Behind the Beat is a new editorial and podcast series managed by Executive Director Brontë Cook. Throughout the series, she will interview various musicians about their lives, their relationship with music and their views of the world.
In this first installment, she speaks with Aaron Rizzo, a singer-songwriter, music engineer and producer who graduated from Ithaca College in 2019. Throughout the last few years, he has released various solo and group projects and plans to release an album this winter. Listen to the podcast version on Spotify or Podbean.
Brontë Cook: So, first, I would love to hear a bit about you, your background and who you are.
Aaron Rizzo: Sure! Well, I grew up around a lot of amazing music. I'm a huge fan of music from the 80s. My dad was always playing it around the house when I was growing up. Interestingly enough, when I was that age, I hated the music he played. Tears for Fears, Duran Duran, all bands like that. I hated it at the time, but now it’s my favorite kind of music.
I went through a bit of a confusion period in high school, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do. Oddly enough, I was thinking about going to the military for a little bit, and then I had this just epiphany moment, ‘Why the hell would I do that?’
I made the shift into music. I had always done it but, late high school, I got very serious with it.
I decided to get into recording. I fell in love with IC the second I stepped on campus. I ended up going there for [sound recording technology]. Sophomore year, I put out my first solo project. I'd been in bands all through high school and just throughout my life in general, but the first time doing anything by myself was in college. We just played and played and played and played, toured on it — the whole thing. That was a repeating cycle until now, obviously, when the quarantine hit. Now, I work in Syracuse at a recording studio. I'm also producing for a lot of people. I want to do everything I can to try everything in the music world.
BC: You recently started a new project called CANDY. Can you tell me a bit about that?
AR: My best friend growing up, his name is Lorenzo. We met in first grade and were best friends all the way up and through high school, and then college came around… we split paths and lost touch for five-ish years. Last year, he got a job at the studio that I now work at, and he was like, ‘Hey, man, I just got a job at this studio, you should come through, it's been so long! Let's just get together in the room and see what happens.’
I was living in New York City at the time and I took a bus up. We got in the studio and we're like, let's make like an 80s track… and we did it. It ended up being the first song that we released with CANDY. [Our friend] Justin ended up mixing the song. He added so much awesome stuff to it that we ended up being like, ‘let's just start a band!’
I remember I had had this demo from before CANDY called Rock Candy. I was like, oh, man, that'd be like a cool name for like an 80s indie pop band — CANDY in all caps. We ended up going with it.
My personal music is much more serious and, you know, much more thought out. But this is my outlet of fun, loud pop 80s pop music. For all three of us, it's just fun. It wasn't something that was premeditated or really thought out.
BC: So you mentioned that CANDY is a break from your personal, more serious work. Can you talk about that a little more?
AR: I use my own music as my coping mechanism for, for lack of a better way to put it, life in general. I take a lot of time writing the lyrics. I use it as a medium to talk about stuff that I want to talk about or feel I should talk about. I mean, needless to say, it's just a little bit heavier in the sense of emotional content.
My friend [Tristen Jarvis] and I are co-producing my new record together, and we've spent a ton of time deep diving into all corners of the human condition and trying to understand the way different people go about their lives. It's been this huge emotional journey, which I love, but that can obviously get a little bit emotionally draining when it's the only thing you have. My own music is the stuff that keeps me up at night.
BC: That’s so interesting that the thing you’re most passionate about, your creative outlet, can also cause you pain and force you to reckon with a lot of emotions. How do you manage that?
AR: That's a good question. I don't really know, to be honest with you. I had this week back in the spring of last year. We started this record at a studio in New York City, and Tristen was supposed to come with me, but he ended up getting sick. So, I went down there for a week alone and the engineer and I ended up getting super close. We would just sit there for hours and pick apart our brains and our past. That week changed my life. Not to get too deep…
BC: Please, get deep!
