Published Oct 24, 2011There's no doubt that recruiting over 500 Canadian musicians for his highly anticipated, yet much-delayed album We're All Dying to Live was a serious undertaking. But even Rich Aucoin could never have guessed what an arduous process it would be. "The editing of everyone took a lot longer than I thought it was going to," he says on the phone from his home in Halifax. "If I'd had a team I could have delegated through it a lot faster. But I had to be there to do it."
We're All Dying to Live was supposed to be a modest seven-track follow up to 2007's How the Grinch Stole Christmas-synching EP Personal Publication. "I made a decision that with everything I do, I'll pick one element and then do it completely different on the next record or project," he says. "So the first one I did by myself and with this one I decided I'd do it with people."
That inclusive impulse soon took over. Aucoin laid down demos in January of 2008, recording a temporary version of the album he could take across the country with about 30 local musicians that May. In between gigs, he spent a week each in Fredericton, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. "I filled up my time recording with as many people as possible." Things quickly got out of hand though, as more and more friends and musicians came out of the woodwork wanting to contribute. "That was when it ballooned to having all these other tracks that I wrote along the way," he says. "I was quickly running out of room to put everyone."
Now a 22-track full-length album, Aucoin headed back to Halifax to finish recording and start wading through the hours of audio he'd amassed. "So many of those people had talked to friends," he says. "At a certain point, it rounded the corner where I was like, 'I'm not going to do this again so I don't want to leave anyone out.' It became 'Let's get everyone I've ever played with to contribute something.'"
Each contributor recorded three separate minute-and-a-half long sections of the album. Aucoin asked for two takes of each section but ended up getting at least three or four from almost everybody. Some contributions were submitted via email, while one vocal session was facilitated by running a Skype session through Aucoin's Mbox.
He pegs the final number of participants in the low 520s, with about 380 individuals along with three choirs rounding out the total. "I didn't want to cut everyone out," he says. "The numbers get pretty exponential, the sheer amount of time spent listening before even editing."
Cobbling together the record from thousands of recorded scraps, Aucoin stitched the record together on his old Mac Powerbook. "I'd listen to like half an hour of stuff that somebody gave me and then cut it down to them playing the bass for one chorus of one song. There are 30 drummers on the song 'Push' ― two or three drummers at a time changing in an interwoven manner so that one's changing every two bars."
Once the album was complete, Aucoin sent it to David Wrench, who mixed Caribou's Swim, with the intention of having him remix a couple tracks. "We thought, 'Let's get him to do the whole thing. Let's delay it more!'"
The final product represents the second part of what Aucoin envisions as a trilogy of thematically linked records; Personal Publication was about love, while We`re All Dying to Live is about life. "This one is about making your big life decisions what you want to do with your life." Like his debut, We`re All Dying to Live was designed to sync with visuals, in this case a mash-up of public domain clips available on Aucoin`s website. The final release, which Aucoin is already well on his way to finishing, tackles loss and will sync with Will Vinton's 1979 claymation version of The Little Prince.
Of course, no conversation about Rich Aucoin is complete without a discussion about his live show. You don't so much watch him perform as participate in a full on indie-dance revival. Like the creation of his album, the evolution of Aucoin's show took on a life of its own. At the beginning of his career, Aucoin used to stand at the side of the stage while the main focus was How the Grinch Stole Christmas projected onto a bed sheet duct-taped to the ceiling. A cease and desist letter from Dr. Seuss's legal camp scrapped that set-up.
His coming out as a front-man coincided with a gig playing the Fast Times club night at the Marquee in Halifax, an event better suited to high-energy hipster-dance music than the baroque pop of Personal Publication. Ditching his usual set-up, Aucoin created mash-ups of his own music, using them again the next night while opening for Woodpigeon. "The reaction was really good," he says. "I thought, 'I'm gonna lose the mash-ups, but keep the upbeat dance part.'"
The dance influence can be heard throughout the new album, which at times sounds like Daft Punk remixing the Flaming Lips. "I definitely want to keep making those orchestral parts recorded and have the more electronic dance-y version live. But sometime it can be both."
To recreate choir led songs like "Brian Wilson is A.L.I.V.E." and "Push" Aucoin needed the audience to join in for their massive sing-along choruses, but explaining the lyrics to a packed club night after night proved tiresome. "I decided to just make it crowd karaoke and put the lyrics up on the screen," he says. "That was the big thing, once I was thinking of a full interactive show. Now that's changed the way I view all of the shows I've been doing."
In many ways the evolution of Aucoin onstage couldn't have come at a better time. In the absence of any new material, his unique performances have become the perfect calling card to set the stage for We're All Dying to Live to finally hit the streets. "It's crazy to think of all the good things that have happened to me in the past few years and those have all been without a record," he says. "And now you can listen to this at home."