Just before the release of their album, Transgressions Acoustic, Jake Smith of Lakes of Canada was kind enough to talk to the Mindful Bard about the album, Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, and the creative process. You can find the gist of the interview here at Rawckus Magazine, but for the whole interview, see below.
What about The Handmaid’s Tale? How were you so inspired by that book that you based some songs on it?
It sort of happened by accident. My mother was murdered in her home. One of the things you have to do when you lose someone close to you is you have to go through all of their stuff. My Mum had a lot of stuff and it took us a long time to go through it all, but one of the things that she had a ton of was books. She was an avid reader who probably went through about two books per week for most of her life.
Going through the books accounted for about half of the time that we had to spend going through everything of hers. There was one day when I was getting a little bit emotionally exhausted. Like, when you are doing something that heavy for hours on end you need to take a break. I was about to take one of those little breaks, and I looked over at one of the bookshelves (of which there were many, of course) and there was The Handmaid’s Tale.
My Mom had recommended Margaret Atwood to me for years, especially since I was really into Octavia Butler and Chris Macalaguin, so I thought, Okay, I’ll pick it up. If someone had told me what the book was about at the time in my life that I was about to read it, then I maybe wouldn’t have. It was extremely heavy, obviously, but once I’d started it I found out not only that it was an amazing piece of work (Margaret Atwood is a powerhouse of a writer, really, really incredible), but that I also had a pretty deep personal connection to what was happening, what with violence kind of being the forefront of that novel.
At that point, I wrote “The Handmaid’s Tale Part 1,” and then, a few months later I wrote “Eden,” and then “Transgressions,” and then “The Sons of Gilead,” and then “Speaker for the Damned.” My band actually called me out on the fact that I only seemed to be writing about that one thing, and suggested that we do that purposefully. That was the point at which we decided to write an album about it and it just flowed right out.
It sounds like Montreal is a creativity-enhancing city for you and the band.
Originally when I left the United States my goal at the time was just to get out. Bush was still president, and I didn’t have healthcare anymore. I wanted to move back to London as a resident. I wanted to study Shakespeare there, as I’d done before. I stayed in Montreal for a while and joined the choir and started playing in a band again. Montreal is a very charming city. Most of my family lives here, and I just kind of fell in love with it all over again and decided not to leave.
So I guess what attracted me to Montreal was the choir, a lot of the musicians who I’ve met here, and, honestly, how cheap the rent is. Whenever people ask me why there’s so much music coming out of Montreal I tell them that it’s because it’s cheaper there.
Exactly. It’s a great place for artists to struggle along.
That’s just it. When I was living in New York, I never had time to write anything because I was working eighty hours a week all the time. I’m doing that here, too, but now it’s mostly music-related.
What conditions do you require in your life in order to just go on producing music and writing and working on these projects?
It varies. I always tell friends of mine that are getting into writing that writing is a muscle, like anything else. The more you try and do it the better you’re going to get at it. I definitely believe that’s true. I do find that it’s easier to write when I’m alone, most of the time. Sometimes I’ll be with other people, if I’m feeling inspired by something that’s coming from them. I spend a lot of time by myself; I go through a lot of notebooks. I smoke a fair amount of weed when I’m writing. I always go by the Hemmingway adage of “Restaurants have it so good”. It depends, though. These days I’ve been writing a lot of conflict album, political stuff because, unfortunately, there’s so much crazy shit happening in the world that I am definitely not lacking in material to write about. In the future, it would definitely be nice, and I’ve been trying to position my career going forward in the direction of not having a day job. Like, ideally, I just want to write and be in the choir and do nothing else. We’re getting pretty close to that, too. We had a big publishing deal over the summer, and also we’ve been getting more and more free landscapes for the band between me and Connor. The band is finally making money, now, which is nice as well. It helps that I have a day job where I essentially get paid to sit around. I am a secretary at storage place.
Do you have an artistic mission statement?
Yeah, I would say that I do. I guess when we started writing The Handmaid’s Tale and other politically charged stuff; we all kind of realized that we really wanted to focus on that kind of work. I mean, there’s something about creating and writing that is inherently narcissistic. I feel in order to mitigate that, it is important to write something that helps somebody other than yourself.
The thing to do, like I say, is to always be continuing to create work that is saying something, or bringing up a topic that needs to be addressed. That’s the in-depth story of our next record reference: climate change and what we are doing to the world.