I recently had the opportunity to speak with Montreal’s very own Conor O’Neil, co-founder of Lakes of Canada, a folk-indie-rock band recently voted #3 Best Local Folk Act and #4 Most Pretentious Local Act (a ranking of which they are extremely proud!) in Cult MTL’s 2013 “Best of Montreal” reader’s poll. Conor plays and sings alongside cofounder and lead singer Jake Smith (whom he met in a synagogue choir), guitarist Tim Dobby, and keyboardist Gwen Bergman; all members also play an assortment of interesting instruments, including charango, ukulele, sleighbells, glockenspiel, mandolin, banjo, and harp.
As part of M for Montreal, Lakes of Canada is playing along with Mark Bérubé, whose recent release Russian Dolls is getting a lot of media attention, and Juno winner Amelia Curran. Conor explained that most of the bands playing at M for Montreal already have a certain degree of commercial success, and some are already signed to labels—this is very much a festival geared towards people in the music industry, with delegates coming from far and wide to see what we have to offer.
Lakes of Canada is particularly excited to be playing on Friday because they will be debuting their new album, which hasn’t even been recorded yet. Loosely based on Margaret Atwood’s iconic novel The Handmaid’s Tale, the album is musical fan fiction, dealing with issues of misogyny, gender equality, and violence towards women. Conor warned me that to the inattentive listener, the songs may seem to have less-than-savoury religious implications, but seen within the context of Atwood’s novel some of these references reveal the perspective of the oppressors and antagonists, rather than the views of the band members.
Although the songs refer only obliquely to events and characters in the novel, the band sought out and received Atwood’s permission and blessing to do the project. She even sent them a signed photo wishing them good luck, not that they need it—their talent and hard work have got them where they are today. Still, a metaphorical kiss of consecration from someone of Atwood’s ilk can only help them on their way.
Lakes of Canada plays November 22nd at Divan Orange (4234 st. Laurent) with Marc Bérubé and