A LITTLE CHAT WITH RICH AUCOIN
Rich Aucoin is a Halifax-based musician.
Interview by Rebeccah Love
How would you describe your childhood? Were you involved in music?
I grew up in Halifax and was very much a jack of all trades sort of kid interested in joining lots of clubs and trying different things. I always really liked that line from that show The Wonder Years when Kevin is giving up piano and lamenting that when you're a kid you do so many things and that life is a series of a giving things up thinking that there's not enough time to do everything for the rest of your life. One of those things I didn't give up though was music and so was involved in lots of different groups of school band, jazz band, percussion ensemble, recorder groups, school musicals, choirs, vocal groups, school symphony and rock bands as well as playing piano and doing lessons.
How did music play a role in your teenage years? What genres were you experimenting with?
I played a lot of classical music until I was in junior high and then it was about half classical and half everything else in the various musical incarnations I was involved with. In my teens though, one of the big new things was starting to make music on the family laptop and then later, in high school, having a computer strong enough to record on and making music that way. My first recordings were all live recordings with a mix of drum machine beats and me just switching around keyboards, bass and drums. In junior high, I got to go into a professional studio though and record a cover of Smoke On The Water with two friends who were guitar and drum prodigies, I was just barely keeping up on the bass enough to keep hanging out! In high school I got to go into another studio too down at The Khyber and play on The Burdocks' record which was a very exciting and formative experience. By the end of high school, I was regularly making recordings and got to go down to my older brother's studio in the south shore or NS and play on a few more records too.
What was your initial plan after you finished high school?
Film School. I was really focused on the idea of becoming a director, DOP, writer, actor, film composer in high school. I only side-tracked because I couldn't really afford to go and my parents offered to pay for my school if I went to King's/Dalhousie because I got it half off because my dad was a professor there. Once I did the foundation year at King's, I was hooked on philosophy and just wanting to learn as much as I could before going to said film school so I stayed and did a combined honours degree in philosophy and contemporary studies which is medley of humanities. At the end of university, I realized that I really wanted to make something on my own right away and that making a film would be ten times more complicated than making a record, so I composed an EP to be played as an alternate soundtrack to the animated classic Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas. This satisfied my need for visuals as I was able to watch the film endlessly the way a film composer would score a film.
Both your shows and your music videos have a strong visual component. How did you develop your visual aesthetic?
Because of this immediate ability to borrow visuals and then have this end product of a film that you only have to do half or less of the work on. This was very much inspired by seeing several midnight screenings of The Wizard of Oz but with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of The Moon as its soundtrack. Ever since then, I've composed all my music to visuals like I'm scoring a film so still hoping one day to apply this skill to film composition in a more full time way as I've already done a feature and a handful of shorts for friends. This is a very satisfying process for me too to compose to visuals that I realize only like 3% of my audience actually experiences because I'm not legally allowed to sell or promote the way the records all sync with their inspired visuals. We're All Dying To Live actually syncs with films that I used from the public domain. https://vimeo.com/35955169 and Ephemeral syncs to the claymation version of Le Petit Prince. https://youtu.be/G2_xYBeM0L8
Your shows are so different from any other kind of concert. What ideas were you thinking of when you began planning these shows?
I basically think of the things that I would like to see at a concert as a patron and try to do those things in my show. I've been very inspired by everything I've seen over the years from The Flaming Lips, Dan Deacon, Girl Talk, Les Savy Fav, Terror Pigeon to Kanye West, Future Islands, Fucked Up, Prince, Pink Floyd Tribute Shows, and Weird Al. I'm always trying to figure out how to make each concert feel like an important moment and create a sense of community as quickly as possible. I try to do this by researching where I'm playing, watching the other bands and seeing all there is and writing that into the show to show that I'm never showing up and "inserting city name here" sort of performing. I love dancing all together with groups and being covered in confetti and parachutes and feeling a sense of comradery with the people I'm experiencing the show with. Also with lots of projections and attention to lighting.
What communities have you lived in? What have you noticed about or learned from each one?
I've only ever lived in Halifax with just longer stints of up to 9 months in Sydney, Australia and of up to about a month or two in Toronto, Los Angeles, Paris and then several few weeks stays in many cities. As far as communities, the Halifax music community is an interesting one I think because of its small size and the need for people to wear multiple hats where there may not be a need to in larger cities and scenes because the musician and artist could just focus on one thing specifically but, in Halifax, there'll often be lots of overlap. So, a musician you see playing an avant-garde jazz set one night, could be playing horns backing up a pop or folk project another night and/or the bass player of a punk band might be the drummer in electronic project as well or whatever you have. Everyone's very aware of each other in the music scene too and there's a general sense of togetherness and support for one another.
You recently took part in a cycling tour to raise money for Mental Health America and the Canadian Mental Health Association. What was the highlight of this trip? What were the challenges you were facing?
I think my favourite part geographically was going through the desert. It was a big unknown for me which was exciting. At that point too, I was thinking the trip was going to be more challenging than it actually was too so there was a sort of nervous energy going into it from Palm Springs but, aside from having to carry more water than normal, it was quite lovely and peaceful and very, very hot. As far as physical challenges from a cyclist perspective, the wind was what I was calling "the invisible mountain" as some days around leaving Arizona and Oklahoma had such a strong headwind that I would stop moving forward the second I stopped pedalling so there was no coasting. Other challenges were having some heavy thoughts around the insecurity of my artistic future at least in an economic sense and was finding it really hard to find anyone in the United States who would give me or my music a break. Paste Magazine was by far the most generous, giving me a platform to write my blog about my experience on their site:
What are the problems you see with our Canadian approach to mental health? What are some specific issues you see needing addressing?
Well there's certainly a shift undergoing right now where the stigma is starting to give way as we see more people publicly talking about their own mental health issues. So it feels like more of the general public is starting to understand mental illness as an illness like cancer and we're seeing less comments along the lines of "chin up" and overcome mental illness with some sort of mental fortitude. Along with this stigmatic shift, we'll hopefully start to see more funding to mental health associations and in programs and care methods as the public begins to be more concerned about making that help available because they're all very much under-funded at the moment.
What are you reading right now?
Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut. I usually only read one Vonnegut a summer as a summer savoured treat but this summer began earlier this year and I read Slapstick on the bike trip.
What non-musical art forms do you look to for inspiration?
Everything. I am a huge cinefile. I love literature, graphic novels, poetry as well as all types of arts both visual and auditory.
Why is music important?
It's a great celebration of our consciousness and a flexing of it as the same time.
What are you looking forward to?
I've always tried to be such in the moment that I'm surprised by the new things and experiences happening even if I knew they are approaching. I feel like that's a great way to also not be disappointed by expectations but, that being said, a certain amount of preparation is always necessary.