It’s the golden hour in Brooklyn and somewhere, deep at the edge of Red Hook, a folk musician is toying with his track. Richard Aufrichtig bobs back and forth before a mic in his band’s dimly lit rehearsal space strumming on an electric guitar. He and his bandmates are a silhouette at dusk and they’re in the midst of a heated row about whether or not bassist Rebecca Kushner should back-up the next verse with “ooooooh” or “oooooh la la la.”
Aufrichtig turns to his lead guitarist, the Bernie Sanders tee-shirt wearing Kevin Schwartzbach. “Can we run it again with the la las?” he asks.
Drummer Alex Thrailkill chimes in: “No problem, man.” A few taps on his drumsticks and the band is running “A Sailor’s Song” — a folksy rock ballad about a woman Aufrichtig once loved.
Aufrichtig, 27, who goes by Ocean Music, is the architect behind this band. Since I’m only familiar with his previous album, the self-titled Ocean Music record (which he released in 2014 after a successful Kickstarter campaign), I ask him about how it feels to release his second studio album. He laughs jovially. “This is more like my seventeenth album,” he says.
A multi-disciplinary artist, poet and folk musician hailing from the Hudson Valley, in 2014 Aufrichtig was accepted into the Sitka Fellows Program — a competitive residency awarded to the six most promising artists under thirty. His music sounds like what being seventeen and driving alone in a car for the first time feels like. It’s cinematic rock; folksy nostalgia, calling to mind the last days of summer or the first spring rain.
Ocean Music’s forthcoming album, “Songs From The City,” features Aufrichtig singing and playing every instrument (à la Will Oldham). However, when he plays live, he harnesses the power of a full band.
Friends have likened Aufrichtig’s ability to build collaborative artistic communities as an almost rabbinical trait. In New York he’s built a reputation for curating showcases. Notably, the Williamsburg Community Circus, an interdisciplinary festival that ran for a year in Brooklyn.
The grandson of Austrian and Romanian Jewish immigrants who narrowly escaped the Holocaust, Aufrichtig was raised by a father who brought him to Grateful Dead concerts and a mother who gained local notoriety in Peekskill, NY for sprucing up the streets with a little Yarn Bombing. His sister, Aliza, also a gifted musician, is a product manager and coder in Brooklyn.
Starting at age five, Aufrichtig attended Cortlandt Music, a teaching studio owned and operated by Frank Corrado in Westchester County. He says “if you played music as a kid in my part of Westchester then you knew Frank.” Corrado encouraged him to choose the type of music he wanted to learn. And at ten years old, he was recording his own songs.
Aufrichtig also attended a Jewish youth group through Temple Israel of Northern Westchester. There, Lori Cohen, who ran youth group activities, gave Aufrichtig the infrastructure to produce “Gefilte Fest.” He describes the annual show as “an eight to twelve hour musical event.” Aufrichtig says, “since it was one of the few opportunities we had to perform we tended to run long.”
When Aufrichtig came to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts he seized upon the opportunity to attend up to ten shows a week. He performed all over the city - convincing himself that booking the same venues as some of his biggest influences would put him on the right track. “I quickly realized that my favorite artists didn’t play at some of these places because they wanted to, but because they had to,” he says with a laugh.
One poet who inspired Aufrichtig’s style was David Berman, a frontmen for the 90s folk band Silver Jews. Last year, upon the release of Telegrams, Aufrichtig’s first book of poetry, he mailed a copy to Berman. Months later, Berman replied to him with a note and his personal address. Aufrichtig popped his album in the mail to Berman too. Then a few months later a postcard arrived. “This is better than ninety-five percent of what I get sent,” Berman wrote.
Talking to Aufrichtig at length, a picture emerges of a guy with the uncanny ability to be at the right place at the right time and take the right chances. Take for example his experience this past fall at BAM’s Rose Theater in Brooklyn. Aufrichtig went alone to see Miranda July’s experimental show “New Society.” At the show’s start, July asked if anyone in the audience played piano. Aufrichtig raised his hand and then for the next two hours composed a new national anthem with July in front of hundreds of people. He describes the whole experience as “surreal,” but while he was up there on stage he realized that he’s always been more comfortable performing than sitting back and watching a show.
You can listen to Ocean Music on Spotify and check out the latest album “Songs From The City” after April 26, 2016 on iTunes. To hear and learn more, visit his website
Caila Litman hails from the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a comedian, writer and hot dog enthusiast residing in Brooklyn.