Rich Aucoin says he thinks about death every day. Rock 'n' roll and death go together like beer and cigarettes, but unlike morbid pop auteurs from Lou Reed to Lil Wayne, Aucoin says, "it doesn't have to be a sad feeling. Thinking about death is also thinking about how great it is to be alive."
The title of Aucoin's new album, We're All Dying to Live, captures the simultaneous joie de vivre and desperation of youth. But the Halifax-based indie artist's music is an unequivocal endorsement of the thrills to be had on this corporeal plane. An over-caffeinated blast of voices and melodies like a constant round of fireworks going off, the CD seizes the listener by the collar from the first note.
Aucoin's live performances are every bit the spectacle; mixing video, confetti tossed by hand and audience participation, he turns crowds of cooler-than-thou twentysomethings into a blissed-out, hollering throng.
Few acts have managed to get hip indie fans to do much more than stand around, and Aucoin knows the effort required to rile them up. He describes his CD release show at the Halifax Pop Explosion Festival, featuring more than 80 people onstage, as a huge undertaking. "I had to make sure that I wasn't giving anyone too much, that it wasn't overwhelming for them so the music could come together in one or two rehearsals."
A pianist, percussionist and trumpet player from his teenage years, Aucoin cut his chops in local bands as well as playing with his brother, Paul. The elder Aucoin is a producer and vibraphonist who has recorded with the Sadies, Cuff the Duke and other Canadian acts, along with fronting his own acclaimed ensemble, The Hylozoists. Rich would hang out in his brother's studio and contribute a few parts here and there. "It was fun to go down and work on stuff with [Paul]in high school and kind of get sucked into it," he says.
After logging a couple of Hylozoists tours, Aucoin created his first solo album, Personal Publication, which itself was ambitious. Not only did he play all the instruments, and design it to be performed as an alternative soundtrack to screenings of How The Grinch Stole Christmas – similar to Pink Floyd fans watching The Wizard of Oz while playing their 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon – but to tour the record, Aucoin flew to B.C. and biked between gigs, raising money for Childhood Cancer Canada. (Remember that the next time a rock star complains about spending a month aboard a tour bus.)
The trek helped to spawn the next album – Aucoin recorded sessions with musicians across the country, bringing the total credits on We're All Dying To Live to a staggering 500 people – but it also took its toll. He looks every bit the prototypical skinny indie rocker, and when he finished biking, his health plummeted.
"I went from the greatest shape of my life at the end of the bike tour to another tour with The Hylozoists in a van, and went from exercising eight hours a day to zero," Aucoin says. "I ended up having such an iron deficiency when I came home that I had a seizure."
After recuperating, Aucoin set out on another solo tour; this time, he ran half-marathons in between stops, raising funds for the Canadian Cancer Society. Somehow, this manic quest goes a long way toward explaining the record's fervent, desperate energy, something his quarter-life crisis-afflicted fans identify with.
"I've been working on this record for almost four years," he says, "and that's pretty much me. This record was me going through that period of my life."
Aucoin says his next record will be about "how life is very short," and he admits that his lyrical muse has prompted him at times to imagine his own end, whenever it comes. "I've got some pretty awesome plans for my funeral. I definitely want there to be some sort of video presentation for everyone I think might be there."
Rich Aucoin performs in Vancouver on Nov. 11, Victoria on Nov. 12, Ottawa on Nov. 23, Montreal on Nov. 24, Toronto on Nov. 25 and Halifax on Nov. 26. See richaucoin.ca for locations.
In his own words Rich Aucoin goes behing three of the songs from his new album, We're All Dying To Live
SONG 1: Brian Wilson is A.L.I.V.E.
Do you go out of your way to write songs that are all chorus?
It happens pretty organically. I was like, I don't really want to sing much in this one and so it's like one 16-bar verse in the beginning and that's it.
SONG 2: Undead Pt. 1
Is that Jenn Grant singing on this song?
Rebekah Higgs does the call and response, then Jenn does the bit in the middle on her own.
There are so many singers, I get them confused.
The concept of this record, it's kind of very communal, in a gang vocal kind of way, so every chorus on the record has a whole whack of people singing it.
SONG 3: P:U:S:H
There's a lot of electronics on here. Are you a big fan of dance clubs?
I've enjoyed a dance or two. … I wanted to combine the feeling I get when you're out dancing with all your friends and just singing along to some favourite song, with the hardcore punk shows and more physical shows that I've been to, with crowd surfing and moshing. But I've learned over the last year not to encourage moshing unless you want to clear out a lot of people at the front of your crowd. Not everyone's on board with that.