By Jeff McAllister
If the term “super group” were still in vogue, it could well describe Rococode. Although the quirk-pop quartet from Vancouver just released its first album, Guns, Sex, Glory, on February 7, the members have toured among Canadian indie-rock royalty for years. Guitarist and vocalist Andrew Braun has played in Hannah Georgas’ band; vocalist and keyboardist Laura Smith, with Dan Mangan. The band’s rhythm section—bassist Shaun Huberts and drummer Johnny Andrews—is a direct transplant from Tegan and Sara. In fact, the group aren’t just veterans to the touring life, Huberts wrote the book on it—How to Pack Like a Rockstar—the result of a successful Kickstarter project late last year.
“Tegan and Sara have really hardcore fans,” says Andrew Braun in a phone interview. “The kind that are interested in knowing what the people affiliated with their favorite band are up to. We’ve definitely benefitted from a lot from that.” 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 of Guns, Sex, Glory, one must sift through a slurry of Mother Mother comparisons. And although some seem just—both bands mask dark subject matter behind upbeat melodies, and Ryan Guldemond co-produced the record, after all—to call Rococode’s nuanced composition derivative of Mother Mother’s saccharine sing-along style is to call prime rib and rump-steak an identical cut of meat.
“Musically, you’re inevitably going to absorb some of the tendencies of the songs you’ve been playing for years at a time,” says Braun. “But where we’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.” 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 scene—in part due to the myriad of grant programs available to the province’s musicians—he was never part of it. Braun moved to Vancouver at 19 years old; a place where the band’s established base has been crucial in allowing it to stand out in Western Canada’s musical melting pot.
Braun thinks that game-changers like Youtube, Bandcamp and Tumblr may have postponed a band’s need to migrate to the big city, but certainly not eliminated it. “There are more ways to get lucky and have that big spike. But you still need to be prepared to back that up [live].” The music industry has evolved beyond playing bars in order to get noticed, but one adage still remains true: “I think you still have to pay your dues, but probably in a different way,” he says.
These days, bands like Rococode are responsible for more than just writing, recording and touring. There’s ordering and designing merch; dealing with managers, promoters, labels and press. “We’ll spend four to five hours on the computer sending emails and looking after the social media,” says Braun. “We’re finally playing songs together for the first time in a couple of months, yet it still feels like we’ve been working full time.”
These realities were hammered into Rococode during last year’s Peak Performance Project—a bootcamp for independent BC talent—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. “It’s hard to generate the startup cash it takes to run a band,” he says. “At this point no one is making money on a tour, so you’re already going out of your pocket just to be out on the road.” In an attempt to pay it forward, Rococode regularly donates time and music to charitable causes—Sing it Forward and Habitat for Humanity being the most recent benefactors. “To donate your fun of playing music for people really isn’t that tough,” 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 Victoria’s Lucky Bar on April 6. After years of road-experience supporting some of Canada’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