Photo: Adrienne Suprenant

Photo: Adrienne Suprenant

“It’s kinda hard to be human and not think you’re better than other people.” – Jake Smith, Lakes of Canada

According to the ridiculously large and undoubtedly pretentious actual paper and ink dictionary I looked it up in, the adjective pretentious is defined as:

pretentiousa. [Fr. prétentieux] attempting to pass for more than one is worth; pretending to a superiority not real; having merely outward or superficial claims to excellence; as, a pretentious assumption of dignity.

Please note that the word is borrowed from French. I would say obviously, but that’s not necessary. Obviously.

We live in a city filled with musicians, university students, and— the oft-misunderstood and more oft-maligned— hipsters, so it’s a word that gets thrown around quite a bit. A pretentious dessert you ate, a pretentious class you took, a pretentious alley you peed in… but what does it all mean? Is it necessarily a bad thing? Is it spoken only by the jealous, the less successful, the pretenders? Is it devoid of real meaning? And where is the overlap with douchebaggery?

To sort it all out, The Main sat down with Jake and Conor from Lakes of Canadarecently voted Montreal’s 4th most pretentious band by our favourite local curators of pretentiousness, Cult MTL. Star fruit, sex in Jeanne-Mance park, and the ability to say loud, say proud “I have skills”— this is post-tension.

Fun, with Lakes of Canada members (from left to right) Quinn Brander, Jake Smith, Gwen Bergman, Conor O'Neil, and Tim Dobby.

Fun with Lakes of Canada members (from left to right) Quinn Brander, Jake Smith, Gwen Bergman, Conor O’Neil, and Tim Dobby. Photo: Ali Barillaro.

How do you guys feel about Cult MTL’s #4 Most Pretentious Local Act?

Jake: Uhhhh, we feel great about it.

And how do you feel about being bested by Montreal prodigal sons and #3 Most Pretentious Local Act, Simple Plan?

Conor: I wonder how many people have heard of Simple Plan. So I’m sorta okay with it.

Jake: We got #3 Best Local Folk Act and this, so we got a legitimate thing and this silly thing. Every other band on that list— Simple Plan, Suuns, Grimes and Arcade Fire— is like stupifamous. So, yeah, totally fine with being on that list.

Do you have any advice for Suuns for next year, to help them move up in the rankings?

Conor: More asymmetrical haircuts.

Jake: Yeah, more beards.

So why do you think you guys are on the list?

Jake: Often times, when someone thinks someone else is pretentious, it’s because they take themselves very seriously. We do take ourselves very seriously, as does everyone on that list. And in this business, you either do that, or you don’t do a hell of a lot. Plus we probably are a little pretentious.

Was there much pretentiousness in your households growing up, or did you have to go find out about it on your own?

Jake: Oh, no. Most of us were raised by hippies. But we are all classically trained in a world where a lot of pop musicians are not.

Who are some pretentious people you admire?


Jake: Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Margaret Atwood. Oh my god, Rick Rubin. God do I admire him, but god is he pretentious. Michael Jackson. Stevie Wonder…Stevie Wonder’s not that pretentious.

Conor: Yeah, he’s not. He’s sort of amazing. So it turns out everyone we look up to is pretentious, except Stevie Wonder, who’s amazing.

Jake: Everything about him is soft, and gentle, and kind.

Do you think people are born pretentious, or are they taught it?

Jake: I was definitely taught it.

Conor: Definitely more nurture. People’s animal instinct is to be afraid of everything and run away, and that’s not really pretentious.

So who taught you then? The hippies?

Conor: Um…

Jake: Come on, dude, your parents.

Conor: And my brother. But I wouldn’t say it was growing up. As I was approaching adulthood, suddenly I could do things. There weren’t things I couldn’t do that I was bad at and couldn’t be proud of, so I was like, “Hey, there are things I can do that are of value… shiiiiit.”

Pretentiousness and Europeans— discuss.

Jake: I think a lot of Europeans are described as pretentious by North Americans, when most of them are quite the opposite, and if either of them is more pretentious that the other, it’s North Americans. Having lived in and spent a lot of time in Europe, people are very humble.

Conor: It’s simple statistical analysis. Europeans are on a whole less pretentious.

So where are some pretentious hotspots?

Jake: LA. It’s hands down the most pretentious place I’ve ever been to in my life. It makes me want to vomit.

Conor: I would say the same thing about Paris. In any city with more than say 5 million people, you’re going to get some pretentious aspects.

Jake: Montreal’s a bit pretentious. It is. I’m from here, and I’m not sorry.

Conor: Toronto’s a little bit more pretentious.

Ici, on commerce en prétention. From the stellar Provocateur Communications ICI, ON COMMERCE AVEC AMOUR campaign, photo by Chris MacKenzie.

Ici, on commerce en prétention. (From the stellar Provocateur Communications ICI, ON COMMERCE AVEC AMOUR campaign) Photo: Chris MacKenzie.

How so?

