Published Nov 01, 2005If you find it hard to believe that a vibraphone can rock, you haven't seen Paul Aucoin. Then again, it's only part of the Toronto-based multi-instrumentalist and producer's arsenal that has kept the 30-year-old Halifax transplant busy with myriad projects over the past several years.
It's all part of Aucoin's philosophy that the success he has achieved is based on doing what nobody else is willing or able to do, whether the situation calls for adding an unorthodox instrument like Theremin, arranging a string part, contributing some engineering skills, or even doing a band's taxes.
He has done some or all of these for artists like the Sadies, Cuff the Duke, the Heavy Blinkers, and the Deadly Snakes, to the point where he has become arguably the most diverse and enthusiastic multitasker in the Canadian music business. All on top of Aucoin's own band, the Hylozoists, a nine-piece instrumental outfit powered not only by his vibraphone, but two others.
"The Hylozoists are the most extreme form for me to utilise my education," says Aucoin, who studied composition and performance at the University of Toronto. "I used to play in orchestras, so I like to think of this band as a mini-orchestra. The other vibraphonists, Patrick Conan (ex-Tricky Woo) and Jason Tait (Weakerthans) come at it from a percussionist's point of view, so they don't mind playing the parts specifically as I've arranged them. It feels a lot like a percussion ensemble, considering how many drummers there are in the band, but it's also the kind of band that if someone isn't there, it really feels like something is missing."
While the Hylozoists are at the front of Aucoin's mind at the moment with a new album, La Fin Du Monde, set for release next spring, he is also currently on tour with the FemBots. Indeed, talking to Aucoin, it's hard
to think of a more generous musician in Canada, something he admits stems from his Halifax upbringing.
"The reason I make records is so I can play music with other people," he says. "When I grew up, it was a really great time because Sloan wer just breaking, and it opened all of our minds to the fact that you can go on tour and get record deals living in Halifax. My peers in high school were the guys from Thrush Hermit and the Guthries, and because of my separate musical education, they started calling on me to help out with whatever they were doing."
The generous Aucoin credits a variety of important influences: his high school music teacher, Allen Gaskin; Sloan producer Brenndan McGuire, who helped set up Aucoin's first studio, Nervous System Sounds; and producers Steve Albini and Dave Fridmann, with whom he worked on albums by the Sadies and Bodega, respectively.
"Once I started recording, I was aware to get as good at the technical aspects as I could, just so I wouldn't have to work with engineers who basically didn't give a shit, which I frequently did early on. Now when people ask me to produce them I don't like that term, because the artist is really the producer. I feel my job is to get the sound right and not to be a dictator when it comes to the performance. I learned that from Albini when I was overdubbing a vibraphone part on a Sadies record. When I was done, I went into the other room and he was reading a magazine. I asked if he thought it was all right, and he said, If you're happy with it, then I'm happy with it.' That might sound lazy, but it made me realise that it should really be up to the artist to have the final say over the end result."
What it comes down to most often, Aucoin insists, is that he doesn't mind helping people out, if he can see that his knowledge or expertise will save time or money, or more importantly, make the music better. "To me, the Hylozoists are like the final piece of my musical life that I've been working for.
That's why I've put it on hold for so long, because I was getting to play in a kick-ass band like the Sadies and making all these great records with other people. Why would I want to lose all that just to do my own thing? I always knew it would happen at the right time, instead of it being a pride thing where I'd feel
I needed to be on my own. I've seen that happen to a lot of people, where they leave successful bands thinking they can have the same thing on their own terms, and it rarely happens. I want to still be in this business 20 years from now, so I look at every experience, whether it's been great or whether it's something I've learned a hard lesson from, as a step toward reaching that point."