A thumping bassline, a slow drum beat and a melodic synthesizer riff resonates through the dimly lit Magpie Taproom.
At the back of the bar, AA Wallace listens to his band play his new song “Secret Name” — without the vocals. Satisfied with the sound, he goes back on stage for a last run-through of the song.
Put synth-pop, disco, dance, house and electronic music in a blender, add soothing tenor vocals on top of that, and you get AA Wallace, who just signed with Culvert Music, a Toronto-based record label. Wallace made his solo-debut with his 2013 album, (disambiguation), a medley of synth-pop, electronic and acid house tracks to leave listeners high and tripping. He was also named as one of CBC Radio 3’s 10 Key Artists that same year.
But before hitting Toronto, Wallace lived in Halifax, where he played in a band called Sleepness Nights for 10 years. And just like the musical direction Wallace is taking now, Sleepness Nights also defied music categorization.
“We were, like, rock and roll, but kinda fast and dance-y. But it’s not dance-punk, and not really rock and roll.”
The singer-songwriter admits his unique sound has also been something that hasn’t allowed him to fit properly into any one genre.
“I’ve kind of had this problem my whole life, I’ve never been enough of anything,” he says. “Even when I try to fit in a genre, I don’t do it right.”
Having grown up listening to disco, Wallace is surprised with how many of today’s musicians are incorporating that sound into modern songs. At the same time, he doesn’t want to be seen as jumping on the bandwagon. Wallace labels his music as “dance music-informed production” with a basis in the popular music of the late ‘60s and ‘70s.
Wallace recently released two new singles — “Harlequin” and “Secret Name.” With “Harlequin” in particular, he demonstrates the art of combining different musical genres, boiled down into a four-minute-and-38-second-long track that will have listeners grooving to the entrancing electronic melody and the 303 squelching bass.
Lyric-wise, “Harlequin” does provoke the mind: what exactly is it about? Even Wallace doesn’t know.
“For a really long time, I wrote in a really narrative style. But since that last record, I’ve been more into just imagery,” he says. “I’m just trying to, like, create a scene. But the scene doesn’t necessarily have content, kinda like Wes Anderson.”
Or, put in another sense, he wants to make you feel weird — in a good way. Sort of like musical surrealism.
Many of his songs reference internet culture, something he touches upon in “Harlequin” when he sings: “They kill you in the comments for what you say.” The song expresses his thoughts on YouTube comments, and how it’s a two-edged sword.
“I think it’s cool that it’s empowering to people, but I don’t think it’s cool when people abuse and hide behind anonymity when they’re saying something they wouldn’t say in person,” he says.
Perhaps that is why Wallace sings “I want to see you get loose” in the chorus.
“It’s a stupid double meaning, like, loose as in dance music. But it’s also about, like as a person, lightening up,” he says.
His other single, “Secret Name” deals with love-related themes that, again, doesn’t necessarily have a narrative to it. Wallace is simply creating a scene with words.
“I had a girlfriend for a while that, uh, was kinda very jealous. So I changed all the girl names on my phone to guy names just to avoid that,” he explains. “But years and years later, it’s something I still do even though it’s not a thing, and so, just, everyone has secret names from me.”
The clock is nearing 11:30 as Wallace takes the stage with his band. The first song starts, a light track to liven up the atmosphere. Wallace, with a tambourine in hand, encourages people to come closer to the stage.
There’s not much of a reaction to start, but soon the awkwardness fades. The band begins to play “Harlequin,” and people are two-stepping, grooving to the funky vibe. Several ladies in tight dresses start to dance, forgetting that they are wearing heels, and just feeling the song while holding their drinks in hand. A man starts clapping along.
As for when Wallace will be releasing a new album, the date is still unknown. But he says it’s in the works, and will probably be out in a few months.
Right now, it’s all about getting loose.