Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: NXNE Interview with Montreal’s Lakes of Canada

Jake Smith and Conor O’Neil of Lakes of Canada discuss what it means to be pretentious, sharing beard hair, the ‘Netflix-approach’ to music, and defining their new sound

By: Emma Mazerall

Published: June 27th, 2014 in Culture » Music » News

A lot has changed for Lakes of Canada since they spoke with ShalomLife last year. They completed their concept album, Transgressions, based on Margaret Atwood’s book The Handmaid’s Tale, and redefined their sound, making a major departure from the folk-rock genre.

But, most importantly, they moved up two spots on the annual Most Pretentious Band in Montreal list.

I chatted with Jake Smith (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, percussion) and Conor O’Neil (drums, vocals) about the past, present, and future of Lakes of Canada.

Emma Mazerall: You guys have played NXNE a few times now. This will be your third year, right?

Yeah, but despite playing NXNE three times, I’ve seen maybe two shows during the festival because we’re always busy. We always have a show to get to the next day.

How would you say the music scene in Toronto is different from Montreal?

With Montreal venues, there’s a lot of pay-to-play. So, [in Toronto], bands go into shows expecting to do better than break even, whereas in Montreal sometimes you really are just trying to break even. Not for us anymore, but it’s not uncommon when you’re starting out.

People have more money here, and they actually spend it at shows. We sell more merchandise here, which is probably also because fans have our merch already in Montreal.

I find in Toronto, bands can be very cliquey. Do you feel like that happens in Montreal?

I would say Montreal is similar in that we definitely have several bands that we’re buddies with, but it’s not really an exclusive thing, like “We’re a part of this and you can’t be!” It’s more like, “We’re a part of this clique because we happen to know each other and we’re coming up at the same time, but hey, you’re cool, what’s up, let’s hang out.”

There’s not really much rivalry or competition because everyone is just trying to make it. The fact is, Montreal attracts a lot of artists because the cost of living is so low. You don’t really have much room to piss off other musicians. It’s not in your best interest.

Who would you say are the bands you came up with?

Folly and the Hunter, for sure, we’re good friends with them. Motel Raphael, as well. We formed a bit before them, but we both started getting a lot of media attention around the same time. They’ve taken off really quickly. There are so many other bands that we’ve played with a lot, I’m blanking on names. But especially Folly, the lead singer and songwriter of Folly and I used to live together and we both started bands around the same time.

How did this band end up coming together, if you lived with other musicians at the time?

Conor and I, you’re gonna laugh, but Conor and I met in synagogue choir. We were in that choir together for a while before we actually started a band together.

What about everyone else?

Tim (Dobby; lead guitar) we’d been friends with for a while, and eventually we wanted to expand our sound so he joined. Gwen (Bergman; keyboard, vocals, flute, harp) replaced our old keyboard player, but ended up being a perfect fit. Greg (Halpin; guitar, bass, vocals, percussion) replaced our cello player, although he doesn’t play cello, but he plays a million other things. His band Honheehonehee had just broken up, so we snagged him. Cause he’s awesome.

Also, he has a righteous beard. It’s huge. Whenever Jake grooms his beard and pulls out hair, he puts the hair in Greg’s beard. That probably sounds gross to most people, but it’s love. It’s like, “I want my beard to be closer to yours.”

That’s adorable. You mentioned just now that you wanted to expand your sound at one point, and I’ve heard you made a pretty big departure from your earlier folk sound.

Yeah, you’ll definitely hear right at the beginning of our set, we’re really not folk anymore!

What made you want to change things up?

We did a concept album, that’s going to come out relatively soon, about The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and so through writing that album, we just sort of organically changed our sound in a pretty major way.


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