ABOVE: ROCOCODE. IMAGE COURTESY OF ROBYN JAMIESON
In a musical milieu in which “pop music” often functions as an epithet, Vancouver four-piece Rococode doesn’t shy away from the moniker. The band’s satirically titled first album Guns, Sex, and Glory is a kind of love song to itself. Equal parts sophisticated, uptown, polished, pop princess and downtown, grunge prince, the record is a seemingly mismatched couple that brings out the best in—well, itself, placing more approachable, pop-driven songs beside darker offerings without compromising either’s authenticity. A romantic comedy-ready “Empire” offers relief from eerier “Ghost,” and vocalist Laura Smith’s voice is both earnest and evocative—sweet as candy, with a little bit of bite. Andrew Braun’s vocal offerings fall somewhere between a wail and a whisper—earnest restraint easily roused by the record’s more aggressive tracks.
The western Canadian darlings made a splash at last week’s Sled Island music festival, performing two shows to the most enthusiastic crowds we’d see until Feist’s closing set. Currently in its seventh year, Sled Island falls somewhere in between a Canadian music festival and a music festival in Canada. Luckily for us, Rococode traversed the 12 hours of mountainous terrain between Vancouver and Calgary to enlighten us on the Canadian music scene and provide a sneak peek of the video for “Ghost I / Ghost II.” The songs represent a kind of liminal space on the album—separated into two separate tracks on the record but filmed together as one video. We premiere the video today, in which a diminutive Smith inherits a reverse-Midas touch, turning everything she touches to sand in this sepia-toned tragedy.
AMANDA DUBERMAN: I really like this album. I underestimated how long my flight was and only added this to my iPod, and listened to it over and over again. How did you meet?
ANDREW BRAUN: We went to music school together. We were sort of locked away in these jazz practice rooms hating our lives.
LAURA SMITH: Practicing bebop scales.
BRAUN: Generally having a horrible time of it.
DUBERMAN: Were you her TA or something?
BRAUN: I did grade some music history papers of hers.
DUBERMAN: How did she do?
BRAUN: Like, a B? I think she’s still holding a grudge.
SMITH: A little bit.
BRAUN: Yeah, I guess I wasn’t too impressed with it. So there was some overlap in some classes, and we started hanging out, and eventually I played in her band when she was working as a solo artist. I guess I just kept creeping in to what was going on more and more, and we decided we should write songs together, do the back-and-forth thing. The other guys, Johnny [Andrews] and Shaun [Hubert] I met playing a wedding. None of us are really very capable jazz musicians, but we were playing background music at weddings.
SMITH: It’s easy to fake it.
DUBERMAN: I guess people are generally already really happy, or drunk at weddings.
BRAUN: Exactly. Very easy to please. So we all really hit it off. At the time, they were really busy, and we were doing other things. When it was time to make this record, me and Laura had kind of set off on our own. We called them up and asked them to play on the record and they were more than happy to do it. They got more and more involved and the rest is the band, I guess.
DUBERMAN: The record came out in February. Did you guys rally to put it together or was it more of a slow burn?
BRAUN: Very slow. It was mastered about 11 months before it came out.
DUBERMAN: Are you sick of it yet?
BRAUN: Well I haven’t actually listened to it in a long time, so there are still some fresh bits in there.
SMITH: I still like it!
DUBERMAN: You don’t shy away from calling your music pop music, or calling it accessible. What is “pop music” to you guys, and what about that idea were you trying to achieve on this album?
SMITH: Andrew and I, being the songwriters, love pop music. Not necessarily Top 40 pop music. I think there’s a lot more to pop than just sugarcoated indie pop. Maybe to me it’s something that’s accessible, catchy, something people can remember. Then it’s nice to put it to the rock, to get a little more grimy and grungy.
BRAUN: I think what one of or main goals is to take really basic elements, like in the song “Empire,” which is as straightforward as it can be…
DUBERMAN: Mark my words, that song will be in a rom-com. Probably during the “guy gets girl back” phase.
BRAUN: Totally! Sign us up. We did our best with that song in particular to take this really basic four-chord song and twist and turn it into something that had a little bit more of an edge to it, with some surprise here and there. I think that’s a bit of our MO, to take really simple things and kind of fuck them up a bit.
DUBERMAN: Is the album title ironic? I saw the title and fully expected to see four tatted-up, threatening looking people. That’s not the case, if I may say so.
BRAUN: Total irony. The line from the song is “guns, sex, and glory / it all gets boring.” We’re talking about so many big things on the record, we decided to just go for it. It’s kind of been a mixed response.
SMITH: People are like, “What are they going for? What is this?” But we’re not that badass.
BRAUN: Yeah, we’re none of those things.
DUBERMAN: As far as I could tell, there isn’t any one specific type of subject matter that is emphasized, but there is a center of gravity to the album. I’m wondering how you would describe that connective tissue.
