In Standard Definition

Art d'Ecco

In Standard Definition

Though his fondness for makeup and platform heels often gets him labeled as a glam rocker, Victoria, B.C., bon vivant Art d’Ecco isn’t so much about recapturing a particular early-’70s era as synthesizing myriad different ones, blurring the boundaries of genre as eagerly as he flouts definitions of gender. On his second proper album, In Standard Definition, d’Ecco’s speculative approach to rock history goes into hyperdrive: What if Plastic Ono Band put out a post-punk record in 1978? What if T. Rex’s Marc Bolan lived long enough to make glitzy '80s MTV hits? What if Sparks staged their late-career comeback with LCD Soundsystem instead of Franz Ferdinand? In Standard Definition’s parade of record-collector mash-ups are presented as discrete stations on a record centered around the theme of television and the many roles it plays in our lives: as a source of both amusement and obsession, and as a medium that both brings fantasies to life and destroys dreams. “It's an album about our relationship with entertainment,” d’Ecco tells Apple Music. “It's told through the point of view of creators—people who work in film or television or music—and it also comes from the perspective of consumers who are interacting with it. And then the third point of view comes from the characters within this world. So I thought, ‘This album does feel a bit like you're channel surfing on an old television.’” Here, d’Ecco supplies a track-by-track TV guide.
“Desires” “I was reading about the former Family Feud host Ray Combs, and how he had a head injury and tried to make a comeback, but he was sort of getting pushed out of this thing that he loved doing, and then he takes his own life. It’s such a tragic story. And around that same time, I had watched Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, which is based on a similar trope of the aging, out-of-touch film star who's being forced into retirement by the young guard. And I'm no spring chicken myself—I'm in my thirties. All of these things just swirled in my head, so I thought, let's start this record from the point of view of the entertainer who just can't let go, but needs to just go home and stay there.”
“TV God” “I was thinking of Iggy Pop's 'Sister Midnight'—these sort of grooves that are obviously not disco, but they're definitely not post-punk. They're somewhere in the middle where they fall on this sort of droning backbeat, and it's in that right tempo where it has a little bit of swagger. And then I combined that with that Plastic Ono Band slap-echoey John Lennon effect and round, warm bass tones—that whole kind of thing just stitched into this little pastiche in my brain. In terms of the most literal representation of the whole In Standard Definition concept, this one really sums it up: We are so obsessed with celebrities and entertainers—these people that are so godlike to us, and distract us from our boring, stressful, mundane lives. They're complete strangers, but they hold so much value to us. It's such a weird phenomenon to me.”
“Bird of Prey” “I had just met the woman who would become my fiancée, and we just started dating. And she said, 'I'm going to England for two weeks for my birthday with my mom,' and I house-sat for her. But we had only known each other for like a month or two, so I was just playing all these ’80s-sitcom-style scenarios in my head, like, how weird is it that I'm house-sitting at my new girlfriend's house, but she's sort of a complete stranger to me? She had this old dusty acoustic guitar in the corner, and she said, 'You better write a song for me for when I get back!' And 'Bird of Prey' kind of just flowed out through me.”
“Nothing Ever Changes” "The primordial soup of all of my inspiration comes from a collection of songs called Day Fevers that I released in 2016, and one of the songs on that album was a more traditional glammy song with acoustic and electric guitars, bass, and drums—it was almost like the demo to this. And I thought this version is the classic Hollywood remake of an old movie, and we're going to try and make it better. I spruced it up and we added the sparkly Human League synths. It's kind of a cold song about letting go and severing ties. Maybe it's our character from 'Desires' coming to terms with the fact that they must leave the business, or maybe it's about a relationship. Either answer is correct."
“I Am the Dance Floor” “I wanted to show more emotion, more dynamic range, and more bravado in my singing, and it manifests itself in this weird little dance-punk song. I was picturing a movie where the CBGB or the Max's Kansas City crowd storms the gates at Studio 54 and lays down the gauntlet. And I was literally playing out a situation in my head where, if you drive around Vancouver on a Friday night, you'll see these long lines of millennial kids waiting in the freezing cold without a jacket on, waiting to hear some ironic DJ play early-aughts Britney Spears hits. And I'm like, 'Oh, you just wait till I put on my motherfucking dancing outfit and just pass by all you little kids and go in there!' So it’s a mashing of those two worlds.”
