Besnard Lakes

Besnard Lakes return from the brink to deliver a truly epic record

We spoke to the Montreal band about the LP, Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings, and what to expect from their series of livestream shows.

To borrow a metaphor from one of the band’s previous album titles, the Besnard Lakes are the dark horse of Montreal’s maximalist rock scene.

In the aughts, they existed on the periphery of the local scene explosion, closer in sound and spirit to the city’s post-rock set, not to mention the shoegaze revival that was just starting to emerge. In the 2010s they continued to release critically revered epics and play shows of even more mammoth sonic and experiential proportions, earning a faithful cult following.

Near the end of the last decade, they felt they’d lost their way creatively, largely due to outside pressure. But now the Besnard Lakes — currently made up of principals Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas alongside Kevin Laing, Sheenah Ko, Robbie MacArthur and Richard White — have found new life with a record inspired by death.

“Raindrops” by Besnard, from Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings

Their sixth album, Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings, was released at the end of January. Its beginnings took root in 2016, and its concept presented itself with the terminal illness and death of Lasek’s father. It was a profound and confusing experience that naturally prompted thoughts of Lasek’s own mortality and that of his partner Goreas, who had lost her own father in 2013.

“I almost feel like talking about it in interviews is good therapy,” Lasek says when asked whether it’s tough to revisit grief while promoting and performing an album. “People go through their whole lives and never talk about the death of their father and I’m yammering on about it to anyone who’ll listen.

“It felt like a psychedelic experience watching this person die. He had cancer, he died slowly — it took like a year and a half. He was a proud guy, and he didn’t talk much about his feelings so I would just be staring at him wondering what was going through his head.”

“Now I’m talking to people, like, ‘Oh, this really touched me because my father died of COVID.’ It doesn’t make it any better but I feel like if some people are saying that it’s helped them a little bit, it’s really touching. We’re honoured.

“I ended up writing ‘Dark Side of Paradise,’ which is a love song to Olga, basically asking, ‘What are we going to do when we get old? What happens then, and how come nobody’s told us what to do?’ There should be a Death 101 where people get to learn how to deal with these things because nobody really knows. 

“There are some cultures that celebrate death — people are still grieving but it’s looked at a little bit differently. It would’ve made things a lot easier for my family if it more like a celebration that this person has had a good life and gone on to something else. The grieving process can be so insane if you aren’t prepared for it. But in the end I feel like I’ve come out pretty strong through the whole thing.”


As a band, being dropped by their label Jagjaguwar gave them time for some existential reflection. What they realized was that they were free. “We love Jagjaguwar,” Lasek says. “It was our first and only label, and Darius, who runs the label, is kind of like a father figure to us, but in the end we knew it was for the best.

“Aside from the 17-minute-long drone at the end (of the album), there’s probably about 10 minutes of ambient drone littered throughout, and I don’t think we would’ve had the guts to do that if we were on Jag. I feel like those moments on the record were absolutely necessary in order to make the whole piece coherent.

“We initially had the record mastered as one track and we were just gonna put it on Apple Music for $3 and be like, ‘Fuck you, here’s an hour and 17 minutes of music, and you have to listen to the whole thing from front to back,’ which we know nobody will. But (our management) started sending the record out to some labels and Flemish Eye in Canada, Fat Cat in America and Full-time Hobby in the U.K. jumped on board. We were like, ‘Holy shit!’ We went from nothing to suddenly having three labels that were super excited about the record.”

“Our Heads, Our Hearts on Fire Again” by Besnard Lakes, from Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings

Not only did the labels agree to back the album, they’re supporting the prohibitively expensive manufacturing of a double vinyl LP with a gatefold sleeve.

“They were like ‘Sure, just do it,’ and we were like, ‘Really? But we’re old, like we’re not relevant anymore, nobody gives a shit!’ We thought for sure that we would finish the record and put it out on our own and then maybe do some touring. But people are still interested, and we just feel blessed. It’s amazing, the fact that we can still do this after 13 years. We don’t make a living doing it but we still have tons of fun, and it keeps us sane.”

Lasek feels equally blessed to pay the bills by making other people’s music. His work mixing and producing records has only increased as COVID has driven Montreal musicians into creative mode. “I’m just as busy as I’ve ever been. It’s also cool because I still get to see what the young kids are up to, and the young kids still call me, which is awesome.”

Seeing Besnard Lakes live is one of the pleasures that Montreal music fans have to look forward to after COVID. As Lasek put it: “Everybody’s just gonna be like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll go to that show, I don’t care. I’ll be out every night!’ The first six months, people are going to go nuts!”

In the meantime, despite the difficulty musicians with day jobs are facing as they try to rehearse with a curfew in place, the band is going all out with three ticketed streaming shows, one in February, one in March, one in April. 

“When we decided we were going to do this, the plan was to rehearse our faces off and try to be in a position like we’ve been on tour for three weeks already. We’re super tight and ready to rumble. We’re going to have our goofy lights and strobes and lasers and fogs. We don’t want to be like, ‘Oh, we’re just jamming in our jam space, come have a beer with us.’ It’s like here’s a show, this is going to be full-on.” ■

This feature originally appeared in the Feb. 2021 issue of Cult MTL. To buy tickets for the Besnard Lakes streaming shows on Feb. 5, March 6 and/or April 3, please click here. The price is $13 per show or $30 for all three, with a 48-hour re-broadcast.

For more music coverage, please visit the Music section.