Walking into his house is a bit like stepping foot inside a musical laboratory. Rows of records by influential artists are pinned to the walls. Synthesizers of all sizes lay scattered across his bedroom floor. His room is awash in music festival paraphernalia; years’ worth of show posters and performer lanyards hang from its every corner. The house is cluttered in the type of knick-knacks found at your grandmother’s house (think crooked paintings of owls and haloed saints). There’s no mistaking that this is a musician’s house.
The musician in question, Rich Aucoin, has just returned from a month-long tour across France. He appears slightly jet-lagged, a tad restless and above all, hungry. As he sits as his kitchen table, he works his way through a mammoth salad (“breakfast and lunch”, he explains), and lists off some of the unique places he played on the tour. They include a concrete factory, a bank and a psychiatric ward, not your typical concert venues. But then again, Rich Aucoin is not your typical musician.
Through his unique blend of “experimental pop”, the Halifax-based singer-songwriter has been pushing the boundaries of the Canadian music scene and redefining the live concert. His show is more than just his songs. It is a communal experience shared with fellow concert-goers. A typical Rich Aucoin show includes a mosh-pit under a giant multi-coloured parachute, a surfboard which Aucoin uses to crowd surf and interactive video projections. The audience, drenched in sweat and strewn in confetti, leaves the show singing along to Aucoin’s songs.
“I kind of think of it as going out to karaoke with all your friends except instead of taking turns singing one at a time, everyone sings together,” says Aucoin of his live show.
“A lot of the show, I’m in the crowd handing the mic off. A really good show, I hardly sing at all, it’s just all the audience members.”
The idea of a music career began while Aucoin was studying experimental guitar at Dalhousie University and philosophy at the University of King’s College. Shortly after graduating, Aucoin released his first EP, 2007’s Personal Publication. The now infamous record was created to sync to the visuals of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
To promote the record, Aucoin embarked on an ambitious cross Canada tour… on a bicycle. The idea combined his desire to “soak in” Canada after a recent road trip across the country and his love of cycling. Each day, Aucoin rode into a new town, put on his energetic live show and then left early the next morning to begin riding to his next gig.
“I played in basically any town I could,” he says. “From big cities [like] Toronto and Vancouver… to places like Wawa [Ont.] and even smaller than Wawa.”
Aucoin biked between eight and ten hours each day to raise money for the Childhood Cancer Foundation. He explains that biking has always come naturally to him and as a result, he never really hit a wall along the way.
“Even though I hadn’t biked more than from my place to Dal, an all of ten minute bike ride, I was like ‘Yeah, I think I can do this bike,’” Aucoin says. “I just flew to Victoria [B.C.] and bought a bicycle that they promised I could take all the way back to Halifax and then started biking.”
The cross-Canada bicycle tour demonstrates Aucoin’s relentless determination, a feeling palpable both in his presence and within his music. Aucoin throws himself into a mosh-pit night after night, a stamina he developed while riding across the country. He hopes to eventually conduct a biking tour of the United States.
From Halifax’s music scene to the world stage
Following Personal Publication’s release, Aucoin began establishing a name for himself in the Halifax music scene, an “eclectic” community he calls integral in helping develop his sound.
“One of its greatest traits is that because of its small numbers you have people playing in multiple [bands]… it makes their music making that much more diversified and unique,” says Aucoin, who also occasionally collaborates with his brother Paul’s band, The Hylozoists.
The release of his first full length album, 2011’s We’re All Dying to Live, saw Aucoin’s name spread across the country. More than 500 musicians, friends and individuals he met during the recording process were involved in the creation of the album. His recent success is demonstrated by his hectic touring itinerary over the past year, playing festivals throughout North America and Europe, and in his nominations for several music awards, including the Polaris Music Prize and the upcoming East Coast Music Awards.
Aucoin begins flipping through his iPhone, his past year in travels documented by the hundreds of images he’s captured with it. He says these travels have had a profound influence on the music he is creating today. “I’ve been experimenting with a lot of non-lyric based sing-alongs because it’s so nice when you remove that whole language element,” Aucoin says. “It can be everyone’s; it doesn’t have to just be ‘this is an English thing I’m bringing over to which ever country.’”
In his live show, Aucoin performs a song called Four More Years, which he translates into the language of the country he is playing in. He has performed the song in Portuguese, Icelandic and Dutch, among other languages.
The evolving sound of pop music
The theme of experimentation and evolution is prevalent in Aucoin’s thinking.
He describes how his next record will run 29 minutes long, with fast-paced songs lasting less than three minutes, so as not to repeat himself (We’re All Dying to Live ran 55 minutes). He explains how he wants to put a secondary speaker system at the back of his shows and project visualizations above the audience to further their concert experience. He talks of eliciting “supernatural experiences” in preparation for his third full-length album, to be based on the supernatural. However, Aucoin is certain one thing will remain the same as he changes – the crowd he likes to play for.
“The ideal audience is just someone that listens and is excited about what you’re doing,” Aucoin says, “…whether that be a sitting down audience just clapping loudly at the end of a song (he references his album release show at Halifax’s St. Matthew’s Church) or a bunch of sweaty friends in a room all yelling around a microphone with it deafeningly loud.”
The conversation suddenly shifts towards Aucoin’s musical beginnings and the gradual evolvement of his audience.
“When you’re first starting, you’ve got a core of friends around you that come out to all your shows,” he says. “They’re your supportive training wheels as you are starting.” Each performance, Aucoin acknowledges his old friends in the audience through a video projection in his intro. “As you get a little older, they stop wanting to come out and you either get new fans or that’s the end of playing.”
For the first time, Aucoin’s restlessness disappears. He stops fidgeting with his fork and his long pauses are replaced with a collected, formed thought. He appears fully immersed in his answer.
“It’s a sad moment because you remember how though it was like you know only 20 friends at Gus’ Pub or something on a Wednesday night; it was super fun because everyone was your friend there,” he says. “When you get these moments later after playing for a couple of years, it’s really nice to feel that sort of connection again.”
A wave of memories floods over Aucoin. He takes a break from his salad, briefly reminisces and then looks to the future.
“I feel like it’s so important to do things at an age; I can always do a sit down concert style performance,” he says. “But I’m having fun while I’m still young to be able to run around and be in the middle of a mosh-pit.”
With his forward-thinking determination, Rich Aucoin is transforming pop music, one confetti-filled dance party at a time.
Date submitted: Jan. 27, 2013