The Besnard Lakes is a band comfortable with the idea of influence. Over the course of my conversation with frontman Jace Lasek, all sorts of people and bands came up. I’m still a little surprised when he brings up David Lynch as an inspiration. Lynch is a longtime favorite of mine, so I was keen to discover more about how he’d influenced a band whose lush sound reminds me more of My Bloody Valentine than Mulholland Drive.
“I was always so enamored with how he created things that were so beautiful and so creepy at the same time,” Lasek explains. “We always tried to do the same kind of thing. We wanted to make something beautiful and obviously gorgeous but with something just a little tweaked underneath. Maybe you don’t catch it on the first listen even but it creates a second layer where you continue listening and hearing what’s going on beneath the floorboards. Something that jolts you a little bit and brings you outside the norm. We don’t always achieve it, but it’s always in the back of our mind. We’re always striving for it.”
Their new album, A Coliseum Complex Museum, continues on the same inventive path they’ve been on for years now. But even if Lynchian explorations of the uncanny are something the band’s more than willing to go for, it seems the main thing under the floorboards of this new record is just more and more beauty and light. For Lasek, it seems like this was intentional.
“This album seems like a lifting,” he says. “Everyone who’s heard it so far talks about it feeling like levity. It’s a bit easier to get into and you don’t have to delve so deep to grasp it. We had a lot of fun making it too.”
This lightness comes as something of a reprieve after their previous album, 2013’s Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO. Lasek’s wife and bandmate, Olga Goreas, lost her father, and the grief pervaded the process of recording that album.
“Oggie’s talked about this being a record which has a lot more hope than hopelessness,” Lasek explains. “The last album was very introspective. It was a great album to make, but we were pretty sad.”
The emotional tenor of the recording situations wasn’t the only thing that lightened up for A Coliseum Complex Museum. The process of recording itself was as unbound and free as the sessions for their 2007 major label debut for Jagjaguwar, The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse.
“We hung on to the essence of a lot of the things we did during Dark Horse,” he says. “We recorded some of the first takes and just left them instead of doing them again. We just wanted to capture that sense of first discovery where it really isn’t exactly perfect but we left it anyways because it had the spirit. We’d gotten a little away from that with UFO because we wanted to make that record sound super tight and really gorgeous. With this one, we wanted to leave the edges a little bit rough and have some fun with that. The brain maybe makes that connection between it being rough around the edges and a playfulness and just kind of creates a sense of carefree listening.”
That playfulness is what really makes The Besnard Lakes stand out in relation to some of their more somber and cerebral dream-pop and post-rock compatriots. The new record, like the ones that have come before it, never loses a sense of melody even in the presence of such evocative and expansive soundscapes. A lot of that has to do with Lasek having as much of a penchant for ‘60s pop as for contemporary drone music.
“With my influences, I think one hand you’ve got Spiritualized’s Pure Phase and on the other hand you have The Beach Boys and early Bee Gees, as well,” he explains. “I’m a total sucker for melody. I listened to those early Bee Gees records in high school because my dad listened to them a lot when I was a kid. Nobody knew them; Everybody just knew the disco era. I still love the disco era shit but I think those guys were just such brilliant melody makers. I thought every single song was just filled with so much incredible melody. After listening to those albums for years, it sort of felt like a template when we started doing Besnard. I wanted to mold these big, expansive, dreamy, psychedelic soundscapes.”
He realizes these styles aren’t the most common roommates and eventually laughs as he says, “I still love drone music like OM and Sunn O))). I love listening to that shit but I also love the Bee Gees, so let’s meld the two together and see what happens.”
The crazy thing, though, is that it works. A Coliseum Complex Museum is a record you could probably get your friend who’s obsessed with Godspeed! You Black Emperor into at the same time as your Pet Sounds-loving parents. Still, does Lasek ever feel like being so good at branding this particular convergence of influence and style ends up being a lock-step walk toward creative boredom?
“I’m pretty content with it,” he says. “I’ve always sort of fantasized about doing solo records or Oggie and I doing an offshoot thing that’s totally different from what we’re known to be doing. You have to have an idea of what you want to do. Every time I think about doing something that would sort of satisfy some sort of creative lack we’re not receiving, I can never figure out what that is. I do Besnard stuff and end up really satisfied. I feel like it’s fulfilling everything that I need to fulfill. I feel like if we were to do anything on the end of a solo project, it’d probably be a drone record or an ambient project. Something like a Tim Hecker record.”
One thing Lynch, Tim Hecker, Spiritualized and The Beach Boys all have in common is their bizarre ability to create artistic experiences that feel transcendent in one way or another. It’s a talent Lasek and his bandmates possess too, and so one can’t help but ask what it is about lush orchestration, melody and the convergence of beauty and fear that puts him in mind of the spiritual. In other words, how did he master the ability to give us chills and make us feel something beyond ourselves?
“I think that side of it comes from my love of ambient and drone music,” he says. “The Buddhists have their bowls, and they start to ring at a certain frequency. You just fall into a meditation with the ring of this drone going. We equate Enya to spiritual music, stuff to listen to in meditation rooms. There’s definitely a link there between dense, ambient, slow-moving evolution of notation that’s happening, but it’s hard to pinpoint why that’s a thing. But we all know that it’s there.”
But what about The Beach Boys? What about The Bee Gees? What about those weird experiences where a song on oldies radio makes you feel the same way Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” or F? A? ? does?
“Every time I go see The Beach Boys or Brian Wilson, I end up in tears,” he says, laughing. “It’s weird, it’s totally uncontrollable. Oggie always looks at me as I’m in the middle of crying and I’m just like, ‘What the fuck is going on? I don’t know what’s going on.’ For some reason, The Beach Boys hit me in an intensely emotional way. You see these guys up there who’ve had this really tough life and they’ve gone through so much yet they bring so much joy to people. It’s beautiful and horrible all at once and it’s kind of overwhelming. You feel so bad for Brian Wilson but you feel so thankful he gave you this gift. It’s pretty intense. In that way, music is just spiritually transcendent. Music is God, for sure.”
It’s refreshing to talk to a musician whose every word seems infected by wide-eyed wonder and appreciation for music and art in general. To bring it all back, The Besnard Lakes’ appeal is summed up by one of Lasek’s favorite Lynch scenes.
“I think it’s in Lost Highway,” he says. “They pull up to their house and it’s this big wide shot. At the top left, in their bedroom, there’s this flash of light. It’s just a totally mundane scene where they’re going to go into the house after turning in for the night and then there’s this huge flash of light in the upstairs bedroom. You’re like, ‘What the hell was that? That was so freaky.’”
A Coliseum Complex Museum isn’t particularly freaky. But it’s definitely another flash of light you weren’t expecting, and it’s more than enough reason to believe Lasek and company have a lot more light to let out in the future.