Since 2003, Montreal's The Besnard Lakes have produced a catalogue of some of the finest psychedelic rock out there. Led by the husband-wife team of Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, the group released their stunning Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO earlier this year as the follow-up to 2010's excellent The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night. We could continue casting superlatives onto the group, but others have done that in droves, as evidenced by the amount of Polaris Prize nominations their albums have received.
The Besnard Lakes bring their moody and majestic groove-thing to Dada Saturday night, and we spoke to Lasek about Carl Sagan, working and living with his wife and funny relatives.
Let's start with something pretty weird. In 2010, I caught your South by Southwest set at Stubbs, and the couple next to me started chatting me up. The man asked me if I knew anything about your band and I went on about what I knew about you guys as if I was educating them. They both start laughing and then admit to me that they're your Aunt and Uncle.
[laughs] No way! That's Bob and Norma! Oh, my God, that's hilarious. Yeah, my Mom was there too because she was visiting my Aunt and Uncle in Lafayette, Louisiana where they live. So they all came to Austin to see us play that year. It's basically the only time my entire family has been in America together, and you were there for it! That's pretty awesome.
Speaking of that tour in 2010, the group would come on to the stage as audio from Carl Sagan's Cosmos played. Are you still doing that or have you moved on?
Yeah, we do it from time to time, still. I love Carl Sagan. he kind of changed my life when I discovered the Cosmos series about ten years ago. It totally blew my mind. I feel such a reverence for him because when Olga and I first got married, I'd come home from work and we'd sit around and watch the show and probably get high. His ability to explain concepts in layman's terms, so we could all underrstand what's going on in the universe, was like discovering a new religion for me. I love being insignificant on this tiny speck of the universe. It's a beautiful concept and he was a beautful orator. So, yeah, I took a few snippets from that and realized it would be cool to use as an intro. I've always wanted to slip Carl into one of our songs, but it's tough to do that. It's like, "How do I write a song about Carl Sagan without it being the cheesiest fucking thing ever?" I'm still working on it, but I just haven't gotten there yet.
Critics and fans often refer to the band as "ambient" or "cinematic," but the Besnard Lakes are a hard-core psychedelic band, right?
Oh, yeah. When we describe ourselves, we say we're either a psychedelic band or a progressive band. Cinematic gets used because of the atmospheric shit we use, but I think we're always taking the position of a psychedelic band. To me, psychedelic means experimentation and trying things to see what happens next and then playing with the different sounds and structures of a song and then creating an atmosphere. Psychedelic is the only real genre we fit into, because it allows for that experimentation. The prog-rock thing is weird, because so many people consider Pink Floyd to be prog-rock, especially after Dark Side of the Moon, but that's always felt more psychedelic to me. In the 60's, psychedelic musicians were doing things with vocals that other bands hadn't done before, so they were experimenting too.
Your vocals are often drenched in effects and seem to be more of an added musical instrument instead of a way to get some sort of story across. Is that intentional?
Yeah, the vocals are always something we leave space for to deal with later. We never really have a mandate for how things need to be or sound from a lyrical or vocal perspective. The lyrics are always dead-last when we're writing. The music will always be the first thing we get into, because we usually have no clue what the lyrics are even going to be for a song when we start writing. I've always approached vocals as an aesthetic texture or another layer instead of a vehicle to get across some deep, poignant message, because I don't really have a deep message to get across [laughs].
The same is often said for bands like My Bloody Valentine, in-terms of vocals being used as another layer to create a mood with.
We came from that school, I guess. We grew up listening to My Bloody Valentine, Swervedriver, Ride and all of the Creation Records bands and that idea of creating texture with vocals instead of sending a message rubbed-off on me at a very early age. I've always made music that way.
Most folks get to go to work and have a good bit of time away from their spouse before coming home. You and Olga have been touring together for a long time. How does that work?
It makes our marriage easier, I think. A lot easier, really, because you're in each other's face all of the time, so you have to deal with each other as things happen. Arguments have to be settled because you're never away from one another. You are forced to really look at the situation that may be causing issues. We rarely argue anymore because we know each other so well from all the years of touring. I think the longer your away from your spouse, the harder it is to keep that bond. If I were to go on the road and if Olga were to stay back, she would missing the so many opportunities and experiences. That can cause resentment. Yesterday, we were swimming in the Pacific Ocean while it was snowing in Montreal. I'm glad we both were there to share that expereince, instead of one of us having to simply tell the other person about what one of us did.The arrangement we have can cause problems, obviously, because if we end up not getting along, the band might break-up. In the beginning of this, we considered whether we should do it this way or not, because if Olga and I are done, the band is done.
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