Mu­sic Art d’ecco is mak­ing his own myths

The Georgia Straight - - Music - By

Mike Usinger

In a tes­ta­ment to his bril­liant, on­go­ing ex­er­cise in myth­mak­ing, one has to se­ri­ously won­der where ex­actly Art d’ecco is when he’s reached by phone on a rainy West Coast fall af­ter­noon.

His of­fi­cial story is he’s en­sconced in a cabin in a re­mote coastal lo­ca­tion that he has no in­ter­est in re­veal­ing. The clos­est he’ll get to dis­cussing his co­or­di­nates is cit­ing one of Bri­tish Columbia’s lush and mag­i­cal Gulf Is­lands.

“The fog is rolling in off the ocean—i can see it through the trees,” d’ecco says mys­ti­cally. “It’s a shin­ing prewin­ter fall day that’s also, I dunno, like some­thing from a weird dreary Pa­cific North­west nurs­ery mys­tery novel.”

Con­sider this the lat­est page in a story he’s spent the past few years writ­ing. His back story in­cludes flee­ing Van­cou­ver years ago to hole up in a sprawl­ing is­land home to care for an ail­ing grand­mother, the rel­a­tive soli­tude giv­ing him am­ple time to in­vent the char­ac­ter that would be­come ana­logue-ob­sessed rocker Art d’ecco. And what a great char­ac­ter that cre­ation is, all page­boy hair, grease­paint-and-rouge makeup, and Rod­ney Bin­gen­heimer fash­ion cues—right down to the retina-sear­ing flares and plat­form shoes.

The per­sona brings to mind Let­ter­man-ap­pear­ance Crispin Hel­lion Glover, Blue Vel­vet’s candy-coloured­clown-lov­ing Ben, and ev­ery glam, goth, and metal rock star who’s ever caked on ghost-white Cele­bré PRO-HD Cream Makeup. And if that doesn’t ex­actly line up with re­al­ity, d’ecco isn’t overly wor­ried. All the bet­ter if peo­ple want to imag­ine him hit­ting the lo­cal co-op or jog­ging along the roads of Saturna, Salt­spring, Gabri­ola, Mudge, Mayne, or Pen­der Is­land (go ahead and guess which one) in space-suit sil­ver shorts and gold lamé boots

“At this point in the game, it’s very on brand to kind of blur the lines,” he says be­mus­edly. “The more the echo cham­ber writes ab­surd things about me, the more I don’t cor­rect it.”

That d’ecco has a flair for the dra­matic dur­ing the in­ter­view process won’t shock any­one who’s heard his crazily ac­com­plished new re­lease, Tres­passer, a record, it should be noted, that so­lid­i­fied his long trans­for­ma­tion from one­time Van­cou­ver in­die-scene bit player to ’70s-ber­lin ob­ses­sive.

Be­cause of the way that d’ecco looks, he’s been slapped with the glam la­bel more than once, which, to be fair, fits as a de­scrip­tor for the stomp­ing “Last in Line” and the ghost-of­ma­jor-tom reverie “The Hunted”.

But to sug­gest that Tres­passer plants its flag in one genre does the al­bum a mas­sive dis­ser­vice. “Joy” is clas­sic ’60s pais­ley pop shot up with Je­sus and Mary Chain dis­tor­tion, “Mary” sweet­ens bubblegum rock with re­gal cham­ber-pop strings, and “Dark Days (Re­vis­ited)” jumps head­first into the cold, black wa­ters of clas­sic goth. Through it all, d’ecco sings in an often gauzy, pleas­antly oth­er­worldy voice that sug­gests a kin­ship with the Mcdon­ald brothers from Redd Kross.

The seeds of Tres­passer were planted long ago. Born in Ot­tawa, d’ecco moved around a lot as a kid, his fam­ily spend­ing time in the States and even­tu­ally set­tling in Vic­to­ria. Piano lessons and clas­si­cal mu­sic were part of his child­hood from age six.

D’ecco got a crash course in pop and rock in his teens, while work­ing as a line cook in res­tau­rant kitchens where the ra­dio was con­stantly on. Later, he’d get to know Van­cou­ver in­die-scene stal­wart Ja­son Cor­bett— who cur­rently fronts the dark-wave out­fit Ac­tors—when his sis­ter be­gan dat­ing him. Cor­bett would turn him on to game-chang­ing gi­ants like David Bowie and Iggy Pop.

