It doesn't matter where you are when you listen to the Besnard Lakes' newest record, Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO. On a crowded bus, in a hospital waiting room, chin-deep behind a stack of papers at your desk, a prison yard. Press play and you will disappear for 45 minutes, and it will bring you a hazy kind of clarity, like when it's so hot out that you can see the heat in the air, so you plunge into a cold pool and then emerge to find that everything feels vivid and fresh.
The Besnard Lakes' lead singer/guitarist Jace Lasek can't help but laugh when he hears yet another tale of transformative listening. "When people talk about the record, they rarely say, 'Oh yeah, this song is awesome,'" Lasek says over the phone from his Montreal home. "We keep getting all these little bits of people telling us their experiences listening to the record, and I'm like, 'OK, we've done our job.' "
Lasek is the first to admit that Until in Excess is a bit of an odd duck in today's current musical environment. "Obviously, it's not a record for everybody," he says. "In this day and age, everything's click this and little Twitter messages here and one sentence there, but if we can grab a few people and get them to lose themselves for 45 minutes and get them to relax, we've totally done our job."
While other bands feel pressured to crank out chart-topping pop nuggets, Lasek says the Besnard Lakes (himself and wife Olga Goreas, along with Kevin Laing and Richard White) have never felt the obligation to be anything but what they are.
"I love pop songs and I'd love to write chart songs, but that's not what comes out of us," Lasek says. "We want that immersive experience. That's usually the gauge of a good band — if they can put together a coherent 45 minutes of music that makes sense."
It's what Lasek and his wife set out to do when they moved from one side of Canada to the other in 2000. Lasek was attending art school and Goreas was playing music in Vancouver. Over drinks with a high school buddy, Dave Smith, they made a life-changing decision to head east.
"We said, 'Let's start a recording studio. Great idea!' It's a terrible idea, actually, in hindsight," Lasek says, laughing. Despite the fact that some Vancouver-based bands were starting to garner some success at the time (See, the New Pornographers and Black Mountain), the city was still too expensive for most fledgling musicians to live in, never mind would-be studio owners. When Lasek discovered that Constellation Records, a label responsible for some of the country's coolest, most obscure albums, was based in Montreal, the trio set out on a 3,000-mile move and inadvertently got in on the ground-floor of Canada's burgeoning indie rock scene.
While Montreal could be considered the Brooklyn equivalent of Canada, thanks to the worldwide success of bands like the Arcade Fire and Stars, Lasek says that wasn't the vibe when he and Goreas arrived there 13 years ago.
"The first five or six years I was here, it was more just a bunch of people living in this big city that felt like a really tiny community," he recalls. "Everyone was really humble and everyone was really skeptical of anyone trying to become famous rock stars or being flamboyant or untrue to themselves. You would get called on that pretty quickly."
He adds, "When everybody was coming up, nobody was really allowed to feel greater than everybody else. It was very relaxed, laid back, you can sit down and have a beer with the person and just cut the bullshit. I think that crept through, and it's still sort of there now."
The band released its first record, Volume One, in 2003, and since co-founding Breakglass Studio in 2005, they have become an intrinsic part of Montreal's music scene, producing a number of records for their peers, including the Dears and Suuns. A self-described music nerd, Lacek admits that as a producer he loves adding more and more layers in the studio, which explains why the Besnard Lakes' records feel so epic.
"If I was a painter, I'd make one big painting instead of 10 small ones," Lasek admits with a laugh. "I love textures. I don't really record any bands that are just two or three instruments. It's part of my nature to have that engulfing, all-encompassing sound that wraps its arms around you and allows you to lose yourself."
But in his wife and bandmate he has an editor he credits with keeping him from being too self-indulgent.
"She'll be the one who says, 'Don't play that part eight times and have it go on for 10 minutes. Five minutes is fine,'" Lasek says. "We've been married now for almost 13 years, so it's pretty no-holds-barred. We're trying to do it for the music so we make the best thing we possibly can ... At the end of the night, there's nothing that's festering in your mind anymore, because you said everything — for better or worse."
It seems to have manifested for the best with Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO, arguably the warmest and richest record in the band's discography. Not coincidentally, it's also the album that finds Lasek sharing lead vocal duties with Goreas, rather than singing the majority of songs himself, though that was less by design than happenstance.
"Whoever has the most time will go into the studio and work on the record," Lasek says. "This time, Oggie seemed to have more free time than I did, so she would disappear into the other room and start working."
He adds, "She came out of the room one day and she's got lyrics for three or four songs she wants to sing for and I'm like, 'Woah, a couple of those are mine! I wanna sing those fuckin' songs! You can't sing them.' But in the end I'm listening to my vocals versus hers and I'm like, 'Oh, yeah, hers are way better.'"
In the end, Lasek made the right call. Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO is all the better for it.