As the curfew has come to put a little more weight on the pandemic in our daily lives, it becomes difficult to fully project ourselves into a new album, to try to escape the same four white walls of our flats and try to live an intimate and meaningful personal experience. But some albums have the gift of being able to transform small, insignificant moments into something more grandiose than our little selves. The Besnard Lakes Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings falls into this category.
On the eve of my interview, during my daily neighbourhood tour at nightfall, I walk around with the Besnard Lakes between my ears. It’s windy, the storm is biting my face and my boots are sinking deeper and deeper into the snow. But music accompanies my journey and my thoughts and I simply let myself be guided by fate. Finally, I decide to stop and simply watch the snowflakes fall through the light of a street lamp and let myself be soothed by this magnificent symphony that intertwines Jace Lasek’s falsetto voice with the rich and powerful guitar swells. “With love there is no death,” says “The Father of Time Wakes Up”. I’m shivering.
The Besnard Lakes have certainly succeeded in composing their own Dark Side of The Moon and offer a breathtaking one-hour album that pushes us to learn how to die in order to be better reborn and feel alive. PAN M 360 spoke with Jace Lansek to better understand what pushed him to follow this inner path.
PAN M 360: If I had to explain to someone how to imagine Montreal during the winter, I would probably talk about Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Dears, and The Besnard Lakes. Cold and melancholic on the outside but heartwarming and humble on the inside. Do you relate to this feeling?
Jace Lasek: I do, actually. I love going outside, feeling the cold. I feel like those are the things that make you feel most alive when you feel all those changes that are happening and that is what the music is about. Our music takes you to places, it always takes you somewhere. You have to have tough skin to live in the northern areas. It can also actually be hot here. I love that we can experience all the extremes. We live about 45 minutes outside of Montreal in a town called Rigaud. We go ice-fishing in the winter time because we’re very close to the river. We go skiing. I was very happy when the snow finally came.
PAN M 360: The falsetto, the vocal harmonies and the sophisticated chords are heavily influenced by Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. The album even sounds like a shoegaze symphony, with three guitars at some point. Where does this huge influence come from?
JL: When I was a kid, my dad was a huge music fan. He had an 8-track player in his car, he would play the Beach Boys, he would play Endless Summer all the time. He had the Best of the Bee Gees Volume 2, that’s a collection of Bee Gees music that’s pre-disco. They were kind of trying to be the Beatles a little bit at that time, so it’s like pop music. I grew up on that stuff and they have a lot of vocals there, and they’re orchestral as well. I love those kinds of things from a very early age. He was the one who would play those albums for me when I was a kid. When I got older, I actually searched them out again and discovered a new appreciation for them.
PAN M 360 : There is something mystical and sacred in this album that makes me think of Brian Wilson, Spiritualized and Talk Talk. This aspect of your music is even more present on this album compared to the previous ones. Have you ever thought of playing in a cathedral?
JL: Yes, many times! It’s really hard to organize shows in spaces like that but we’ve talked about it so much, playing shows in places that have this grand experience, just to be in them. It would be such a beautiful experience in this beautiful surroundings. It also compliments the music.
PAN M 360 : You also had, in 2018, a small solo project in which you played organ. Where did you learn to play it?
JL: Well, I didn’t (laughs). I submitted a grant application to the Canada Council and they gave me the grant to build the machine. I wanted to make a Hammond organ played through four Leslie speakers rotating in a room at the same time. The box to make that happen didn’t exist so I had to get my friend Tim, who is an amazing electronic engineer and also the drummer in Godspeed. All I did was improvise. The big thing for me is creating the drones. I feel like the organ has just such amazing overtones, I often get lost just pressing down a couple notes. I don’t really play it as a conventional instrument making melodies. I mostly play it to create these overtones. It’s maybe one or two notes during maybe half an hour. It’s more of a meditation. It’s loud but it’s not harsh, you kind of feel it in your chest more than you hear the harshness, We keep the bright noises down so it’s coming from inside. It’s very soothing, it’s pretty awesome.
PAN M 360: The album can be lived as a pilgrimage or a journey. Was that your intention? How would you describe it?
