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Rich Aucoin streamlines Ephemeral to match chant-along feel of live shows

Dreaming of gang vocals
Dreaming of gang vocals

‘A tip to young gang-vocal recorders out there,” Rich Aucoin offers, a wry, grinning tone overtaking his voice as the thought fully forms in his head. “You definitely want to invite some friends that aren’t musicians, and people who have a loud and weird voice. None of your timid friends get called to the gang-vocal session, because you want people just screaming it.”

And screaming it without training, he clarifies: for all the joy and energy that comes inherent in a group of people belting out a vocal line, it only really translates to that “we’re all in this together” feel if the voices aren’t fully attuned to the nuances of, say, technique.

“I’ve done gang vocal sections before on friends’ records where they just asked a bunch of us who were all trained,” Aucoin continues, “and they had to de-train everyone. What was coming back was just one really solid unison-y gang, instead of what you want, which is a messier, party-type sound.”

A messier party is perhaps the best way to describe what Aucoin does: the Halifax-based pop maestro creates massive chant-alongs capable of filling a room with kinetic energy (and sweat). The emphasis on chant-alongs gives it all an unusually inclusive feel for everyone in the vicinity. An Aucoin show is the feeling of becoming a rallying cry: in other words, it’s the best party in town, and everyone’s invited. Which is the point of having so many voices in the first place.

“I definitely think a gang-vocal suggests a collective spirit rather than one person’s perspective,” he adds. “And I feel like the timbre of it has a sense of urgency that’s more about its performance than its finesse of tuning and articulation.”

That live energy is what Aucoin’s made a name on, so far, and when he was working on his second album, Ephemeral, he streamlined the record to match that immediacy.

“The last record [2011’s We’re All Dying To Live], because I collaborated with so many people, it forced all of the songs to have that loud gang vocal-feel,” he says. “And then on [Ephemeral], I designed the record to be a version of the live show, rather than a kind of record that had all the things I enjoyed on the first record—long instrumental sections and complete instrumental songs and lower, orchestral sections.”

In terms of lyrical ideas, Ephemeral was inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 classic The Little Prince. Aucoin’s album actually synchs up with the timing of the 1979 claymation film version, making it a Dark Side of the Moon/Wizard Of Oz legend that actually works. His album’s not a literal interpretation of the book’s narrative, he’s quick to note: he just geared Ephemeral’s big themes to match those present in its pages.

“It’s my favourite book,” Aucoin says of his inspiration. “It just says so many things about our existence in 80 pages, and a lot of those pages have illustrations on them, too. So it’s quite succinct.”

The guestlist’s also shrunk between albums, though to do otherwise might’ve been impossible: We’re All Dying To Live featured some 500 collaborators. Ephemeral, by comparison, has a svelter 50 some (Aucoin’s not quite sure, off the top of his head.

Not that a smaller cast of collaborators has toned down that emphasis on group shouts. Ephemeral still brims with voices: the first one you hear is actually 20 000 of them, recorded live at festivals Aucoin played over the summer and then layered later in the studio.

As far as getting so many voices rounded up and recorded, Aucoin notes that that part of the process mostly happens in the studio.

“I usually get a lot of different people from different groups and record them individually, and then I overlap them together,” he says. “On my last record, I made a big gang vocal that was all individual tracks, so no-one sang together. There was a choir of 500, but it was all individually mic-ed performances.”

Wed, Sep 17 (8 pm)
Rich Aucoin
With Hello Moth, The Franklin Electric
Starlite Room, $16

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