February has come with its usual tidings. The ice on the sidewalks has settled into a seemingly permanent residence as wind cuts through the city with the bite of a sandstorm. Workplaces are full of idle complacency as the realities of seasonal affective disorder and the mid-year break of primetime TV takes hold. The festive spirit from just two months ago seems not only long forgotten, but looked back on with a chilled resentment.
Still, posters keep appearing all over the city for what looks like a showing of the Chuck Jones/Dr. Seuss Christmas classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Not the work of some hapless promoter who has lost touch with seasonal demographics, the posters are actually for a show by a musical artist named Rich Aucoin.
In One World Cafe, giving instructions to a group of musicians about what will be required of them at an upcoming show, Aucoin is hard to miss. Standing well over six feet tall with a puff of curly hair making him a few inches taller, he speaks about his music with a focused intensity usually reserved for someone in a more scientific discipline.
A re-occurring utility man for several bands in the past, including The Burdocks, The Hylozoists and Cuff The Duke, he has recently surfaced with his debut EP, Personal Publication. The work is simultaneously a concept album about the search for and acceptance of love… and bizarrely, an intentional sync piece to be played over the film of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
“I didn’t even start recording until I had watched The Grinch about a hundred times,” Aucoin says, now sitting in front of a neglected plate of vegetarian lasagna. “I put it on the first time and just hummed the melodies and strummed the guitar to see if it would work. My first list for the record looked like a timeline sheet, saying things like ‘This song needs to start at 4 minutes, 59 seconds.’”
The album was recorded solely by Aucoin on his computer, with these constraints in mind. Working with the painstakingly meticulous nature of an animator, he employed such techniques as cutting each drumbeat into the songs individually, going through each track, one at a time, until the work was complete.
The resulting album floats in a haze of passing instrumental lines and buzzing vocal effects. With little in the way of song structures, each track submerges the listener without the usual comforts of a pop song format. While certain moments lend themselves to Flaming Lips and Sufjan Stevens comparisons, for the most part the disc is a uniquely odd look at love…and then there is the whole Grinch thing.
“When you watch Dark Side of Oz”—the sync-up of Wizard of Oz’s visuals with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon—“the first time through the album you could really believe that it was synced up intentionally, but every time the album plays after that, everything seems more coincidental,” says Aucoin. “So when I started to think about doing this I was thinking of doing something shorter. The Grinch just seemed perfect and I was blown away that it was telling the exact same story that I wanted to tell with these songs.”
By showing clips of his creation via Youtube and MySpace, Aucoin’s Personal Publication/How The Grinch Stole Christmas merger has become something of a hit in the sync-enthusiast community. Which brings us back to the oddly timed posters lining the street of late.
To prevent interested parties from having to experience the sync in a dank, pot-hazed basement, Aucoin is regularly performing it throughout Halifax with The Grinch’s visuals being projected behind him as he plays each track. With word spreading quickly about the project, and plans developing to tour with the idea, this Grinch could keep lingering until it comes right back into season again.
Rich Aucoin releases Personal Publication (with a screening of The Grinch) with guests Jason Ball, Brent Randall, Jess Lewis and Laura Peek, February 3 at St. Matthew’s, 1479 Barrington, 8pm (doors 7pm), $10, 423-9209.