to explore it a little bit more in ways that I've never done before.... Even when we're mixing, Max, their keyboard player, is talking about using gates and triggering kick drums off of certain things to have the synthesizer move and bounce. I was always aware of those things, but I'd never really used them to my advantage. But working with Suuns, that's one of the things that helps their music along. So I got to use that technique that I'd never really explored too deeply, and now I use it a lot.
The Besnard Lakes work with the Jagjaguwar/Secretly Canadian/Dead Oceans label group, who recently lost one of their earliest songwriters, Jason Molina, who died after a long battle with alcoholism. My question to you, though, is that the label group seems to have such a connection with its artists-can you speak to that relationship?
We actually had it written in when we first met Darius [Van Arman] that if he ever left at Jagjaguwar that we could get out of the contract, because we loved him so much. I can't imagine ourselves on any other label. I work with a lot of other bands so I hear a lot about how other labels operate and I'm sure other ones are great. I've actually never been on another label than Jagjaguwar. They've never pressured us to make a record. I think I probably would have stopped making records if I had been forced to make one, so that's amazing, the fact that I can take my time and they're really sensitive to the artistic process. Plus, they're really nice people. They're super personable. They're down-to-earth. They're super transparent. I never feel like I'm left in the dark. I think they make a real strong point of being able to be transparent with their artists to make sure that they're comfortable.
There's a whole history of musicians ending up being disgruntled by labels and I think that was probably one of the things that made them start their label...to kind of end that cycle of bands perpetually being unhappy with their labels. At least I would think so. I know that when I started my studio, I started it because I was sick of going into studios and always coming out with a shitty project. So I wanted to start a studio where I could try my best to get people to walk out of there and be happy and be proud of what they did and I think you get better product out of it. You get people making more important albums. With Jag, it's the same sort of thing. They allow you the time, they allow you to be comfortable, they encourage you to experiment and try new things. In this day and age, it's really, really important to have that.
I hate asking artists directly about their album title, but I have to admit I have absolutely no idea where Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO comes from. What's the story behind the new record's name?
We played a show in Paris a couple of years ago and there was a review of the show and it was written in French. One of the guys at the label found the article and Google translated it into English and then sent the article to us. One of the sentences, in describing our show, was "until in excess, imperceptible UFO." I thought that was fucking amazing and I wrote it down and forgot about it. Then when we were coming up with names for the album I thought to myself, "If I was a fan of Besnard and I saw another The Besnard Lakes Are the..., I'd kind of roll my eyes a little bit." So I started looking through some of my notes and I remembered this awesome title. I said, "Okay, that's what we're going to call it."
That's awesome. Have you heard from that person yet?
No, I haven't. And it was written in French...I would hope that the person that wrote it would understand that it was their article in some sort of way. Because he was talking about a UFO, so I think they could probably put that together. I'm still waiting for that person to contact us and go, "Hey, you fucking asshole!"
(Find Max Blau on Twitter: @maxblau)