BRAUN: In this collection of songs it’s definitely, across the board, relating to the bigger things in the world as opposed to a story or a personal experience. The songs are up to four or five years old, which is kind of a luxury to have on the first record, because you can go back and amend them to fit the nature of the record. There’s a really vast time period in which they were all written, so there’s no intentional idea. But we definitely noticed the recurring subject matter of big things going on, big changes in the world and in life in general.
DUBERMAN: Given that some of the songs are five years old, how do you approach songwriting differently now, being in a totally different space?
SMITH: Things are definitely a lot different now. Before we just had a collection of songs, we weren’t really Rococode when we started. No one knew what Rococode was “supposed” to sound like. Now we have a sound and we have a good idea of what we want to create and the type of songs we want to present to people. I think it’s really exciting, actually.
DUBERMAN: What do you foresee that evolution being like?
SMITH: We have some new material now. It’s a little bit darker, a bit heavier, a bit more rock-‘n-roll.
DUBERMAN: You set the bar high with this first record title, I don’t know how you’re going to come up with something more rock-‘n-roll than that.
BRAUN: Maybe we’ll have to go in the other direction this time, call it “Kittens and Ponies” or something. It’s definitely fun to have a vessel for writing, though. For me, it makes it easier. Otherwise I’m half-finishing things forever and then throwing them away.
DUBERMAN: So is that generally how you approach writing? Coming up with bits and pieces and assembling them later?
BRAUN: I think Laura and I are both pretty different in that regard. Sometimes Laura will come home from work, and I’ll have a fully orchestrated demo that didn’t exist that morning. Other times, we’ll pick away at something, an idea, that has some legs for a long time. It varies from song to song.
SMITH: I write [in] a little more fragmented [way].
DUBERMAN: Is music full-time for you guys?
SMITH: Unfortunately not. We’re getting there, though.
DUBERMAN: Can you talk about ” Ghost I” and “Ghost II”? Why make it two songs?
BRAUN: The song started off as what is now “Ghost II.” It was a much longer song. I think it was the chorus of another song that was a big meandering mess. When we were working with our producer/collaborator [Ryan Guldemond of Mother Mother], he wasn’t really into the rest of it, even though Laura and I were really excited about it at the time.
DUBERMAN: Do you ever play that bit live, though?
BRAUN: No, it’s in the trashcan. I tried to resurrect it at one point. But we kind of just stripped it down to its strength.
SMITH: Ryan came up with that beautiful, picking guitar part.
BRAUN: Then “Ghost “I was a different song altogether. That had its own meandering journey that was not really meant to be, I guess. It seemed to just fit together. I’m not sure when we decided that it should be two separate tracks or what the reasoning was. We shot the video for both of them.
DUBERMAN: And presumably you perform those in order?
BRAUN: Usually, but not all the time. Sometimes we skip the first part. If it’s a loud club, it sucks to be up there trying to be all sensitive and tender.
DUBERMAN: Especially when people came to see “guns, sex, and glory.”
DUBERMAN: Can you tell me about the video for “Ghost I / Ghost II”?
SMITH: Our bass player, Shaun, came up with the treatment for “Ghost I / Ghost II.” He and a friend came up with the concept for it.
BRAUN: It’s pretty cool. Laura turns me to sand.
SMITH: I’m really sad, because I have a Midas touch, but I turn everything to sand. I totally kill him.
DUBERMAN: Too bad you can’t recreate that on stage. Maybe a couple years from now.
BRAUN: We’ll install a trap door on the stage, and I can just dissolve. Hopefully we’ll have that type of budget soon.
DUBERMAN: Have you toured the US?
BRAUN: Not yet. It’s so much red tape and paperwork. We’re definitely getting down there. We have some stuff in the US on the east coast at the end of August. It’s always daunting for Canadian bands to delve into that market. It’s kind of safe here.
SMITH: There’s so many good American bands. And there’s so many more people listening.
DUBERMAN: There are so many good American bands. But what’s been cool about this festival, is everyone I’ve talked to, mostly from the States, isn’t interested in seeing many of them. Everyone has been really eager to see Canadian bands, or bands they couldn’t normally see.
BRAUN: That’s great. I think that’s the general idea of the festival.
DUBERMAN: What’s the biggest compliment someone could pay you?
SMITH: That’s an interesting question.
BRAUN: Musically, or generally in life?
SMITH: Well Ryan from Mother Mother helped us produce the record. He helped us hone in on our band and he supported us so much, and that’s always such a big compliment, to have someone so talented to be so generous and supportive of what we’re doing.
BRAUN: I think maybe the best and greatest compliment is when someone wants to collaborate with you.
DUBERMAN: You guys seem like real “actions speak louder” people.
BRAUN: Words are great too, but…
SMITH: When someone really respects and admires us as musicians to the extent that they want to work with us, it’s really flattering.
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