Chris LaRocca is really into authenticity. The notion of being true to yourself continually comes up throughout our 45-minute conversation as something that Chris deems as "extremely important" to him in the music he makes, the image he portrays, the experience he wants to offer at his live shows, and even the artists he favours: "I saw Coldplay perform recently, and Chris Martin just seemed like such a real dude, not one of those typical celebrities. At one point he even started a song over because he had a piece of confetti in his mouth or something. That was inspiring," he laughs.
It's a quirky thing to be inspired by, which is fitting considering Chris' music career thus far has been pretty unconventional. Originally from Kleinburg, Ontario, Chris cut his teeth over years in Toronto's DIY music scene as part of indie band Elos Arma. The group had modest success, performing throughout the States and throwing their own shows and festivals in the city, even bringing in bands from overseas to play a few times. It was a process that Chris was heavily involved in and that would provide invaluable experience for his future: "Although it was a different genre of music, it really opened by eyes to the fact you can do this on your own," he shares. "It's a lot of time, effort and money, of course, but it can be done."
The business smarts aren't the only thing he took away from his time with Elos Arma, as it was during his tenure with the band that he started dabbling in the world of hardware and production, using what he dubs a "Frankenstein" setup consisting of an ancient microKORG, a discontinued Roland SP-404 and a handheld field recorder—no computer at all. "I was recording demos into that thing that I would have to do in one take," he laughs, but once he got his hands on a proper computer and Ableton, he was off to the races: "It was a game-changer opening it up and learning about things like automation. I was obsessed with making beats at that point; I would say it took me eight months or so to get really comfortable, which is pretty quick, but it really was the only thing I was doing."
His first solo project was Sextape—we even premiered his "As If" video here on Complex a few years back—but that commitment to authenticity eventually caught up to him. "People started calling me 'Sextape' and it just felt so contrived and I felt pressured to stick to a certain image," he says. "All the artists I love and look up to are real, and I realized I wanted to follow that path." He may have since ditched the suggestive moniker for something a bit more sustainable and—you guessed it—authentic, but LaRocca kept (and refined) all the elements that made that first solo project a smash: smooth, sexy, synth-heavy new-school R&B on which LaRocca's show-stopping falsetto and infectious melodies take centre stage. Chris and his co-producer Herag Sanbalian have honed in on a style and sound that works, and people are taking notice.
LaRocca is on a bit of a wave the last few months after releasing his Voila EP in August and then attending Red Bull's Bass Camp in Montreal last month, an experience he calls "life-changing" for a number of reasons: "As an artist you always think you’re not at the same level as everyone else. I was a little intimidated to go; I knew so many people there and had heard their music. But after meeting them all, we all got on really well, and I discovered that most people there were thinking the same thing."
The standout moment of the weekend for Chris was a lecture with Beverly Glenn-Copeland. The classically-trained musician was born a woman, and spent 25 yers as a regular on Mr. Dressup writing music for children. He waited until he was out of the public eye to transition to male, and captivated Bass Camp attendees with his lecture about the power of patience, and living your truest life. It was a message that (perhaps unsurprisingly) struck a chord with Chris: "When I got home I didn't leave my home studio and I wrote two songs that were inspired by the things he said," Chris shares. "I took some music classes in university and his name had come up, but I didn’t know his backstory. What a beautiful story it is. It was cool to see that whole other layer that I never knew; it added so much depth to what I knew of him as an artist already and it was really, really awesome."
Chris just released the visual for "Roses," the lead single from Voila (watch it above), and is already sitting on about 17 demos that will go toward a full-length album. He admits that he has had some label interest, but for now he's more than happy to stick to his DIY roots: "Labels will come with these way-too-long and way-too-scary contracts, and it just seems way too corporate for me. I love that I can do everything myself; it's a cooler vibe and much more authentic." While he's sitting on a lot of material, for now he's enjoying the journey with the EP, and will look into hitting the road for a tour and some festivals in the new year. His next live performance happens tomorrow night, October 19, as part of Red Bull Sound Select's #3DaysinTO series. Chris will join a l l i e, DJ's Nino Brown and Dre Ngozi, and headliners Majid Jordan for the affair that will kick off the three-day concert series.
He'll be performing some cuts from Voila, but other than that Chris is going with the flow when it comes to his live performance: "When I see an artist perform and their natural personality comes out—that's what I love. I don't like when things seem too contrived or expected, or when it feels like there's some weird script they are following." And as with everything he does, he'll be keeping authenticity at the forefront: "I like to see the person behind the music, so I use that as a reminder to do that myself. We're also living in a day and age where there's not only your music but there's also this online impression of you, but when you're live you should let your audience know who you are as person and that you're not too out of reach. We’re all in this together."