An album inspired by Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale


"I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light."

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

In 2011, Montreal-based musician Jake Smith was cleaning out his mother's house under tragic circumstances. She had been murdered in her home the previous fall. While packing away and discarding his mother's possessions, he found a copy of Margaret Atwood's 1985 dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale on her bookshelf. He started reading it and "couldn't put it down," Smith said in an interview.

The acclaimed novel has drawn many in with its stark story about a future in which Christian extremists overthrow the U.S. government and install a puritanical regime that subjugates women and enforces social conformity.

handmaids-tale-cover.jpg"When I read The Handmaid's Tale that first time, it resonated with me very intensely given the timing of the whole thing," Smith said. "I immediately started writing about it."

It started with one song inspired by the book. Then he wrote another. Soon, Smith realized he had an entire album's worth of material, referencing the novel's themes, issues and imagining the character's perspectives in the lyrics.

The result is Transgressions, the new album written and recorded by Smith and his band mates in Lakes of Canada. The album is a musical interpretation of life before, during, and after the fictional period chronicled in The Handmaid's Tale.

The indie folk rockers (including Greg Halpin, Gwen Bergman, Conor O'Neil, and Tim Dobby) first formed in 2010 and developed a unique sound, highlighted by propulsive percussion, rich vocal harmonies, and diverse instrumentation.

But Smith, who takes on lead vocals for Lakes of Canada, said the band really stretched itself creatively in making Transgressions, as the book not only influenced the lyrics but the sound as well.

"There is an underlying current of gospel/soul that permeates the record, as well as a lot of liturgical and gothic elements throughout," Smith said. "We also tried to imbue the sound with a sort of dystopian feel to it (especially during the middle/conflict part of the record). Working with this subject matter really caused us to open ourselves musically to many themes and instruments that we had never touched on before."

Opening track "Eden", for example, is a simple, but haunting hymn that evokes a sense of nostalgia and innocence, with its early-20th century R&B-style finger snaps and harmonies. But the album quickly intensifies -- the heavy, tribal rhythms of "The Fall" suggests the imminent battle between modern society and the religious zealots, while the fight song-sounding "The Sons of Gilead" imagines an uprising against the totalitarian regime (which didn't happen in the book). The soaring, anthemic closing track "Transgressions" feels like a bittersweet but uplifting call to find strength and rebuild.

The band actually reached out to Atwood for her blessing for the project. Smith said she thanked the band for its interest in her story and allowed them to use the characters and plot in the lyrics. But the group still would have recorded and released the album if she wasn't on-board (after changing the names pertinent to the book) because it's a project they're proud of.

"I wanted the album to remind people not only that we need to continue to stand up for what's right, and for basic human decency, but also to not allow ego and bravado to cloud our judgment," he says. "I wanted it to remind us that we are all fallible, and that we all have the potential both to solve, and to contribute to, the problems that we face as a culture."

You can learn more about the new album on the group's IndieGoGo page.