Rich Aucoin loves you to death

An interview with the great Halifax showman, playing Montreal this week.

When I spoke to Rich Aucoin last week, it was 11:30 a.m. in L.A. and he had just come in from surfing with dolphins. I might’ve been skeptical about this claim coming from another musician, but this particular Halifax showman has become as well known for FOMO antics (albeit usually on stage) as he is for playing electro-pop bangers synced up to movie clips.

“There’s many of those things that I’ve done and have already checked off a let’s-not-do-that-again list,” says Aucoin, “like climbing the scaffolding at festivals. I’m still climbing up to the balcony in venues where there’s a second floor but I won’t jump down from the balcony anymore ’cause I realize that’s way too hard on my knees.

“I’m still having a lot of fun and feel physically up for the intensity of being in the middle of the crowd and singing,” he adds, “but I can definitely feel that when I turn 40 in a few years from now, it’ll be time to take it easy.”

Over the past decade, Aucoin has made a trilogy of existential albums about embracing life. While We’re All Dying to Live (2011) and Ephemeral (2014) were epic statements filled with high-energy anthems and danceable earworms, no record has hit the core of the FOMO impulse as succinctly as Release, originally titled Death.

“The record is about death — preparing for our death and accepting the death of our loved ones and grieving,” he explains. “I read this book called The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker, it’s about how all our systems of belief — not just the spiritual or supernatural kind of things but anything that adds to the foundation of the way we see the world — stem from what he calls a terror management theory, the way we build up a fortification against the anxieties about of our own mortality. That’s how the record started.”

Synced to clips from Disney’s 1951 animated version of Alice in Wonderland — “using Wonderland as an example of the fortification and foundations that we build as our ego and as the way we view the world and the universe” — Aucoin’s current show is as always, an unconventional multimedia spectacle with a finale that finds the crowd and singer dancing under a parachute. But it’s also more meditative and preoccupied with mindfulness than previous shows. Aucoin says that it “feels like one long meditation with dance shadowbox interludes,” and he stresses the significance of this tour — the Death tour — for his fans.

“Now I’m 11 years into my music career and trying to figure out what my next step is and how I wanna live and how I wanna tour and what’s sustainable and how can I afford to move out of the same apartment that I’ve been living in the whole time,” Aucoin says.

“In some of the secondary market places that I’ve been playing, I’m ending the show by saying, ‘Thank you, this is my last time playing here.’ Next year and moving forward, the plan is to scale down the touring so that I’m at home making music more. Even if things changed in my life, if a song on the next record became a hit, I suspect that I’ll still want to try this new touring schedule so I probably won’t make it back to these towns that I’ve been playing since I biked across Canada almost 12 years ago.”

The next record has been fully written and recorded, with the debut single to be released in the New Year, and though its focus is being kept secret for now, it’s a total thematic departure, inspired by Aucoin’s 2017 bike tour across the U.S.

His five-year plan is to release one LP per year, a prolific goal after the endless Release album cycle — the record had already been recorded by the end of 2016 but he lost it all when his laptop was stolen, forcing him to remake the album over six months in 2017, and then wait almost another two years for his label to put it out.

“I always make a set of rules before making a record to flip a bunch of things, enough things that the next record is very much unlike the previous one. This (next) one’s definitely more about the thrill — Release is one that grows on you and you have to sit with it for a bit. I don’t think the songs are as immediately banger-ey as the live show calls for them to be. 

“I’m still interested in writing songs that have existential questions in them, but I’ve drilled as deep as I wanna go for now on death,” he concludes. “I’m ready to try to tackle some new subjects.” ■

Rich Aucoin plays with opener Petra Glynt at O Patro Vys (356 Mont-Royal E.) on Friday, Nov. 22, 10 p.m., $18.50