Super-spies and frozen carbonite

Turns out the Besnard Lakes are actually kind of nerdy

After raising all the right eyebrows at Austin’s influential South by Southwest music fest this spring the Besnard Lakes headed to Europe where the group played to consistently full houses even drawing enough of a crowd in London to warrant a second show. Volcanic ash cloud be damned the band made it back to Montreal and now it’s kicking off a North American loop that will culminate with an outdoor show at the stunning Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park. This may seem all the more apropos since one of the cornerstones of its new record …Are the Roaring Night is a song called “Chicago Train” although frontman Jace Lacek claims that’s more happy coincidence than homage.

“It’s kind of cool and fitting since Chicago is a pretty cool place for us to go but really it was kind of a phonetic thing where I was writing lyrics and ‘Chicago’ just popped out” he says explaining that it could be a train in any town. “It’s actually part of the concept of the record where there are two spies following each other. The male spy is watching the female spy get on a train and he’s been told not to follow her anymore. So for the first time in many years he’s watching her disappear into the distance on this train and wrestling in his mind — should he follow her or should he obey his orders and let her go?”

Don’t leave us hanging Jace. What does he do?

“We’re not sure” he says with a laugh. “See I kind of planned for that to be the last song on the record but it ends up being the arching point right in the middle. So the characters are developing and suddenly this peak happens. You don’t know if they’re going to still be together or not. Then the rest of the album plays out with them as individuals. The actual storyline gets held up in the middle of the record and then you get the rest of what’s happened so far story-wise in the tail end. It’s kind of like when Han Solo gets frozen in carbonite but there’s still a little bit of movie left. Like Luke gets his arm put back on and all that but the real story is whether Han Solo is going to get out of that shit or not.”

Unlike Star Wars though a big part of the Besnard Lakes’ magic is its refusal to spoon-feed a straightforward narrative. The lyrics provide a vague sketch of a story and the music establishes emotional tone but any attempt to piece together a contiguous plot without injecting one’s own interpretations would be an exercise in futility. Although Lacek says he made an effort on Roaring Night to beef up his characters he insists that a completely open hand would spoil much of the fun.

“I still really like the idea of things being quite cryptic and not laying the book open for anyone to just decipher” he explains. “I like to keep it open-ended because I get really good stories from people. Someone will come up to me and say ‘I think that this song means this and did you mean this when you said that?’ Then I can totally Andy Warhol the whole thing right up and go ‘Yeah that’s exactly what my intention was! Just a second I’ve got to write something down.’”

If you do have a creative interpretation for the band you can rest assured that it won’t go to waste — the story of the two spies won’t be ending any time soon. Lacek and his wife have devoted the better part of a decade to weaving this tale making the album-writing process an ongoing affair in which songs gestate over years not days or weeks. In fact some of the material on Roaring Night dates back to the earliest days of the band.

“The very first incarnation of Besnard Lakes was in 2000 in Regina and we actually had a song that was 18-to-20 minutes long that was called ‘Land of the Living Skies’” says Lacek. “Saskatchewan never had a slogan on their licence plate so when they finally put that on it was such a cool thing and so very fitting because it is this big beautiful sky so we named the song after it. Then when we were making this record we built a new version of the song and a lot of material was drawn from its original torn apart and rebuilt.”