By Jeff McAllister
If the term â€œsuper groupâ€ were still in vogue, it could well describe Rococode. Although the quirk-pop quartet from Vancouver just released its first album,Â Guns, Sex, Glory,Â on February 7, the members have toured among Canadian indie-rock royalty for years. Guitarist and vocalist Andrew Braun has played in Hannah Georgasâ€™ band; vocalist and keyboardist Laura Smith, with Dan Mangan. The bandâ€™s rhythm sectionâ€”bassist Shaun Huberts and drummer Johnny Andrewsâ€”is a direct transplant from Tegan and Sara. In fact, the group arenâ€™t just veterans to the touring life, Huberts wrote the book on itâ€”How to Pack Like a Rockstarâ€”the result of a successful Kickstarter project late last year.
â€œTegan and Sara have really hardcore fans,â€ says Andrew Braun in a phone interview. â€œThe kind that are interested in knowing what the people affiliated with their favorite band are up to. Weâ€™ve definitely benefitted from a lot from that.â€ He notes that many of these fans are also quick to judge, however, using the aforementioned bands as sonic standards for what Rococode should sound like. To read a review ofÂ Guns, Sex, Glory,Â one must sift through a slurry of Mother Mother comparisons. And although some seem justâ€”both bands mask dark subject matter behind upbeat melodies, and Ryan Guldemond co-produced the record, after allâ€”to call Rococodeâ€™s nuanced composition derivative of Mother Motherâ€™s saccharine sing-along style is to call prime rib and rump-steak an identical cut of meat.
â€œMusically, youâ€™re inevitably going to absorb some of the tendencies of the songs youâ€™ve been playing for years at a time,â€ says Braun. Â â€œBut where weâ€™ve really benefited is from being out there and meeting people. Not many people in an unknown band have the access to these industry types.â€ Braun grew up in Altona, Manitoba, far from the heart of the music industry. Although he was aware of the surge of talent coming out of the Winnipeg music sceneâ€”in part due to the myriad of grant programs available to the provinceâ€™s musiciansâ€”he was never part of it. Braun moved to Vancouver at 19 years old; a place where the bandâ€™s established base has been crucial in allowing it to stand out in Western Canadaâ€™s musical melting pot.
Braun thinks that game-changers like Youtube, Bandcamp and Tumblr may have postponed a bandâ€™s need to migrate to the big city, but certainly not eliminated it. â€œThere are more ways to get lucky and have that big spike. But you still need to be prepared to back that up [live].â€ The music industry has evolved beyond playing bars in order to get noticed, but one adage still remains true: â€œI think you still have to pay your dues, but probably in a different way,â€ he says.
These days, bands like Rococode are responsible for more than just writing, recording and touring. Thereâ€™s ordering and designing merch; dealing with managers, promoters, labels and press. Â â€œWeâ€™ll spend four to five hours on the computer sending emails and looking after the social media,â€ says Braun. â€œWeâ€™re finally playing songs together for the first time in a couple of months, yet it still feels like weâ€™ve been working full time.â€
These realities were hammered into Rococode during last yearâ€™s Peak Performance Projectâ€”a bootcamp for independent BC talentâ€”in which Rococode finished in the top 20. With a $100,000 payday at the end of the tunnel, there had been little time to rest.
Braun believes grant projects like Peak Performance are essential to fostering a music community. â€œItâ€™s hard to generate the startup cash it takes to run a band,â€ he says. â€œAt this point no one is making money on a tour, so youâ€™re already going out of your pocket just to be out on the road.â€ In an attempt to pay it forward, Rococode regularly donates time and music to charitable causesâ€”Sing it ForwardÂ andÂ Habitat for HumanityÂ being the most recent benefactors. â€œTo donate your fun of playing music for people really isnâ€™t that tough,â€ he says.
This spring, however, Rococode is occupied its own cause. On February 17 the band departed on a six-week Canadian tour, which includes a stop-over at Victoriaâ€™s Lucky Bar on April 6. After years of road-experience supporting some of Canadaâ€™s most impactful artists, Rococode is all lined up to leave imprints of its own.
Jeff McAllister is a regular contributor to Renegade Radio. Check out his blog atwearemosaic.ca