Interview with NMC Artist in Residence, Rococode

November 30, 2016


Indie electro-pop duo Rococode is Laura Smith and Andrew Braun. Based in Vancouver, the pair’s music weaves together an army of synths, guitar pedals, and drum machines into tight, crisp, alternative gems that revolve around heavy danceable grooves and dueling boy/girl vocals.

The band’s much anticipated sophomore effort, Don’t Worry It Will Be Dark Soon, which dropped back in February, was actually four years in the making. Recorded alongside producers Caleb Shreve and Ted Gowans in a cabin in the isolated and picturesque coastal forest of British Columbia, the album came together around crackling fires, failed fishing trips, and endlessly dark nights.

Though the resulting songs share none of the characteristics of their rustic surroundings, they are a true sonic reflection of a shared transitory moment in time.

For Smith and Braun, who regard music as an instinct and feel each album is a valued lens through which they may view the context of their lives, the payoff is really the performance, and you’ve got to see these guys live.

Rococode are set to takeover NMC’s headquarters December 1-7, 2016, with a public workshop happening December 3 at 3:00 pm in Studio Bell’s performance hall (with paid admission).

Juliette Jagger: Your current album, Don’t Worry It Will Be Dark Soon, dropped this past February but was actually four years in the making. People change a lot over the course of four years––so do songs. Now that you can take a step back and look at that time in hindsight, are you able to see how it shaped the final product?

Laura Smith: Definitely. I know it sounds like it took us a long time to make, but it actually just took us that long to get the record out. We spent about eight-months writing it and about two weeks recording it in this cabin out on the West Coast. Then we did a bit more in Vancouver, New York, and L.A.

You go through a lot of phases, feelings, and emotions about things when you write a record. There is always that initial, ‘I love this. This is amazing!’ Followed by, ‘I hate this. This is awful.’ But, once you really start to dig your teeth into it and do the work, it usually grows into something you really love.

I know that Andrew and I had very different feelings about the album once it was recorded, but now we both feel like it’s something pretty special. It was just this magical little time we had in this cabin with our producers Caleb and Ted, and it’s really representative of that. I definitely still get feels about it when we’re playing the songs live.

I sort of like to think of every record as a little moment in time though. I try not to compare anything we did in the past to what we’re doing now because it’ll always be totally different. I think it’s pretty cool to be able to look back and say: ‘That’s who I was then and that’s what that version of me sounded like,’ you know?

JJ: You mentioned recording in a cabin. One would almost expect that sort of rustic landscape to inspire a different sound, but you guys came out with these very tight, crisp, alternative synth-gems. How did that happen?

LS: I think it was just sort of a result of the songs we had previously written and the skillset of everyone within the cabin itself. Caleb has a really big background in hip-hop and pop––I mean he produced a Wu-Tang record. Ted has done a lot of work with Tegan and Sara and he’s really into synths, like Andrew and I. We were also listening to a lot of Little Dragon, Phantogram, and a few other bands as well.

I know Bon Iver recorded his first album, For Emma, Forever Ago, in a cabin and it sounds very much like something you’d make in that sort of environment, but we weren’t going in to make a folk album, so I think it was a pretty natural progression for us. [Laughs] We also did a lot of work at nighttime so when you think about it like that, it’s a bit more fitting.

JJ: In lieu of the way so many artists are now utilizing computers as viable instruments, it isn’t difficult to recognize the influence of technology on the sound of this time. What role has today’s technology played in shaping your sound?

LS: Technology has had a big effect on us. Growing up, Andrew and I were both pianists and played classical piano and jazz, but when we discovered synths that just opened up this whole new world of endless sonic space for us.

Now, with all of the technology that has become available, we’re just trying to go deeper and deeper and constantly challenge ourselves to create new sounds that we haven’t heard before.

JJ: How important is community in music, particularly at home here in Canada?

LS: Having a community in music is extremely important because you’re writing together, touring together, but most importantly you’re supporting each other. I think there is something idealistic about stowing away in your own studio and making something perfect all by yourself, but then there’s something a little more magical about the process of working with other people. It’s just such a waterfall of ideas and things that could have never existed if you weren’t all together in one room on that specific day.

JJ: You guys released your debut album, Guns, Sex & Glory, to much acclaim back in early 2012. You then hit the road across Canada and the U.S. for nearly 18 months. Touring, especially for extended periods of time, seems to be something bands are doing less and less these days. Talk a bit about that experience and why it was so important for you guys to play to new crowds every night.

LS: Yeah, we did quite a bit of touring during that time––it was awesome though. We made so many great connections and a lot of new fans. I think that for us as musicians and artists it was really important to do that because we were a pretty new band at that point and still sort of getting on our feet.

