He grew up living and breathing ‘80s rock, started playing dive bands at 15, and recently performed for 100,000 conventioneers in a single day. But for Aaron Rizzo, the only success that matters is helping people discover feelings they didn’t even know they had.
1. Why do you remind us of Bruce Springsteen?
Yeah, I’ve gotten that.
2. Maybe it’s the scruffy rock-and-roll, hometown-pride-mixed-with-bathos thing?
Maybe. I love Rochester. It helped me to grow into the musician I am right now. I’ve made
small dents in Ithaca and New York as well, but those will never be my hometown. Rochester has a really unique way of forging musicians into absolute workhorses. Everyone I know here has a work ethic like no other and passion beyond comprehension. It’s a really incredible place. However, it’s a tough scene to break into. It really puts you through the ringer.
3. But still you persisted, right?
It wasn’t persistence. There was only ever music for me. It was like breathing. Growing up,
it wasn’t me sitting down on the couch watching “The Price is Right” with my father. Music
and great records are what we did. And I guess there are pros and cons to this, but I think I
was very fortunate to have parents who were, “Here’s our musical taste. Here’s what we like. Take it or leave it.”
We don’t make music so we can have a cool Instagram aesthetic. As soon as it becomes a selfish thing, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.
4. And you took it?
I did my teenager thing and got into all the music my parents weren’t about. But I eventually
circled back to the stuff my parents really liked, Tears for Fears, Tom Petty, Stevie Wonder,
The Clash. The ‘80s were a crushing time for music, depending on how you look at it.
5. Your music, though, isn’t about 80s themes, is it? Romance…partying…
You can have the biggest banger in the world, it doesn’t matter. All good songwriting -- all
good music -- is something that makes you feel something that you didn’t even know you
felt. It makes you say, “What? I didn’t even know I felt that way! But, woah, I really, really
feel that way.”
For me, it’s so powerful when people come up to you after a show and say, “I’m in a really
tough spot, thank you for this.” That’s why we make music. We don’t make music so we
can have a cool Instagram aesthetic. As soon as it becomes a selfish thing, you’re doing it
for the wrong reasons. In the words of Karl Paulnack – he was the dean of the music school
at Ithaca – “We’re not the package, we’re just the messenger.” We’re just passing it on.
We’re saying, “You’re not alone.”
6. Speaking of not alone, you’ve actually played in front of 100,000 people.
Yeah, not at the same time – it was over the course of a day. It was at a huge gear convention in LA. That was a crazy experience. A lot of dudes with very nice suits and very nice laminated lanyard passes, that’s like the aesthetic, right? And I just thought, I have to
make these people put their drinks down and pay attention to me.
7. Did they?
Mainly. Look, I’ve been playing in dive bars since I was 15. I’ll play anywhere.
It’s really nice to play shows when people are in the room, and I think a lot of people take
that for granted right now because we live in a time where you don’t even have to leave your bedroom to get a following. That show made me appreciate how great it is to play to a big crowd. It flips a switch inside of you where you’re like, “Okay, I have to wake up. I have to do my job right now.”
8. Favorite lyric that you’ve ever written?
Oh man, it has to be in my new song, “To Witness a Death.” In the second verse, it goes,
“And though she’s the one that made you, your heart says rest easy, I love you.” I wrote it
for a really close friend who lost his mother. It was an attempt to capture 0.001% of what he
There’s a lyric in the first few lines of that song that says, “I’m here just to hear you.” I was
trying to convey that I’m not here to offer anything, I’m just your sounding board right now.
If you need something, great, if not, great too.
9. How did your friend receive the song?
Oh my God, I was so nervous to send it to him. He could have called me back and been like,
“What the hell? You don’t know anything about this. How dare you?” That was worst case
scenario. But instead, he was really moved. He was like, “Whoa, wow.” It was another one
of those moments where someone was just like, “Thank you.”
You know, basically, I try to stay away from writing love songs, at least positive love songs,
because the human experience encompasses a lot more than love. Like, I’ve got this new
song about masculinity. For some reason, I sat down one night and was coming up with
metaphors, and I think the first verse goes, “Tell me what it means to be more of a man. Is it
sleeping with wolves or calloused hands? Is it brutal brigades and wars with no ends? Is that
what it means to be more of a man?” I just wanted to shine a light on really specific stuff
people view as masculine, and do it in a way where it’s like, “Ugh, I wish I could do more
about this.” It’s almost like a cry for help. I think Lizzo hit the nail on the head with this
10. Do you have a plan B if the music thing doesn’t work out?
It’s always been my philosophy that if you have a plan B, your plan A is not going to work.
So, nope. I’m going down with the ship.
Check out Aaron Rizzo below!