Today marks 10 years to the day that I encountered the live primal force that is The Besnard Lakes. On a Friday night at Brisbane’s staple live haunt, The Zoo, it was a night I’d been looking forward to for years.
Having flitted between the United Kingdom and Australia over the preceding four years, I’d always managed to miss the band when they had toured. Or, perhaps like the elusive sounds the Montreal collective produce, they missed me…
The stars had finally aligned and whilst those very stars may have been cloaked by a cloudy humid Brisbane skyline, The Besnard Lakes played to a small crowd of 40 people in what was one of the finest performances of live music I’d ever seen.
You can always measure the success of a stellar live performance by the memories it captures and crystallises. 10 years on and it still feels as if that show at The Zoo was just last week. The gale force rapture of Albatross to the tear-jerking Disaster and Land of the Living Skies Pt 2: The Living Skies, remain etched to the brain, distilled and preserved like some prize artefact.
At the time, if felt as if The Besnard Lakes were the best band in the world. 10 years on, firstly as a fan of their music, it’s a joy that they are not only still delivering new music, but the quality in which they dispense remains ever-present.
Which brings us to The Besnard Lakes Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings.
Ending their longstanding partnership with label, Jagjaguwar, the band have found a new stable in Full Time Hobby/Fat Cat/Flemish Eye. With it, The Besnard Lakes have injected new ideas to accompany their traditional towering interludes and swarming maelstroms that have always dismantled the ideological framework of psychedelia.
It’s The Besnard Lakes‘ most heartfelt release yet. Tackling the weighty themes of loss, there’s a reflective, immersive spirit in the songs from …Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings. It’s The Besnard Lakes morphing into a new beast and welcomed by a new dawn.
Recently, we caught up with The Besnard Lakes‘ master architects, Olga Goreas and Jace Lacek.
Sun 13: Jace has been involved with other projects (most recently Light Conductor). How long had you been working on the …Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings before the lockdown period?
Olga Goreas: “We’d started working on it in 2017 and completed it in March of 2020, so the album was finished just before the lockdown hit. However we were shopping around the record to labels from then onward. Full Time Hobby came on board pretty soon after followed by Fat Cat in the US and Flemish Eye in Canada. I joked that we had the ‘3Fs’ behind us!
“It was pretty strange though going through that time and trying to work on getting press releases together, videos made and just the general build-up of releasing a record. That didn’t start in earnest until about August of last year. Our yearly retreat to Besnard Lake was not happening so why not get ourselves prepared for this album release! (laughs)!
“In hindsight, we had all the time in the world to plan, so maybe that benefited us greatly because this album has definitely had an amazing response to it!”
S13: In comparison with A Coliseum Complex Museum and Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO this record feels more like a slow burner. Was that the intention?
OG: “Most certainly. It’s our longest album yet, so just with that you have to slowly digest it. It is definitely a far cry from A Coliseum Complex Museum which are really songs that don’t so much have a unifying theme to them and stand alone.
“From my point of view this album has a certain similarity to Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO because that album came after the death of my father. Again though, there wasn’t really a unifying theme for that album, it was a collection of songs that were more like time capsules, memories or a nostalgia trip. For sure though, this album is meant to be listened to as a whole.”
S13: You went back to the album title thread of The Besnard Lakes Are… Do you see this album as having a close connection to …Are The Dark Horses and …Are The Roaring Night?
OG: “It’s actually funny now that you mention it, aside from going back to our title convention I don’t think it has much similarity to those albums really. As I mentioned before, it has more in common with Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO, but it also has something in common with our first LP, Volume One, since we had a long stretch to make it and we were starting from scratch (after having parted ways with our label). It really did feel like making our first record!
“It has more experimentation on it with Jace’s organ drone project Welkom In de Blaak combined with the more intricate arrangements that started to surface from Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO. But I think ultimately we have gone beyond those as well.”
S13: Overall, I think it’s a good representation of The Besnard Lakes’ body of work. The band has a fiercely loyal fanbase and one that, I think, enjoys albums as opposed to singles. Given the length of the album, was there an idea of giving your listeners something that they could spend some more time with and slowly sink their teeth into?
OG: “Yes, and like you mentioned before it is more of a slow burner, and it demands your attention if you want to listen to it from beginning to end continuously, which is what our intention is. Of course you don’t have to, but it feels better that way! The world has already been shut off in a sense, so why not keep on that and take yourself on a little journey for an hour and 17 minutes give or take?”