Touring is definitely the best way to figure out what you’re doing and hone in on everything sonically. There’s something about exposing what you’re doing in front of an audience that makes it so much clearer.

Sometimes you have a new song and you think it’s amazing but then you play it in front of a crowd and no one’s into it, so there’s something pretty honest in that exchange. [Laughs]

Beyond that, being on the road is a great place to draw from and in doing that you sort of become a little family. Andrew and I always joke that everything up to the three-week mark is great and then after that people start to lose their minds. It’s OK though because once you’ve jumped in headfirst you’re all sort of in it together.

JJ: Almost from the beginning you guys have toyed with the contrast between light and dark, which is not only incredibly human, but perhaps even more poignant in terms of what’s going on in the world today. Why does that duality speak to you guys on a musical level?

LS: It’s sort of just something that happened personality wise between Andrew and I. I tend to be a bit more bubbly and light and breezy, whereas he’s more of the brooding artist. As you said though, it’s human––most people have that sense of light and dark inside them.

I think when we’re writing we like to have a few layers to work with as well. If we’re going to write a song about mental health for example, we’re going to try and make it sound a bit more poppy because no one wants to hear a depressing song about such a heavy topic. Our song “Panic Attack” is like that––it’s really upbeat but it also tackles real stuff.

JJ: Being an artist of any kind in this day and age comes with a particularly unique set of challenges, perhaps the most obvious being this compulsion that so many feel to have to constantly produce content. That sort of pressure can really detract from the creative process. As a band, do you guys ever feel that pressure and how do you stay plugged into your craft?

LS: There’s a lot of pressure because people are outputting so much these days. Not necessarily albums, but singles, and at a much quicker frequency, so there is this anxiety about being forgotten. With so many people finding new music via playlists on Apple Music and Spotify, it’s easy to listen to a song you like, never checkout that artist’s album, and just move on; I think we’re all guilty of that in a way.

But, even though people’s attention spans are short and it can be daunting because everybody is fighting for something and it’s becoming harder and harder to be heard, it’s still exciting. The emphasis is really shifting back toward quality, and so we get to create more.

I think, as a band, we really just try to do what we can and make sure that the stuff we put out there is our best effort instead of posting every silly little thing. I mean, never in the middle of doing something awesome am I thinking: ‘Man, I really want to videotape this and post it on Instagram!’ [Laughs] I know it can be hard to operate that way, but honestly I think it’s just better for us to be present and do our best to focus on the music instead of on how to become social media superstars.

JJ: What motivates you guys as artists?

LS: Deep down it’s sort of like a weird instinct. We love making music and being creative––it fulfills us. It’s definitely a selfish act but we feel lucky that people want to share that with us. If we can make somebody else feel something by doing what comes naturally to us, that’s even better.

JJ: Talk about a record or artist that is close to your heart and why.

LS: I’m going to go with Crazy, Sexy, Cool by TLC. It was my first CD, and even though some of it wasn’t terribly appropriate for a seven-year-old, I’d go over to my friend’s house and we’d jump on the bed and sing along to it.

I loved Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and I’d always try to do her raps, even though they were impossibly fast. There were some really amazing songs on that record including “Waterfalls,” so it was definitely a special one for me.

JJ: Talk a bit about working with the National Music Centre, why the Artist In Residence program is so important for Canadian musicians, and what you have planned for your residency.

LS: NMC is like nothing else in North America. It’s such a unique library of music so for us to be invited over like: ‘Hey, why don’t you come out and play with our vintage synthesizers,’ that’s just really cool. Most museums don’t allow you to touch anything, so to be given the opportunity to work with their collection and create something new is so exciting.

We’re actually putting out an EP in March, and we’re also hoping to put out a full-length later in the year, so our plan is to basically spend our time sampling different instruments and creating as many sounds and hooks as we can come up with. We’re then going to take everything home, sort through it, and see what we can use for the album.

We’re also bringing our friend Derek DiFilippo along with us as well. He’s not in the band, but Andrew and I met him back in college. Derek is really tech savvy, knows how to operate a ton of synths, and is also an audio engineer, so he’ll be recording us and making sounds with us. We’re pretty excited to have him because we haven’t worked together in nine years!

About the Author

Juliette Jagger

Juliette Jagger is a Canadian music journalist. Her byline has appeared in such media outlets as The Huffington Post, Noisey, and This Week In Palestine. She currently is an editor here at Amplify, and is the creator of NMC’s ongoing interview series Origin Stories, which uncovers the stories behind hit songs. She is also associate editor of US-based outlet CelebrityAccess.

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