Published Jan 01, 2006Royal City's Aaron Riches used to welcome accusations of wearing his heart on his sleeve. On his band's new album, Alone at the Microphone, Riches soaks himself in shit, blood, cum, vomit, and various other bodily fluids. And while the accompanying music is more accomplished than anything Riches has ever done, the images have a tendency to be overwhelming. Especially when its predecessor, 2000's At Rush Hour the Cars, was defined by its soft sweetness and simplicity.
"The first record is about feeling fragile," says Riches, casually pontificating in a Toronto bistro. "This record is about not feeling fragile because you've seen the foul fiend with your own eyes, and in seeing those corners, you've also somehow met the divine.
"This is a record of pilgrimage," Riches continues, getting more animated and biblical, "and in order to go anywhere you have to pass through something. In order to get to the crest of the mountain, you have to go through the wilderness. You're probably going to feel like shit in the wilderness and you're going to feel hungry and you're going to feel like snot is running down your nose and you're going to be cold and wondering why the hell you came there in the first place."
As for the language used to describe that journey, Riches insists that he's aiming for sincerity and not shock. "If I'm going to talk to you about spiders, I'm going to have to use the word spiders' at some point. There's no point in my substituting the word spider' for duck' if I'm talking about a duck. That's just going to confuse you." He is, however, aware of inevitable reactions. "If I say to you, you're a nice guy,' you're going to say, That's a really nice thing of you to say to me, but I've heard other people say that to me too.' If I say, I would like to cum on you because you're terrible and you make me feel like hurling,' you're going to remember that moment a bit better."
Although the new album sounds like it was borne from a twisted backwater in rural America, a place Royal City have toured more than their home and native land, Riches says the "illness in muddy places" that he sings about could be anywhere. "Often we think that the wilderness only happens in the country," he says. "We think that the exiled have to leave the city. The truth is that the exiled live in the city, and the wilderness is here. It's certainly a wilderness vision. It's not so much dependent on a geographical plane. But there's something about that amazing American thing that fucked-up, decrepit, finger-plucking banjo thing that is associated with the rural, but it's the articulation of the wretched."