JL: Whenever we make a Besnard Lakes record, the concept sort of presents itself to us. When we started making this record, we realised pretty quickly that we were dealing with a lot of ideas of death and life. You know, my dad had passed away, Prince had passed away, Mark Hollis had passed away, they were big musical inspiration to us and my dad passing away was a pretty intense experience. We wanted it to be a concept album to begin with. We realised that the album was taking this arc, passing through life into death, after death back to life again. We really developed this idea. We had a few incarnations of the album before we settled on this sequence because we wanted to have this arc. Right at the end, we wrote “Christmas Can Wait”. After that, everything felt into place. That was sort of the climax of the record, the height of where death happens and the beginning of the trip that happens after death.
PAN M 360 : You say that being on your deathbed must be the most psychedelic experience you could ever have. What do you mean by that?
JL: Watching your father die a slow death – he had cancer – was a bizarre experience. I felt myself thinking a lot about what was going through his mind, because he knew he was dying. When people are in those situations, the doctors give them morphine, so my dad was on some pretty heavy doses of morphine during his last days of his life. He woke up in this morphine high moment, he looked at me and he said, “do you want to know what I see right now?” And I was like, fuck yes, I do. He told me that on his blanket there was a window. And inside was a carpenter who was carving small intimes and making small things. And he went back to sleep. I still think about that a lot.
When you die, the body releases DMT, which is another psychedelic drug. So at that point of death when you’re getting to this moment, because it is something that no one has ever experienced before and your brain is dealing with this moment that it can’t understand, you don’t understand, it’s a lot like an acid trip. When you’re on acid or mushrooms, your brain is confused and you try to make sense of things that are happening in much the same sense your brain might be confused when you try to grasp the idea of death. You don’t know what is over there. In the same sense, taking psychedelic drugs, you don’t know what’s over there either, you’re taking a risk everytime you do it, you don’t know what your brain is gonna show you. With death it is the same thing, you don’t know what your brain is gonna show you in those last moments when your body is dying and your brain is releasing DMT.
PAN M 360: Your live shows have a significant amount of lasers and fog to create an immersive set. When I experienced it, it felt like getting in touch with my inner space in a magical way. What have you planned for remote live shows?
JL: That’s the way we want people to experience it, that’s perfect. We planned the same thing (laughs). We have the fog and the lasers. I built a wall of strobe lights behind us. Of course it’s not gonna be the same as having an audience, but we wanted to approach these shows as if we were playing in front of an audience.
PAN M 360: The artwork was done again by Corri-Lynn Tetz. Is the painting about a specific event or subject?
JL: I saw a paiting a couple years ago, it was almost a Hieronymus Bosch painting. It kind of looked like what the pits of hell would look like. I showed her the painting and I asked her to paint this cliff on either side coming down into a river. Usually I don’t give her much more information, just the basic stuff. The painting is georgous. Todd Stewart, who does our EP artwork, the illustrator, I asked him to do a mirror image of her painting in the inside gatefold, but more sort of like a purgatory, like the ugly side, the inside is tearing apart, the innards of what’s going on inside. On the inner sleeve you have all the elements from all the older albums. The artwork encompases all what we’ve done so far, almost like a family portrait.
PAN M 360 : You called this album a thunderstorm warning. What do you both see in this thunderstorm?
JL: This title comes from when I was a kid, before the internet, when there was a thunderstorm warning, they would put it on the TV. It would flash blue and red and it would interrupt whatever TV program you were watching. I always felt so excited when there was a thunderstorm warning. It’s mostly being in awe of this storm that’s coming. It’s nature and its awesome power, it interrupts your day. How we go through life all the time not realizing nature is all around us and at any moment, it can completly disrupt what we’re doing. We’re so consumed by the speed of news, technology, and social media, we don’t really pay attention to those things that could create massive change.
We made this concept record that’s an hour long in which we want people to lose themselves. In the meantime, there is Spotify and Apple Music and everybody wants to listen to their one song. Albums aren’t really cool. We feel like we are one of the last of the antiquated system and album-focused.
The Besnard Lakes will be performing live tonight. For more information: Les Nuits Psychédéliques de Québec (lesnuitspsychedeliques.com)
To read our review of their newest album: The Besnard Lakes Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings – PAN M 360