Dark horse success story

Polaris-nominated rockers The Besnard Lakes no longer the underdogs


Besnard Lakes with The Hylozoists and The Summerlad
Broken City
Thursday, October 4

More in: Rock / Pop

In the Montreal music scene, there is no longer a “best-kept secret.” There is no indie band that your hipster friends will mock you for not having heard. Three years after the release of Arcade Fire’s Funeral, there is no stone left unturned, no band left unheard. Much like Athens, Georgia in the mid-’80s and Seattle in the early ’90s, La Belle Provence is the centre of an industry explosion on the verge of exploitation, as almost every band is being given a chance to have their music heard.

What’s different about Montreal is that, unlike Athens and Seattle, the scene isn’t creating a bunch of million-album-selling superstars, but modestly successful critical darlings. Just ask Kevin Laing, drummer for the Besnard Lakes, whose new album, The Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse, is getting rave reviews.

“With the Montreal situation, it’s not like anyone’s swimming in record sales or anything,” Laing says, “which also has to do with the present time we’re in. Nobody is selling records. Elton John sold 100,000, to put it in perspective. There’s no fighting it, though. It’s the natural evolution of things.

“The list is endless of people who, 10 years ago, would’ve had a five-year run of being able to make a living as a musician. I don’t want to say ‘boo-hoo, poor musicians’ or anything like that, but it is getting pretty dire.”

With record sales declining and fame coming well before fortune, it can be difficult to find the silver lining in these bands’ cloudy situation. Laing admits that in order to make their living as musicians, bands are forced to be out on the road more than they’d like. In some cases, though, that just increases a band’s buzz.

“A lot of bands’ money nowadays is coming from guaranteed money for playing festivals and stuff like that,” he explains. “Things are really moving towards the live entertainment thing, which will separate the bands that use ProTools too much from the bands that can really play.”

Despite his lack of commercial success, Laing is happy with the situation in Montreal compared to music scenes of the past. Where Seattle spawned dozens of sound-alike bands, it’s much more difficult to peg what Montreal actually sounds like.

“I don’t really find the explosion has any (specific) sound or direction,” he says. “There’s definitely something happening here. You’ve got hard rock bands like Priestess hanging out with the Patrick Watson band, you know? It’s a really great sense of community, and it doesn’t have one sound, which is why I think it’s going to last for awhile. From an artistic perspective, it’s very healthy.”

The health of the Montreal scene is not in question — about half of the nominees for Canada’s annual Polaris Prize came from Montreal, and all but two came from Eastern Canada, if you still count Feist as being from Calgary. Talking to Laing before the announcement that fellow Montreal native Patrick Watson won the award, he was genuinely surprised to see his band included on such a list.

“We were just blown away and really, really excited about it,” Laing says. “Awards sometimes rub people the wrong way, but we’re happy about it. This is a media-based award, so not all of the bands are superstars selling a bunch of albums.”

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