"In times like this, I want to be a believer," sings Rich Aucoin on the second track of Ephemeral, his second LP and one of the best records of 2014. Over 50 people and three choirs contributed to the album, which was recorded in Montreal, Toronto and Halifax and which also merges the energy of his live shows with his interests in experimental instrumentation and cinematic composition. All 10 tracks are infused with an infectious positivity. But Aucoin is still a realist and every moment of hope has a dark side.
"A lot of the lyrics are informed by the main inspiration, the Claymation version of Le Petit Prince, to which the record syncs," says Aucoin, who will soon release the video sync of the record and film. "It was a great source to coincide with things in my life during the making of this record, like the loss of a relationship, the death of my father and the alienation I've felt from an isolated, touring existence."
There's always a flip-side to success. Since his 500-person epic drama, 2011's We're All Dying to Live, Aucoin has been touring the world almost non-stop. He dips home to Halifax when he can and no way is he complaining. But lonesome feelings appear on songs like "City I Love" and give the record gravity.
Philosophically speaking, much of Ephemeral's structure is a remedy to its own causes. Every song has a three-word title and Aucoin's characteristic repeated refrains have both practical and spiritual functions. "The repeated choruses have been a product of the live sing-along show that I do," he says, always projecting lyrics onstage for audiences. "But the repetition can turn into a mantra, too, and the mantras are all positive, so it feels good to hear 'let it go' over and over until you realize you can take a deep breath and let something go that's been a stowaway in your body, creating a stress that's hurting you."
Aucoin's careful attention to the physiological and mental effects of music is what makes Ephemeral such a powerful compilation and listening experience. Stylistically, it's a composite of his musical influences.
"The intention was to make a bunch of Motown-esque songs that could be played traditionally on piano in a Motown R&B style, and produce them with drum machines, experimental elements and controlled noise. 'They Say Obey' was my attempt at a 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'-type of song, as it shares some of the same chordal structures," he says. He lists influences from David Bowie to local Jason Vautour. "I just hope that this record will live in some people's lives, even for a short time, and be a soundtrack that motivates them or gives them pleasure," says Aucoin, who seems to live in the moment. "I'm hoping I can offer someone here and now a collection of songs and ideas about being here and now."