In just 10 years, The Besnard Lakes have become the unchallenged masters of dreamy, soft soundscapes that lie somewhere between the progressive rock of the 1970s and the shoegaze wave of the 1990s. A flexible band in its early years, it’s now made up of four members including Jace Lasek on guitar and voice, Olga Goreas on bass and voice, Richard White on guitar and Kevin Laing on drums.

The result of a fateful meeting between two people – Lasek and Goreas – in a Vancouver art school, The Besnard Lakes have released four albums since 2003. Their first effort, the Pink Floydian concept (and somewhat untidy) album Volume 1, was followed in 2007 with the better-crafted and more sophisticated The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse and, in 2010, with The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night and its aerial rock-sounding psychedelic textures. Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO, a fourth opus originally planned for a 2012 release, only came out in the spring of 2013.

“We had wanted to quicken the pace of our album releases – which normally is one every third year – but the more pressure we put on ourselves, the more we found that the stuff we were recording was bad,” says Lasek. “We’ve recorded a lot of useless crap! So we decided to forget about deadlines so we could work more naturally at our own pace. We had been too hard on ourselves. When you’re in the studio looking at one other for ideas that aren’t coming, you’re better off moving to a new strategy.”

A streamlined album replete with great layered guitar parts, Until in Excess’s space-rock is reminiscent of Brian Wilson’s harmonics and melodies. “When we started promoting the album, we toured it to Germany and France, and many people were saying that our new album was lighter, less dark and anguished,” says Lasek. “That took us by surprise, because this album has heavy connotations for all of us, as it deals, among other topics, with the death of Olga’s father. We used to be good at creating feelings, but I believe that those expressed in this emotional and introspective album are very real,” the fair-haired, 40-year-old guitarist and singer maintains.

Psychedelic Music
By turns aerial, dense, cinematic and slightly nostalgic, The Besnard Lakes’ new style, which relies

We used to be good at creating feelings, but I believe that those expressed in this emotional and introspective album are very real.

heavily on carefully layered guitar riffs, defies classification – although Lasek personally likes to use the word “psychedelic” as a general descriptor. “This work always connotes interesting things in my head,” he says. “To me, it means a degree of experimenting, freedom of action and a desire to push things to the limit. This is more or less our band’s philosophy – making incremental steps to take our sound as far as humanly possible,” says Lasek, who also happens to be the co-owner of Montreal’s popular Breakglass Studio.

Lasek and Goreas, who are man and wife in real life, and diehard fans of Slayer, Spiritualized and Yes, are perfectionists who feel the need to isolate in order to function more adequately. “Normally, Olga and I will lock ourselves up in the studio and work on basic arrangements,” says lasek. “More often than not, I will sing my own lyrics and she’ll sing hers. We talk things over for a while and then lay down the song’s basic structure, looking at what the finished product is going to sound like. Then we have Richard and Kevin listen to the result, and they come up with the finishing touches.”

Montreal Love
A Saskatchewan native, Lasek took immediately to Montreal and its music scene when he relocated there 13 years ago. “There’s an element of pride in being able to say that you’re part of that scene,” he says. “I didn’t realize this until I started travelling abroad. Everyone knows about Montreal. It’s even more relevant today, and there is still this energy. The Montreal scene got a real break in that it was never pigeonholed. This has made it possible for artists to experiment freely and try new things.”

At press time, the band was gearing up for appearances on the continent as well as in the U.K. this September, to be followed in November with dates on the U.S. West Coast. Otherwise, Lasek has his work cut out for him in the studio.  “There’s always something to be done,” he says. “Never any breaks. We will probably start concentrating on a new Besnard Lake album sometime soon. I hope we can get it out a lot faster this time! But you never know with this business – anything can happen.”

Made up of an assortment of non-conformist, rebellious creators from the Montreal and Quebec City music scenes, Alaclair Ensemble took shape in 2008 when Mash (Les 2 Toms), KenLo (Movèzerbe) and Maybe Watson (K6A) got together for an informal music project. As the collective’s youngest member, Ogden Ridjanovic (a.k.a. Robert Nelson, the band’s manager), explains, “In the beginning, there were no plans to start a group, or any other project for that matter. Guys would just wander into the studio from time to time and start writing songs for others to complete. Then, in the spring of 2010, we realized we had some 15 pieces ready to go and that, looking back, they were all pieces the same guys had been working on. Seeing as it was our casual working method that had allowed us to introduce a festive and comical element to our tunes, we decided to share the results with our audience with the same kind of informality.”

After selling 500 copies of the digital album 4,99 (at $4.99 apiece), the group decided to have 500

Many people see us as the “gentler” side of Quebec rap music

more copies printed and, once this batch was sold out, and the band had been joined by Claude Bégin, Eman and Vlooper, the album was turned into a free download on Bandcamp. The result was instant success.

“This is when we started seeing that there was definitely an interest for our band,” Ridjanovic says. “Basically, it was a playful project, nothing really serious. In the early days, the fact that people actually were listening to our music was enough compensation for us. Having realized the fantastic buzz that can be created by making your music available online for free, we could not turn back. We also knew that this was making it easier for music journalists. It gave them something newsworthy to write about us. I have a feeling that some of them were relieved once they realized that there was no big machine behind our band. The word got out, but we also got a lucky break as a number physical copies had ended up in the right hands.”

