Do What Makes You Happy: Interview with Lakes of Canada

Lakes of Canada is what happens when the dreams of band camp kids never get pummelled out of them. We spoke with the Montreal-based band about the art of orchestral arrangements, sincerity and 3D printing.

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Things lead singer Jake Smith does on stage: wears shoes, loses shoe, dons moccasin and jingles.

Connor O’Neil harmonizes and drums. Tim Dobby thrums his guitar. Quintinius Norin with floppy mop of hair reposes on stool while plucking the strings of his cello. Pianist and organist Gwen Bergman rocks out remote and controlled in a Hello Kitty hat. A violinist appears for a spell for that extra touch of whimsy.

Jake is the ostensive leader. You get this impression because a) he sports a commanding beard and b) is responsible for updating the band’s website.

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I know this because I spent a solid fifteen minutes with roughly two thirds of the band in a dank basement that will forever be lodged in the minds of nostalgic Montreal music lovers because it is the basement green room at Casa Del Popolo.

In bygone days pickled beets were stacked, presumably, where now sits the musty couch upon which the bottoms of Conor, Tim and Jake rest. It’s a late November evening and Indie Montreal is putting on a showcase of local and far-flung Canadian talent. LOC are on at eleven.

Near the end of the interview Jake says, “I want to tour in Japan Soooo bad. It’s, like, the future! They have 3-D photo booths there that print out a little action figure of you! Japan is like future land!”

So, you see? This is Lakes of Canada.

Sometimes bands excrete cool in menacing ways. Perhaps they got too famous or maybe flippancy is the defence mechanism that lets them navigate our culture of alienation. This band is not like that.

As a matter of fact, they repel the manufactured image the same way a cool band might repel any attempt at sincerity. I ask them if they feel any pressure to be cool. Tim says, “There might be but if there is, I just don’t give a fuck about it.” You can tell he means it.

“We were all band camp kids. I played clarinet in high school and those kids were the band camp kids of band camp. You kinda can’t think that you’re cool when you played clarinet,” adds Jake.

Between the unsolicited endorsements of Japanese culture, friendly ribbing, and shout-outs to Jesus Christ Superstar, it becomes clear that this band thinks, acts and dreams in exuberance. It even comes through in their performance.

If you chance upon an evening with the Great Lakes, in random order, here are the instruments you will likely see/hear: vocal chords (harmonizing), drums, guitars, ukulele, glockenspiel, flute, cello, piano, “various percussion,” dulcimer, mandolin, banjo, sleigh bells, violin (thanks, website!).

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Despite only being around for a year and a half, the band says their sound is already fleshed out. They’ve got two albums under their belt; Toll the Bell is their first full-length product, released in Spring 2012.

There are other things you should know, too.

You should know, for instance, that the bespectacled and dry bones Tim has a dentist father. He (Tim, not dad) teaches McGillians how to play guitar and has done so successfully for a number of years after having returned from a stint in L.A. where “you never know if someone likes you or just wants to use you” (paraphrase of anybody who’s ever moved there).

Tim (I like to call him Deadpan Tim) is inspired by the Beatles, thinks questions like “what inspires you?” are cheesy, and has heard that the band’s “vocal harmonies are actually quite similar to the Barenaked Ladies’.” Also, Mumford and Sons are similar to Lakes of Canada, he says, because “we have beards!”

The band grew up in Montreal. All five were and remain music geeks. All went to school for music. I ask them what their formal education brings to the table. Each responds with a measure of ambivalence.

As Connor, who just completed his M.A. in orchestral arrangement explains: “Knowing why something sounds good doesn’t change the fact that it sounds good. If someone knows that they like something, they don’t necessarily need to know why.”

But they’re not just playing for the love of music. This band has hutzpah. And business chops. They know they have talent and they acutely believe that with a little elbow grease and lots of gusto, good – financially good – things might come of it.

That’s the sense I get, anyway, despite Jake’s tempered realism – “You can’t just do the music. It isn’t enough, it’s never been enough, but especially now it’s not enough.”

Largely, I think I get that sense because of what comes out of Connor’s mouth shortly after: “I saw some interview on a late night show with one of the writers for the Starsky & Hutch remake and they were talking about hanging out with Snoop Dog and they were joking about partying, and they were like, “Yeah, we should totally get an escort” and Snoop was like, “One? Let’s get five!” And they were like, “Wow, you’re dreaming big” and he’s like, “Gotta man. If you dream big enough you never have to wake up.”

Ain’t that the truth.

To purchase an album, check out their bandcamp page.

For tour dates and everything else, click over to their website.

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