Jake: ‘Cause everyone there’s like (weird, proper gentleman accent) “We come to Toronto to work, and we take ourselves seriously, and we make more money, and we pay too much in rent,” and the city’s kinda like a boring, trying-too-hard-to-be New York. Although it’s nice.

Who’s the most pretentious in the band?

Jake: That’s a tough question. We’re all a little pretentious.

So what makes you two pretentious?

Conor: I know the things I’m really good at. I know I’m good at them, and because of that, I generally assume that— though I’m not right all of the time— I’m right often enough that I can think when we get into band arguments; “I’m probably right here, but let’s just play it out”. And even when it doesn’t go my way, I’m still convinced I’m right.

Jake: Pretentiousness is often about interpretation. And often, when you’re good at things, and you know you’re good at things— you’re not a dick about it, but you’re not necessarily humble, either— and you take yourself seriously, people will mistake that for being pretentious. We’re both confident in ourselves, confident in each other, confident in our music, so much of it comes from that. It’s like Snoop Dogg says: “Dream big, you might never wake up!”



Most Pretentious Fruit

Conor: Mango.

Jake: No, no. Star fruit, or kumquats or something. Starfruit. There’s always these crazy expensive drinks that come with a slice of star fruit.

Conor: Yeah, for a fruit to be pretentious it has to be overrated. Something that costs too much for how good it is.

Jake: Exactly, star fruit. Because it’s quite tasty— but $4 for one of them? Fuck that, I’ll get an apple.

Conor: No, for $4 you will have so many apples.

Most Pretentious Letter

Conor: J?

Jake: No, E. Because E is the most used letter.

Conor: Doesn’t that make it super useful?

Jake: Yeah, but it also thinks it’s better than everybody else. “I’m in like every sentence, bitch.

Most Pretentious Item of Clothing — Men

Conor: Clip-on tie.

Jake: That’s not pretentious, that’s just sad.

Conor: Really shiny suits.

Jake: Suspenders. A pocket square. I wear a lot of that stuff.

Conor: No, I think it’s really shiny suits.

Jake: That’s just utterly poor taste. Sunglasses have the potential to be very pretentious.

Conor: Yeah, but they have a really important function.

In unison: Frames. (And then they cheers’d.)

Most Pretentious Item of Clothing — Ladies

Jake: Those hats that the older women wear at synagog on Rosh Hashanah.

Conor: The worst is when they wear those hats on Yom Kippur because that’s suppose to be the day of atonement. And if you’re there, and it’s just a social thing, I think that’s pretty pretentious.

Most Pretentious Facial Hair Style

Jake: Huge, crazy moustaches. But beards are pretty pretentious.

(Note: they are both be-bearded.)

Most Pretentious TV Show to Watch

Conor: Fox News.

Jake: NPR. (Which is radio station apparently so pretentious, it became a TV show.)

Most Pretentious Hobby

Conor: Veganism. Or making your own beer, or working out on a really strict regimen, because the people who do that are writing about it constantly on Facebook. And I’m not drinking your beer, or doing your work out, so thanks for making me feel shitty.

Is it more pretentious to say you don’t watch TV, abstain from social media, or don’t use commercially made soaps?

Jake: Not watching TV. The people who are like (same weird, proper gentleman accent) “Yes, I only read non-fiction, and I haven’t looked at a screen in ten years“— it’s like, OK buddy. Maybe watching a little Game of Thrones once in a while ain’t such a bad thing. Chill out.

Most pretentious phone: newest iPhone, Android, whatever, an old Nokia, or no phone?

Jake: Old Nokia. I know three people with old Nokia’s, and they’re pretentious as fuck.

(Nearby patron turns around to  proudly show us his old Nokia.)

Jake: That’s the thing. “I have the Hercules  of phones, I don’t need access to all of human knowledge at the tip of my fingers.”

Conor: I’m going off the board. The most pretentious are ex-iPhone users who now use Android. People like me, who are like, “Oh, you still use an iPhone?”

Montreal’s Most Pretentious Market

Jake: Jean-Talon. Definitely.

Montreal’s Most Pretentious Bar

Jake: Chez Serge is pretty pretentious. Tokyo? OH. What’s the one across from The Belmont that always has like eight bouncers? Macaroni? Yeah. That one.

Conor: The most pretentious bar? You know, we probably haven’t even heard of it.

Montreal’s Most Pretentious Park

Conor: Oh, definitely Jeanne-Mance.

Jake: I saw people fucking in Jeanne-Mance last weekend. I was with some friends, there were some mushrooms involved, and we were just there, and there were these people fucking. They didn’t seem to be bothered by people watching. They seemed to be kinda in to it.

Laughter, and also red squares. Photo by Ali Barillaro.

Laughter, and also red squares. Photo by Ali Barillaro.


Lakes of Canada play Petit Campus tonight, 22 July with Gregory Alan Isakov. 20h, $13 + fees.

Caitlin is the Culture editor for The Main, and feels really pretentious when she tells people that. TWITTER.