Emboldened by this positive public and critical response, the group embarked in 2011 on an ambitious and eclectic three-album project titled Musique bas-canadienne d’aujourd’hui (Lower Canadian Music of Today). The first section of that upcoming trilogy, the fun-packed Les maigres blancs d’Amérique du noir (a zany reference to the iconic Quebec novel White Niggers of America), ended up being the group’s actual second album “simply because we were all together again, which we were not for Musique bas-canadienne d’aujourd’hui,” Ridjanovic explains.

“We were hoping to recapture the devil-may-care, fun-and-games attitude of our first album, but we also wanted to do this over a creative period of a few months instead of two and a half years. What this ambitious project meant to us above everything else was a lot of enjoyment, period. We viewed this as a fun trip from the word go. We retired into a cottage in Coaticook to create the outline of several pieces, and this is definitely the album where the band’s trademark ‘old buddies’ dimension really shines through. You can hear it. The album is a perfect reflection of our mood in that cottage during the album’s creation period.”

Ranging in age from 25 to 31, the six Alaclair Ensemble members are a close-knit bunch in spite of their various backgrounds. This is reflected in their compositional approach, which is meant to be both collective and personal. “We will often get going from a beat contributed by a member of the group, and then someone comes up with a key word that sort of becomes the glue that keeps the song together as we move along.” Says Ridjanovic. “A case in point was “Mammifère” (“Mammal”), a theme on which all musicians worked individually. We ended up with three entirely different approaches and performances. Many of our songs work that way. Generally, the band member doing the rap is performing his own writing.”

Alaclair Ensemble’s creative and unsettling rhythms, festive energy, scorching political comedy and madcap attitude has delighted countless Francophone hip-hop music lovers since the group’s creation, but not everyone is a dedicated fan. “We have disturbed a lot of people, and we ended up being rejected by the Quebec hip-hop community,” says Ridjanovic. “But we don’t mind. We embrace it. Many people see us as the ‘gentler’ side of Quebec rap music, but we laugh it off. We consciously decided to dissociate ourselves from that scene, and our audiences include a very limited number of hardcore rap music fans today.”

Besides preparing for a series of fall appearances, the band is looking forward to going into isolation once again, and coming out fairly soon with new material. Ridjanovic believes that the group’s future is really looking up.

“The reason we keep going is that we are optimistic about finding a way of making a living with our music eventually. We see ourselves as pioneers, and we would like to show that there is more than one way of doing things. For starters, we don’t believe that you have to get signed up by a company to make a living as a musician. The thing I like is that we own our projects. We are not going down the beaten path. My philosophy is to build things up brick by brick. No victory is too small. Alaclair Ensemble is the opposite of a one-hit wonder. A mixture of fun, spontaneous pleasure, and more focused collective creation remains our ultimate goal.”

Domino Records was already a well-known entity in the music business when founder Laurence Bell decided he was ready to move into publishing.

Established in 1993 with his partner, Jacqui Rice, the London, England-based record label built itself a slow-but-steady reputation for interesting independent music with a slightly outsider aesthetic. By the time they signed Glaswegian band Franz Ferdinand a decade later, however, the label had opened an office in New York (Domino now also has divisions in Germany and France) and secured an international reputation.

When he founded Domino Publishing in London in 2005 (the Brooklyn office opened in 2006), Bell decided he wanted to buck the trend he saw in record labels starting publishing companies in order

“More and more frequently, we find ourselves looking to Canada for talent.” – Jeff Pachman of Domino Publishing

to better control their own revenues. Instead, Bell was intent on providing writers with efficient administration and creative assistance, along with proactive work in the area of music synchronization. In the same spirit with which he had founded his label, Bell brought in Paul Lambden to serve as managing director and began building the company organically, from the ground up.

“A lot of serious music lovers have the utmost respect for Laurence Bell and the repertoire he has released,” says Jeff Pachman, Domino Publishing’s General Manager in North America. “That definitely helped open doors when we started building Domino Publishing as a stand-alone entity.”
Domino Publishing has grown quickly since then, cementing a solid reputation as a boutique publisher with a serious roster of artists encompassing genres from electronic, rock and indie (including The Jesus and Mary Chain, Siouxsie and the Banshees), to world music (Buena Vista Social Club and Ali Farka Toure, among others).

They also represent a growing handful of Canadian artists, including Doug Paisley, Junior Boys (Jeremy Greenspan and Matthew Didemus), and BRAIDS (Raphaelle Standell-Preston, Taylor Smith, Austin Tufts and Katie Lee), among others. Both Domino Records and Domino Publishing now represent Austra’s Katie Stelmanis as well.

“More and more frequently, we find ourselves looking northward for talent,” says Pachman, “and a

“A lot of credit is due to the quality of Canadian songwriters and the music that is coming out of Canada.” – Jeff Pachman of Domino Publishing

lot of credit is due to the quality of Canadian songwriters and the music that is coming out of Canada. I get the feeling that we’ll be spending more time with our boots on the ground there.”

For now, Pachman says the company is keen to keep building a quality roster of artists, even in light of the challenges facing the music business. “There is non-stop chatter about the death of the record industry,” he admits, “but as forward-thinking publishers, we’ve been able to grow fast. We have been able to build a house on a great foundation, and we have been extremely proactive in terms of finding opportunities for writers.”

As he looks forward, Pachman says he expects the Domino Publishing to outgrow its status as a “boutique publisher” while staying true to its roots. “I think we’re going to surprise people in the coming years.”