D’ecco even­tu­ally joined one of Cor­bett’s ear­lier bands, Speed to Kill, and while he was happy to be play­ing mu­sic, he wasn’t happy as a sup­port player. He spent time in Van­cou­ver do­ing nowhere bar­tend­ing jobs, drink­ing too much, and slid­ing into bouts of self-doubt and de­pres­sion.

“Even­tu­ally, peo­ple and your friends come out less and less to your shows,” d’ecco re­lates. “It’s harder to get peo­ple in­ter­ested, and you lose steam. And you de­velop this ass­hole jad­ed­ness. The straw that broke the camel’s back was that I was at a wed­ding in Palm Springs, 27 or 28 years old, and ev­ery­one was do­ing so fuck­ing well. And I was the big­gest loser at the ta­ble. It was like, ‘Oh, he plays in a band.’ And I was like, ‘I do, but do I re­ally?’”

So d’ecco’s fa­ther—rec­og­niz­ing that his son was go­ing nowhere fast—came up with a plan. It in­volved the singer mov­ing to a house in the Gulf Is­lands to care for his ail­ing grand­mother, who was liv­ing with de­men­tia. His care­giv­ing role let him fo­cus on mu­sic, which he’s al­ways ex­celled at.

“I don’t know if it’s ADD just ap­plied in the right man­ner, but when it comes to mu­sic and learn­ing an in­stru­ment or learn­ing how to write songs, or learn­ing how to do mu­sic pro­duc­tion, I lit­er­ally have to re­mind my­self to eat food,” he says.

First, in 2016, came a genre-jump­ing, won­der­fully weird solo de­but ti­tled Day Fevers, notable to­day partly for the way that the singer looks on the cover—trimmed beard, short hair, and mir­rored sun­glasses.

Tres­passer builds fan­tas­ti­cally on the idio­syn­cra­sies of that de­but. early-’80s MTV gen­er­a­tion did and putting weird, an­drog­y­nous pieces into this aes­thetic that crosses into pop cul­ture.” Af­ter record­ing the demos for Day Fevers

with only a piano and an iphone, d’ecco be­gan in­vest­ing in record­ing and mu­si­cal equip­ment for the fol­lowup, in­clud­ing vin­tage synths.

“I was cre­at­ing in a vac­uum, with­out any out­side in­ter­fer­ence,” he says of writ­ing and tweak­ing Tres­passer’s songs in a cabin off the grid. “I couldn’t just check out and go for cof­fee with my girl­friend down the street.”

Not sur­pris­ingly, given the slav­ing he did over the songs, it’s the lit­tle things that often stand out on Tres­passer, from the dou­ble-re­verbed gui­tars and retro sax solo in “Never Tell” to the John Car­pen­ter synth spook­i­ness in the wraith­like “Who Is It Now?” to the Peter Hook–brand bass line in “Tres­passer”.

His meta­mor­pho­sis would be com­plete af­ter he dis­cov­ered a wig in a Vic­to­ria mall. To­day, the singer un­der­stands he comes on as fix­ated on a time he never knew, mak­ing him some­thing of an out­lier at a point in his­tory when hip-hop rules the charts and the in­die trenches are filled with acts cut from the same post-slacker fab­ric.

“We don’t need an eight-mil­lionth Mac Demarco lite com­ing through the in­die-rock chan­nel, or Ar­cade Fire with big woah-woah cho­ruses,” d’ecco says. “By the way, I love both those bands. But that’s now done—as soon as you’ve caught that light­ning in a bot­tle, there’s no need for some­one else to do it. Be­ing dif­fer­ent and march­ing to the beat of your own drum should be the only pivot point by which an artist goes.”

There are days (most of them, ac­tu­ally) on what­ever re­mote is­land he’s liv­ing on when Art d’ecco isn’t don­ning the page­boy wig.

“It’s great, be­cause you could walk right by me on the street and not even know that it’s me,” he says.

As he con­tin­ues to write his story, though, he’s al­ways Art d’ecco in­side.

“For years, I chased some­thing that wasn’t there,” he ad­mits proudly. “All it took was some in­tro­spec­tion and self­ac­tu­al­iza­tion to put some­thing into gear that was hon­est.”

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