“Head Rush” “I was thinking of being in my teens, working in a sweaty kitchen, and just discovering all these rock 'n' roll albums for the first time. I was having this kind of a sheer, blissful moment of 'remember that time?' And that memory felt like a feel-good summer teen movie to me, and so I was trying to write within that kind of trippy, gushy nostalgia. 'Head Rush' isn't about doing drugs, it's about the high of youth, and as you get older, you realize those special moments—the summer road trips, the bike rides to the movie theater—don’t come back, so to relive them in your brain as an edited perfect little memory is a form of naturally getting high. So I wanted to kind of write from that perspective, and throw in all of the clichéd hallmarks of a classic-rock radio song.”
“Channel 7 (Pilot Season)” “In the '80s, you had those TV guide channels, where the listings would just scroll from bottom to top and you had to wait for it to loop around and see what's on channel 13. And every once in a while it would cut to some ad—'come down to Bob's Steakhouse for $2.99!'—and then it'd go back to the Muzak playing. So I wanted to write a song that would play on that channel. And the 'Pilot Season' subtitle was just a way to capture the hopefulness and hopelessness of Vancouver actors who flock down to LA every January and February for pilot season. A lot of them experience that crushing blow of coming back home empty-handed, so I was thinking that would be a perfect little subtitle, just to add further context to the music.”
“In Standard Definition” “This one's pretty straightforward: It's from the perspective of two people who lie in bed with each other and tune in to something on TV. And then there's that time at night where your partner goes to sleep and that's the perfect opportunity for you to watch whatever you want. My fiancée will fall asleep to The Golden Girls, and while she's counting sheep, my way of dreaming is to put on some weird art-house film or some old documentary that would just put her to sleep all over again if she ever woke up. I know that a lot of people have that kind of dynamic in their relationship. It's very rare that two people are on board with the exact same taste.”
“Good Looks” “I was thinking of how the analog way of dating—'I'll introduce you to my friend, I think you'll like each other!'—or how certain ways of engaging in entertainment need not apply in the future. We've got technology that we can offload all of those things to—like, I can see whatever I want, whenever I want, and if I want to go on a date with someone who's got black hair and brown eyes and is 5'10", I can find that in this little app. And I just feel that you're leaving so much of the human experience on the table when you do that. I find the whole modern way of dating and meeting people to be a bit vapid and superficial, so I wanted to take a shot at that.”
“The Message” “This is probably the most frantic and weird and internal that I get on the album. It's a little bit to do with tour life, and how it can make you feel like an alien in outer space—like, ‘Where the fuck am I again?' And to ground yourself, you flip on a TV to see what the local news is saying, or what the weather is—just give me some sort of feeling of familiarity. And sometimes in those frantic dog days of the tour, I feel so disconnected from myself. The light's on upstairs, but there's nobody home. I'm trying to have a conversation with my sense of self and there's a disconnect.”
“Channel 11 (Reruns)” “If you listen to the title track and then go to this song, you'll notice that when the droning, pulsating synthesizer takes over, it's playing a reprise of the 'In Standard Definition' bassline. So instead of calling it a reprise, I call it a 'rerun.' But I was also picturing those ’90s adventure movies like Jurassic Park, where you get the big, sweeping, symphonic brass section. And I wanted it to represent the Jekyll and Hyde quality of the organic elements on the album—the brass and violins and pianos and Rhodes and acoustic guitars—and the cold, harsher synthesizer elements.”
“I Remember” “John Lennon's solo stuff was my focal point here. We borrowed [New Pornographers member and wife of In Standard Definition co-producer Colin Stewart] Kathryn Calder's really beautiful old acoustic guitar, and the strings are so rusted and old and worn-out—it's a tone that I've never used before, but combined with the really light tapping on the drums, it just sort of winds down the listening experience. And I brought in some players from the Victoria Symphony Orchestra, and they were great on the outro with that sweeping melody. This song just sounds like the ending credits to an old movie to me. It was a nice little touching moment sonically to gift-wrap the whole concept together.”

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