Rich Aucoin sits under his iconic rainbow-coloured parachute; the kind children would congregate under in gym class, it’s now a staple of his live show.
Though the pandemic has meant pressing pause on live concerts—resulting in the unfortunate cancelation of what should have been Rich’s largest US tour to date—that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t been busy over the past year and a half. He’s spent much of the pandemic in his basement working under the colourful parachute, using it as backdrop for virtual concerts, working on music videos and new music.
“Right before everything shut down, I went out to Calgary for an artist residency at the National Music Centre,” says Rich. “They have one of the most unique, cool and rare synth collections in the world.”
The centre is housed in a former keyboard museum that Rich visited during one of his tours across Canada. “I got to record close to 100 rare synths, so I was nicely set up with enough material to edit and work through for an entire year.”
One of the projects Rich worked on was writing the score for the feature-length documentary No Ordinary Man, which premiered at TIFF in September 2020. The work harkens back to one of Rich’s first loves: film. As a teenager Rich set his sights on studying cinema but his parents suggested he attend King’s to take part in the Foundation Year Program (FYP). Rich took their advice, and ultimately majored in Contemporary Studies and Philosophy. Thanks to King’s association with Dalhousie, he was even able to take some film classes as electives, courses like Music in Cinema and Symbolism and Symbiotics in Theatre.
Rich weaves his love of film into his work as a musician in multiple ways: not only does he score films, his 2019 album Release was created to be played in sync to Alice in Wonderland (1951).
Perhaps it won’t be surprising that another perk Rich enjoyed from King’s and Dalhousie’s institutional association was Dalhousie’s recording studio.
“One of the greatest electives I got to take was Experimental Music at Dal,” he says.
The class allowed students to access the studio, which mostly went unused back then. This gave him near-unlimited access to its instruments and equipment, including a number of synthesizers Rich was all too happy to experiment with. “I would spend as much time as I could recording over there… There would be weeks where it would be only me and one or two other people using the studio.”
This was only the beginning of Rich’s time in studios. Over the course of his career, he’s released four full-length records, including his 2020 release, United States, which won Electronic Recording of the Year at the 2021 East Coast Music Awards. The lead single from the album, “How It Breaks” made it to #1 on the CBC Top 20, and the album also featured ECMA Song of the Year, “Walls,” the video for which is in the top 10 for this year’s Prism Prize. (Rich’s video for “Brian Wilson Is A.L.i.V.E.” won the Prism Grand Prize in its inaugural year back in 2013.)
When speaking about his writing process, Rich explains that he still uses skills he learned at King’s when sitting down to create his anthemic synth-pop songs. “King’s really shaped my song writing in that I think about each song the way I would think about a FYP paper.” He begins working on songs by establishing a thesis statement or theme that he wants to convey and explore, “then I try to extrapolate the idea before putting it into poetry.” He views each verse as one position on the subject, “and then it hopefully comes to some sort of conclusion in the chorus,” he explains.
Through his career in music, Rich has traveled across Canada, the United States, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Corsica, Reunion Island, Iceland, Scotland, Brazil, England and Australia. A highlight of these tours? Catching up with former King’s classmates along the way. In fact, he has kept in touch with his classmates ever since graduation, using email and phone to stay in touch prior to the rise of social media.
Though he enjoys being on the road as a musician (including his 2018 cycling tour across America, which inspired United States), it’s a trip from his days at King’s that Rich is excited to talk about: the exchange program that took him to Australia to study at the University of Western Sydney in Penrith during his third year.
“It’s such a rad experience” he says, noting that in his annual Orientation Week performance at the Wardroom it’s something he always encourages students to try out while at King’s.
As a native Haligonian, Rich didn’t live on campus during his time at King’s, so the exchange to Australia was a unique way for him to experience living away from home.
An avid surfer, in Australia Rich lived on a surf beach and got to catch some waves. The daily commute to his classes, he says, turned into his study time. The exchange also gave him the opportunity to expand his knowledge of eastern philosophy with the University of Western Sydney’s large array of classes on the subject.
Rich will soon be packing up his synths, laptop, confetti cannons and of course, the quintessential parachute, to hit the road once again. With his US tour rescheduled for fall 2021, he will finally get a chance to tour his United States album in the country he wrote about. No doubt, Rich’s future is looking as bright as his parachute.
Photo: Riley Smith
Updated: June 2021