Q&A with Aaron Roche (12-13-09)
Aaron Roche is a husband, a singer-songwriter, and now, a composer. His latest record, which is expected to release towards the first few months of 2010, will demonstrate his brilliance on a whole new level. With the new record, Roche doesn’t abandon his singer/songwriter charm that we all fell in love with. Instead, he combines it with an orchestral side of him that you’ve yet to meet, but somehow always knew was there. Yeah, it’s interesting. But, that’s what’s going down. Roche is one of those rarities that every indie label would love to have on their roster. His songwriting is honest, eloquent, and now, very eccentric. “Schizophrenic,” in his words. His new, upcoming record, “Plainspeak” will do a number on you. It will lure you in with its mysterious noise and the minute Roche’s guitar comes in layered over his fluid vocals, you will be captivated. I can’t say enough about this man and what he’s doing. Today, Aaron is in the middle of a busy weekend in NYC playing a show with Ben + Vesper. In the middle of all that business, I had a chance to sit down with the man behind it all.
Blue Indian (Luke Goddard): Aaron! Happy to have you back, my friend. I always enjoy chatting with you, whether it’s via phone, email, MySpace, etc. How are you and the wife?
Aaron Roche: Whitni and I are doing well. We’re getting ready to head to Berkley for thanksgiving. Her brother is coming to town tonight and I think we’re gonna make a fort in the living room to welcome him.
BI: Cool. Other than the new record, what’s interesting in your life right now?
AR: Our local grocery store is a source of constant and baffling inspiration. It’s a Mexican food mart called “Maxi Foods.” Recently, I’ve been spending my afternoons roaming it’s aisles and investigating different Chile candies, piggy banks made to look like Disney characters, and all manner of Catholic paraphernalia. The other day, I helped this old guy in a wheelchair get some Fruity Pebbles off the top shelf of the cereal aisle. He was missing an arm but I noticed that he had a beautiful woman tattooed on his shoulder blade. He said “That’s my girlfriend Astrid, she’s making food after she gets off work, you wanna come eat with us?” I said “sure” so we went to the bus stop and I strapped him into his seat and we rode 20 minutes into the desert to his house where we ate Pupusas in the back yard which contained a beautiful white horse and a wolf named, Crespo.
BI: Wow. Haha.That’s so randomly awesome. Okay, let’s get straight to it. We want to talk to you about your new record. I think you’re on to something with “Plainspeak.” I mean, you’re sort of accessing a new territory musically here, right?
AR: I hope so. The first time we got together to record, I played a theremin for three hours straight in the dark. Luckily that idea got the axe pretty quickly but yeah lots of collaboration, lots of mistakes. Some pretty things, some grotesque things. Musically, I think it was fairly difficult to find a center which we were quite happy to discover.
BI: The record has some really interesting sounds. What exactly inspire the record sonically? Did you orchestrate each part musically?
AR: Sonically? I think the sounds seemed to be inspired by their own interactions, like chemicals not use to mixing company, or like going to a reunion of one sort or another; you know that you came from the same place a long long time ago but so much time has past that you barely recognize each other. My buddy Tim did most of the ensemble arrangements. There was a lot of collaboration for sure but he actually put pen to paper and charted everything out for the players. I cobbled together everything else.
BI: Well, huge accolades on this effort, Aaron. With a record so intricate in detail, the preparation for the record must have been rather extensive. Who did you collaborate with? And explain your choice for each collaborator.