AR: Haha okay, well, I remember being heavily depressed before that. Literally my whole life up until that week, it was heavy medication and the whole nine yards. For some reason, after that week, I wanted to get on the path back to being okay — well, feeling okay with feeling bad. Before we started this record, I could not live with myself in my own head. And like you said, it's been this weird dichotomy. It's my outlet but it's also the thing that kills me the most. Making the record is just the transcription of those emotions. I have to do it, or else those emotions are just going to live in my head. I just want to be scared when I make stuff. I want that danger in it.
BC: That's very interesting that you say that, because I have been thinking about a lot of those similar things lately, trying to be more comfortable with being not okay. I'm in a very similar situation — been on medication for a while and like trying to, you know, stay okay. It seems like what music is for you, writing is for me. I’ve found that it’s a difficult relationship because in letting your emotions out, you’re also forced to relive them!
AR: That's a perfect way to say it. You're reliving all these feelings, but at the same time, admitting that they're real and that they happen. Yeah, so there's something about that that is very healing.
Tristan has very much kept me on my course. He's very good in the sense of looking at ]my music] objectively and going, ‘If that's scaring you, then we're good.’ So that whole world and that feeling has been something that has helped me grow as a person and has shown me how much I have to grow as well. So yeah, it's just been like a wildly emotional year.
BC: You’ve been talking about growth a lot. This year has been really monumental for a lot of people, partly because of COVID and the fact that we were stuck inside for a really long time. I would like to hear a bit about your quarantine experience and what you came out of that feeling!
AR: I went home [to my parents house in Rochester] and it was obviously a big shock, living with my parents. March, April, May… I feel like I don't remember anything from those months. They were a blur.
BC: Same, I feel like blacked out for three months.
AR: Yeah! All I remember is going on walks with my parents every night. For a while I didn't have my studio setup, it was still in the city, and I was just doing music work lightly.
Then there was this mindset shift in the middle of quarantine. All my live shows got cancelled one after another, and I had to shift to a mindset of, ‘Well, that's gonna keep happening, so I should lean more into the online side of music.’
So I went on what I called a “social distance” tour. I essentially planned and promoted a tour, as if it were a real tour, but every show was in a different room around my house. It was a ton of fun, it was really cool.
Then in June, I got laid off from [my former job at a] studio. That set a fire for me to lean fully into my projects. I would never wish this pandemic to ever happen again, ever at all — but something that did come out of it for me was getting more into the producing side and starting side projects.
BC: So you said you're playing a show in January (supposedly!) How do you feel about jumping back into the idea of live shows after doing mostly online stuff for the past few months?
AR: I've got to be honest, I'm kind of nervous. We haven't played a single show this year. That's the first year since, like, sophomore year of high school that that's ever happened, and I'm a little nervous to jump back in. The chops and skills of being a live performer are ones that I, at least, really need to practice and keep sharp.
I'm trying not to get my hopes up. My mindset right now is that my shows are the least of the world's problems. I would rather there be no shows and we just get through this quicker and people will just stay in and stop messing this up. I don't know, I'm kind of on the fence about it.
Also, just as a question to you, like, how has this affected journalism and stuff that you do?
BC: I mean, my favorite part about journalism is being with people and getting to know them and, you know, going out for coffee, getting to know people’s stories. Not being able to do that right now… it’s sad, I miss it! I'm not a big “breaking news” or big corporate media person, that’s not my vibe at all. My favorite part is really getting to know people, and that's definitely harder on a screen.
AR: Yeah, a Zoom interview versus getting coffee with the person, like you said, it doesn't even compare.
BC: Yeah, I wish we were drinking mocha’s right now!
AR: I know, what the hell! I wish I was at Gimme [Coffee!] right now.
BC: I went to Dolce this morning… so yummy.
AR: Oh, my God. I lived right down the street from Dolce my junior and senior year. I do miss that place a lot.
BC: So, to tie things up, I wanted to ask — when is your new album coming out?
AR: So, we're mixing it this month. I really want to release late November, early December. It just happened to work out that way, but it's a very wintery vibe. COVID, obviously, changed everything. My original plan was to release it back in July but, you know, all our studio days just kept getting pushed back and back and back. So it's pretty much done — we just had to mix it!
If you’d like to hear more from Aaron, you can find his music on Spotify and Apple Music.