The Primelight: Get To Know Chris LaRocca

The cover art of Chris LaRocca’s debut Voila features the distorted profile of the 26-year-old against a suburban stucco wall, a green branch dripping into his hands. Above him hangs his brand new EP’s title, fashioned into a makeshift party banner.

If this isn’t a symbol of the singer’s journey to date—seclusion, growth, mystery, and finally, some pretty damn beautiful presentation—it’s hard to say what is.

Voila’s cover was shot in LaRocca’s parents’ home outside of Woodbridge, Ontario, where he conceived his solo debut. The glimmering yet raw five-song pop effort sounds more city than outskirts, but the complex layers are proof he had silence and focus throughout the process. Diving into his first body of solo work after years in Toronto indie rock band Elos Arma, LaRocca admits the songwriting was an all-consuming and sometimes lonely process, in which he didn’t know if all the time, sweat and isolation were even worth it.

“I wasn’t seeing anyone—I was alone in my head wondering, ‘Am I good enough? Is this music good?’ I was freaking out,” he says.

Under an hour away from his songwriting sanctuary was Toronto—a thriving contemporary pop-R&B hub—where peers like Daniel Caesar, Charlotte Day Wilson, Jessie Reyez and Majid Jordan were steadily climbing to global acclaim.

It was after he had polished Voila that LaRocca had to learn patience and the value of easing himself into a busy genre. When he finally did, his instrumental savvy and striking vocals spoke for themselves.

You’ve said you had most of the songs on Voila finished for over a year. What was that like—the waiting?

It was killing me. I was so eager. I felt like I had been sitting on my hands for so long and it was all done, yet not one person had heard them. But then “Closer” was released meticulously, on a big scale, and I was so happy I had waited.

Zane Lowe premiered “Closer” on Beats 1. That’s no small deal.

Yeah. After all that time, hearing him say my name was crazy.

Voila sounds like it’s a happy record, mostly about love and lust. Is that far off?

They sound like they are—but I was taking a big leap into the darkness when writing it. At the time, there were more lows than highs, which is interesting because the EP has a happy vibe to it.

So, how would you describe the EP to someone who had never heard your music?

I look at it like a colour wheel—if you divide it up, every song has its own colour and personality. It’s a broad spectrum of what’s going on inside my head.

Where did you get your songwriting inspiration?

I was working so much—both a bunch of jobs and working on my music. I worked in a retirement home, which can be depressing, so “Trouble” was about a woman who was having a hard time coming to grips with reality. “Closer” was written last and released first, and it was how I felt coming out of that dark place.

So, other than work, music and sleep, you kept to yourself.

Definitely—I was miserable going out because I would be thinking, ‘You shouldn’t be here, you should be home working at that song.’ Friends were even lost—but you have to make changes to do what you want.

How did the suburbs allow you to make something so shiny and urban-sounding?

When I’m writing lyrics in the suburbs—what I’m feeling is pinpointed. When I’m writing music in a more crowded place, I’m so stimulated, but I’m less attentive. There was nothing else to distract me at my parents’ house, which is scary because I got really personal.

What’s that like for you—being vulnerable and putting all sorts of feelings out there? Not many people’s jobs require them to do that.

I’ve always been an over-the-top person with extreme emotions. It’s risky being like that, and sometimes I’m not sure if I want people to know the meaning behind a song. But I feel like if you don’t go for it, that’s when it feels contrived—that’s when there’s a barrier between the listener and the artist.

How do you think you fit into Toronto’s huge music scene right now?

I fit into it in a way. That new Toronto soul sound is so great and I’ve been inspired by it—but I want to craft my own sound and try my own hand.

Which other artists inspire you the most?

Writing Voila, I was listening to a lot of D’Angelo, Gallant, Corbin (a.k.a. Spooky Black), Supertramp, Al Green. I was all over the map.

Frank Ocean, though—there’s no other current artist I respect as much. His mind is just firing gibberish and verbal vomit, as if he uses music to purge. It’s so real—the most real.

Now that Voila out out there, what can we look forward to?

I have so many demos ready for my next body of work, and we’re going to start going on smaller scale tours—I’m most comfortable on stage. Moving forward, I guess I just don’t want to keep my music in any kind of box. I just want to water it and let it grow into what it will be.