AR: Konrad Snyder helped record a lot of it. He just finished running live sound for an Amy Grant tour and I thought, “this guy is perfect.” We used to be roommates in college and I called him up and said “we should make an album.” We found ourselves having conversations like “Konrad, can we make these guitars sound more like Torch of the Mystics?” and he would say,”Aaron you have no idea what you’re talking about. Here’s what worked for Vince Gill.” He was very good at keeping me honest. Tim Hinck was the main collaborator. He’s a composer, organist, and rock-climber. He pulled most of the classical ensemble together. The ensemble consisted of a lot of fine folks from the Chattanooga Symphony. William Tyler played some guitar. He plays in a lot of great bands around Nashville (Lambchop, Silver Jews, etc). His solo work (Paperhats) is really great. I had my friend Chris Davis (The Cherry Blossoms) come by to bow cymbals and play pickup sticks on a floor tom. My buddy Dan Burns played some drums as well. Sarah Masen Dark sang a bit. As far as preparation goes there really wasn’t much. I mean, we recorded a lot of the orchestral stuff live so that took a bit of planning i guess but otherwise it was pretty laid back.
BI: One of the great perks of running an indie music site is I get my hands on some brilliant stuff before it’s released. I feel like this is one of those situations. I truly feel honored. If not already, when will it be officially be released to the public?
AR: We’re still working all that out. My friend Megan Snowe is working with me on the art right now and Paul Oldham is mastering the record. I’m guessing it’ll be out by February/March with a tour to follow. We’re gonna play with different ensembles in different parts of the country, a wind ensemble here a brass band there so the logistics are a bit tricky but I’m really looking forward to it.
BI: Megan Snowe is awesome. I’ve been following her blog for a little bit now. Small world. So, you were sort of rushed into a new environment rather quickly– moving from TN to California so your wife could finish grad school. Then, suddenly, you kind of discovered your territory creatively. “Plainspeak” is so different from your previous efforts. Do you contribute this to living in California?
AR: Hmm…maybe I was missing the south a lot? In general though, I’m not sure these songs have any connection to place. There’s a bit of a world music thing going on I guess but I think for me the music conjures up images of places that don’t really exist, something closer to emotion maybe.
BI: Makes sense. Where did you record “Plainspeak”?
AR: Most of the album was recorded at St. Peter’s Episcopal church in Chattanooga and Konrad’s house in Nashville the rest was recorded in William’s House in Nashville and our house in Riverside.
BI: Obviously, there’s this sort of interesting blend of folk and classical music going on in “Plainspeak.” Is this something you’ve always wanted to do?
AR: Yeah, I think so. I really wanted to explore mixing sounds from different musical traditions without muting or encumbering them in any way. Their are plenty of examples of modern folk music incorporating elements of classical music but it seems that much of the time the orchestra plays a supporting textural role. Classical music too has made a long tradition of re-appropriating folk melodies for orchestral works. The results are usually quite good but this particular album seems to have been less about accommodation and more about a car crash or something.
BI: Aaron, would you be interested in having Asthmatic Kitty or some similar label release “Plainspeak”?
AR: I mean, i think there are alot of good labels out there and we’d be pleased to have it released by any one of them. We sent out pinyatas with records in them to a few labels that we like. I think a lot of all that is really out of our hands. I feel like this is a fairly schizophrenic album. The first track is a 6 minute tone poem followed by a pop song followed by noise followed by a fugue etc etc. We’ve made a real mess of it but I’m excited for it to find a good home.
BI: Speaking of labels like AK and Sounds Familyre, I thought Dan Smith did a great job producing mewithoutYou’s new record. Have you had a chance to listen to that?
AR: I haven’t heard of that no but i did hear Dan’s new single. I liked that.
BI: You still planning on doing an East coast Christmas choir tour? I must say that it was a real treat hearing you and your Christmas crew in Nashville early 2009.
AR: Oh thanks, yeah we’ll be back east this Christmas. Mostly just to visit family but we’ll be playing a couple shows in Philly and NYC. I think me and my brother may get matching tattoos over the holidays. Do you have any suggestions? I’m really scared because I can’t think of anything and I’m afraid I may default to Taz shooting hoops with Michael Jordan or something.
BI: [Laughs] I say you get tear drops like the rapper The Game on your face. Well, Aaron man, it’s be great talking to you. This will wrap it up.
AR: See you later alligator!!