Jace Lasek of Besnard Lakes explains the recuring spy theme across his band's albums
Coming from roughly the same Montreal scene that produced bands like the Dears, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Stars, the Besnard Lakes recorded with members of those bands on its Polaris Prize-nominated 2007 album, The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse, at singer/guitarist Jace Lasek's Breakglass Studios. Starting out as a kind of post-rock band, the Besnard Lakes quickly developed into the kind of rock band with a healthy respect for the excellence of its influences, while writing music very much of the moment.
Its latest release, The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night, is a leap forward for the band in terms of realizing an expansive, psychedelic rock sound with thick, heady atmospheres that transport the listener to a world far beyond the mundane.
If you could combine the bombast of Blue Oyster Cult and ELO with the latter's unerring sense of melody and the former's playful menace on a smaller scale and without the props, you'd get something like a Besnard Lakes performance. We spoke with the thoughtful and witty Lasek about the theme of spies, his use of the console that recorded "Kashmir" and his craft as he and the band were in the early stages of their current tour.
Spies have been a recurring motif across your three albums. What is it about spies and their world that you find most resonant and appealing?
I think that the thing with the whole idea of spies that appeals to me the most is the idea that they're sneaking around with information that has the potential to change the political structure of the world or the way people live their lives, but nobody really knows them. I mean, they could be your next door neighbors.
There's something sort of menacing about the idea of these people walking around with their finger on the pulse of the way the world works. But I could be one of them, and you're just talking to me and you would have absolutely no idea. I find that quite fascinating, the idea of this person who is living a double life.
It also makes it easy for me to write lyrics for songs because I don't really have much to say. In essence I live kind of a mundane life. I get up, I work at the studio, I record bands. I'm not going to write about my experience in the studio putting a microphone on a guitar amp. That's ridiculous! I guess maybe it's not but to have this concept I've derived makes it easier for me to write something that has some sort of meaning to it.
Has anyone yet cracked the Morse code you've made a part of The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night?
I thought about that the other day. If someone has, I haven't heard about it. I was going to email the guy who did the blog with the contest to crack the code and see if anyone had. Not yet, but I'll keep you posted.
For Roaring Night, I saw some interesting instrumentation like an Omnichord, Mellotron and Space Echo. Why did you include those sounds on the record, and do you take them on the road with you?
I'm fucking obsessed with the Omnichord right now. It was actually Murray Lightburn from The Dears plays Omnichord on "The Lonely Moan," and we haven't been able to perform that song live because we don't actually own an Omnichord. It was Murray's Omnichord.
So I've been scouring eBay trying to find a fucking Omnichord, so we can learn the song and play it on this upcoming tour. Since I live in Canada, all the Ominichords on eBay are all, "Do not ship to Canada; United States only."
I actually bid on one before I left town last time, and I almost had it and my internet died. So it's become the bane of me existence to find an Omnichord. They're only like two hundred bucks at the most. They're pretty cheap instruments. But it's so difficult for me to get my hands on one.
The Space Echo has been prevalent on all the records. I sing through them. A lot guitars get Space Echo. A lot of the warbling, long note e-bow stuff goes through the Space Echo. I have one that's kind of broken, so the tape doesn't move smoothly through it, so when you hear the delays back; it's almost like a vibrato.
We use that to create a creepy, eerie, long drone stuff -- it's kind of our secret weapon. But I don't take that one the road, and I have a couple of pedals that kind of fake it. I don't want to wreck it anymore. I have the version Roland makes, and it's actually quite decent. For live it's actually kind of cool. I have two Space Echos here at the studio. I used to take one on the road but they break down so often and I got sick of splicing the tapes.
Do you actually own a Mellotron?
No, it's Mellotron software. There this really cool software that GForce makes called M-Tron Pro. I got so stoked when the made that. There is a Mellotron in the city, and I think it's at another studio down the street. We've been thinking of buying them. There's a company that makes them here in Canada. They make them with see-through fiberglass.
You can see all the tape bins moving inside. It's pretty insane. I think Black Mountain uses one, too. I know Jeremy Schmidt from that band uses this thing called the Memo-Tron. The Germans built it, and it's a big keyboard into which you insert CDs. It's kind of cheating. It's still a $3,000 piece of equipment. I was like, "Fuck, I may as well just use the software!" [laughs]