S13: Thematically, the album is split in four parts “Near Death”, “Death”, “After Death, and “Life”. Had you mapped out these themes before recording the songs?
OG: “No, that didn’t really come to us until after the album was completed. I’m the one who usually sequences the song order, and when it became apparent that this was going to be a double album I thought since the album was about the death experience, why not have the four sides correspond to those themes. There is always a bit of serendipity when we make our albums. We might have a broad sense of what’s going on while we’re making them but, as Jace would say, usually the concept or theme reveals itself to us.”
S13: The sound of the ringing phone on Blackstrap gives a really dark impression. Oddly enough, I think it sets the tone for the album. Was that the thinking behind this idea?
OG: “We knew Blackstrap would be the album opener even before we had a concept for the album. For sure, the phone ringing gives it such an ominous quality, and the line ‘All your gods will grow up tonight’ was amended from an earlier lyric, ‘All your guards will grow up tonight’. Oh yes, it really shows that the ride is about to begin!”
S13: Your line on Our Head, Our Hearts on Fire Again, “Things have been changing/Breathing new life into our heads/Our hearts on fire again” perfectly encapsulates the feeling of death and bereavement. Were you conscious of the fact that you had to really nail the lyrics of such a heavy subject in order to do it justice?
OG: “I’m always really conscious of what words to put out there. I do believe that word harm exists, and that that your words are linked to karma just as your actions are.
“The lyrics to that song are twofold for me: the beginning intro came to me in 2017 and the break part in the middle was something I wrote when Jace and I were relaxing on the beach way back in around 2000 or so. But that part ‘Meant to tell you then as I tell you now, things have been changing breathing new life into our heads, our hearts on fire again‘ came in 2017. There was definitely an aspect of how change occurs over time. But then when death occurs, it can be a sudden, groundbreaking moment, so the continuity of change is really put to task.”
S13: Jace sings, “With love there is no death” on The Father of Time Wakes Up. That lyric, in my opinion, is one of the most powerful The Besnard Lakes have written so far. It has a dehumanising quality to it. Do you remember how this song came about?
Jace Lacek: “This song is a tribute to Prince. He’s been my musical hero since I was 12 years old. It really shook me when he died so I wanted to pay tribute to him. Without seeing that he had written, arranged, composed and produced his albums I don’t think I would’ve ever had the courage to do the same, and in doing so, completely shaped how I work and who I am today. I felt I owed him a tribute.
“The Father of Time Wakes Up is littered with Prince references. ‘With love there is no death‘ is what Prince’s character writes in a note to his lover in the movie, Under the Cherry Moon. Even the guitar solo at the end, played by Mark Cuthbertson of Fantasticboom, has Prince melodies throughout. The song contains many little Easter eggs for die-hard Prince fans.”
S13: You run your own studio, Breakglass. Like your artwork which feels like a continued theme, it all feels a part of The Besnard Lake story. Do you see it that that way?
JL: “I guess so. The real place, Besnard Lake, has seemingly always been the puppet master to our lives. That place draws us back every year. It’s solitude, seclusion, quietness and pristine beauty dictates our daily lives. I think we try to create little pockets of Besnard Lake in everything we do. When we are there, that is when we feel complete and whole. It’s where we belong, and probably where we’ll end up permanently one day.”
S13: The band has been around long enough to see the change in the presentation of music whereby streaming is now dominating over the physical product. What are your thoughts on the new landscape of how people engage with music?
OG: “Fundamentally, I believe that when you put music out there, it pretty much becomes a part of the social sphere. Not to diminish the work of the creators, because I definitely think there should be fair compensation for the artists. But I also think that it’s important to keep the economy thriving, which means that venues should be making money, management, publicists, promoters; these are all crucial to a vibrant music business.
“I wouldn’t say I’m entirely happy with the way things are at the moment, but I do think there has been improvement. I kind of wonder if it’s because of COVID? The threat of taking something away makes you think that we’ve been taking it for granted all along. I’m also in a pretty privileged standpoint in that I’m not a struggling musician at this point in my life, so I can’t pretend to speak for all those that are.”
S13: The Besnard Lakes are no strangers to Liverpool – safety permitting, you must be looking forward to getting back over here in October to play these new songs?
OG: “Oh my god yes! There is nothing more we love than going on tour and playing for people. It’s kind of the whole point, isn’t it?”
The Besnard Lakes Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings is out now via Full Time Hobby/Fat Cat/Flemish Eye. Purchase from Bandcamp.