No longer interested in trying to shock the world, Art d'Ecco drops the mask and gets comfortable in his own skin

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      By Yasmine Shemesh

      When Tears for Fears recorded 1989’s The Seeds of Love, the synth-pop duo was seeking maximalism. Co-founders Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith brought on a sprawling crew of personnel, including Phil Collins, to realize an ambitious production vision that cost over £1 million. Smith was quoted as saying they wanted something “more colourful, something that sounded big and warm.” It was expensive, excessive, and elicited one of the most important pop songs of the 1980s: the psychedelic epic “Sowing the Seeds of Love.”

      Art d’Ecco knows the obsession for technical perfection well. When something piques his interest, he immerses completely, a keen student until he becomes a master. So, when the Victoria-based artist decided for his latest studio album, After the Head Rush, he would seek out maximalism—something big, bright, and sparkly like Bob Clearmountain’s ’80s Tears for Fears productions—he dove in head-first. He had been studying new studio techniques during the pandemic, researching albums that he liked, and realized that a lot of these albums were recorded at Vancouver’s Little Mountain Studios, now called Hipposonic.

      “I’m a bit of a tone chaser and I like to make a pastiche and a collage of different sounds and areas,” d’Ecco tells the Straight from his home over Zoom. “I’m not trying to be a revivalist, but I’m so fascinated with the old means of production that I want to see if I can run my creativity through that.”

      One of the keys to the maximalism universe? Big drums. d’Ecco wanted to get that distinguishing sound Clearmountain achieved by setting up microphones in Little Mountain’s loading bay, adjacent to the drums, for records like Bryan Adams’ landmark, Reckless. d’Ecco asked Hipposonic’s studio owner if the technique was still doable. It was. You can hear it reverberating in the glam-stomp of “Only Ones” and building in intensity as saxophones and synths wind through “Palm Slave.”

      d’Ecco’s discovery of rock music, as a teenager growing up in Victoria, changed the trajectory of his life. Before that, he was well-versed in Beethoven and Bach—he didn’t relate to the mainstream pop of the ‘90s and the classical records were the only ones that didn’t get damaged when the family moved from Ottawa to Vancouver Island.

      “We’d always put on records and it was this fascinating thing, the turntable and these big black disks and the pops and the crackles,” d’Ecco remembers.

      But when d’Ecco was 16, he got a job in a restaurant kitchen. His co-workers—“hard, rough-around-the-edges guys, but this warm gang of misfits that big-brothered me”—had a collection of CDs on rotation, including the Who, Queen, Bowie.

      “When, suddenly, someone’s like, ‘Here’s this golden treasure chest, here’s the key,’ and you discover it all at once? It’s hair-raising, goosebump-inducing,” d’Ecco shakes his head. “The melodies just melted my brain.”

      Perhaps it’s why moving back home affected d’Ecco so deeply. He left in his late teens to pursue music and lived in Vancouver during his 20s, establishing himself as an enigmatic and avant-garde musical chameleon, in a costume—pageboy wig and glamorous makeup—that played with image and aesthetic much like his musical heroes. d’Ecco self-released his debut, Day Fevers, and two studio albums, 2018’s Trespasser and 2021’s In Standard Definition, on Paper Bag Records.

      In the midst of all that, d’Ecco met a woman, moved to Sidney, on the edge of the Saanich Peninsula, and got engaged. The relationship didn’t survive the pandemic and d’Ecco found himself back in Victoria. The creative impact was immediate.

      “I started seeing all these triggers—positive ones, like, ‘that’s where I used to drink with my friends in a parking lot on a Friday night.’ And you just have all these memories bubble up to the surface. There’s these two kinds of things happening: present tense and past tense all at the same time, like a freight train.”

      The dialogues on After the Head Rush—carefree exuberance versus what d’Ecco calls the realization he’s an “aging indie rocker in an industry obsessed with image and youth”—lends a cheeky self-awareness to the record. The “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”-like swing of “Get Loose” captures the sweet excitement of first love (“I can’t believe we made it here, it’s happening tonight”). Elsewhere, “Midlife Crisis” sonically personifies mounting anxiety as squealing instruments create a sense of impending doom, the lyrics cleverly addressing d’Ecco’s debut with the line, “Day Fevers was an album of mine so long ago/I can’t even pick it up off the ground.”

      The singer notes he was inspired by writers like the Cars frontman Ric Ocasek who didn’t get famous until their 30s.

      ”A lot of the Cars’ hits are written from the perspective of this guy who’s an outsider,” d’Ecco says. “He feels way too old to be in this young person’s game of rock and roll. And I felt like I related. But there needs to be a tongue-in-cheek element to it. Otherwise it’s like, ‘who fucking cares, man? Get over it, we’re all getting old.’ There is a wink throughout the album. There’s nothing ‘woe is me’ about this. I’m writing from a pretty honest place.”

      It makes sense then that, for the first time in a long time, d’Ecco is without wig and makeup. As he faces himself—past, present, and future—he is bare, raw, in his own skin.

      His previous form of expression, d’Ecco says, was a rebellion against this “masculine, laissez-faire, jeans and T-shirt, stubble-faced bro look.” But, with more fans asking about his sexuality and identity, d’Ecco realized times have changed.

      “I’m like, wait a minute, now, I really am the fraud here because I’m a cisgender heterosexual male,” he says. “That’s not transgressive. Who the fuck am I to try and shock people? This isn’t 1975 anymore. It’s time to change and evolve.

      "And that’s why I decided to—” he pulls down an imaginary mask. “And so I did.” 

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