Editor’s note: Richard Laviolette entertained many New Brunswick audiences during his time in Sackville. His music, album art, lyrics and credits can be accessed on his bandcamp, courtesy of Sarah Mangle.
It is with unspeakable sadness that we share the news of Richard Laviolette’s passing. Following the onset of Huntington’s Disease symptoms this past fall and their rapid worsening since May, Richard chose to receive MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying) and he died peacefully on September 5, 2023.
Richard is survived by his partner sophia, his father Darrell, his sister Christine (Todd), brother Matthew (Jessica), his niblings Oliver, Sullivan, Benjamin and Liefe, and a large and loving family of aunts and uncles and cousins, along with many, many dear friends and musical collaborators.
Richard was born in Port Colborne, Ontario, in 1982 and grew up in Tara, outside of Owen Sound, first living in a yellow brick house with bats in the attic, before moving to a nearby hobby farm in high school. His family life was filled with music, with his parents singing and playing music together at home, his mother teaching line dancing, and his father performing locally with a country cover band. On family visits to Port Colborne, they would join in the large and raucous Robinson family jams held in his grandmother’s living room.
Around the time that he first learned to play music, Richard started having serious health issues, developing Ulceric Colitis at the age of 12 and learning to play mandolin from his father. He soon learned guitar, harmonica and banjo, and when they moved out to the farm, he got a drum kit and started fooling around, playing music with friends. His brother initiated their high school band, Sharp Pointy Stick, which his cousin Dave Snider later played in, playing shows at local bars even though they were underage.
As his Ulceric Colitis worsened, Richard almost died at 17, receiving a total colectomy that saved his life. Some of the medications needed for this surgery caused intense bone deterioration, making hip replacement surgery a necessity eleven years later, at age 28. As he navigated many other surgeries and health issues throughout his life, playing and listening to music was always an anchor for Richard, a rock.
He gave the valedictorian speech at Chesley District High School, making his guidance counsellor cry and his art teacher laugh as he took a hard left turn into parody and absurd humour. He went on to complete the last few credits of his grade thirteen at Owen Sound Vocational Collegiate Institute, sharing an apartment with his sister and his cousin Mike Hammond, and making fast friends with fellow students in his musical theatre class.
He was quick to move to Guelph after finishing high school, studying History at U of G with an interest in becoming a public school teacher. He met some good friends while at school and got a job hosting a weekly karaoke night at the Brass Taps Pub on campus. His band Crappy Roommate picked up where Sharp Pointy Stick left off, playing a mix of original songs and classic rock covers in bars around Guelph. These performances brought some positive attention and began to slowly establish Richard as an inspired performer and musician about town.
Named after a dear friend with the same name, Richard’s first album “Mary Carl” was released in 2005, and he toured these songs through the Northeastern United States with Jiaqing Wilson-Yang on his first ever tour. The two friends drove Richard’s $500 Pontiac “Spike”, had most of their things stolen out of the car while in Brooklyn, and got connected with the vibrant and queer Anti Folk scene in New York City, playing a show at the SideWalk Cafe. The tour opened their eyes to the joys and trials of touring, also connecting them with their lifelong friend Griffin Epstein (Griffin & The True Believers) and affirming their sense that music was a great way of bringing people together.
“Mary Carl” was quickly followed by “A Little Less Like A Rock, A Little More Like Home” which was released by Burnt Oak Records in 2006. Richard and his friends silkscreened and machine-stitched the CD covers for the album in a house his friends shared at 127 Grange Street in Guelph, and Richard’s parents, grandmother, and aunts drove into town to sing group vocals for the track Fussin’ and Fightin’.
In the following years Richard would embark on many tours through parts of Canada and the US, where his music, his infectious sense of humour and his warm and kind demeanor connected him with countless people. He toured with many wonderful musicians and friends over the years, including Ghost Bees, Households, Wax Mannequin, Joyful Joyful, Party Time, Griffin & The True Believers, and Rae Spoon. Locally, he started playing festivals like Track & Field, the Living Room Music Festival, and Hillside, and as writing music, playing in bands, and touring took up more and more of his time, Richard dropped out of school to focus on music.
Richard’s commitment to building community through music and his anti-capitalist values led him to organize countless house shows and backyard shows with his friends, including co-organizing the house show festival “Cold is not Cool, Put a Scarf On” with Sarah Mangle, which put on wintertime shows in several homes around Guelph. Richard loved to be anywhere people were using music to come together and share how they understood the world. In his own music, his love of community was reflected in his many musical collaborations, his love of group vocals, and his use of live off the floor large ensemble recordings.
Richard had many jobs over the years, working in a youth shelter and as a school bus driver, teaching guitar and driving cab, but his career was as a songwriter and a musician. Richard’s energy and vulnerability as a performer were magnetic, captivating. Through his music, he worked through complex ideas and his own experiences of love, kinship, difficulty and pain, transforming them into songs that feel beautiful and true.
In 2007 Richard released “Hands and Feats”, a split EP with Jiaqing Wilson-Yang recorded by Ryan Newell. Also in 2007, Richard borrowed Ryan Newell’s recording equipment and set about recording every punk, hardcore, and folk punk band operating out of the Guelph punk house The Punk Mansion, including U Lock Terror, Welfare Wednesday, Thick As Thieves, and Collateral Damage. Around this time, Richard also played in the band Rebel Girl with Vic Guzman and Scotty Hertz, playing union songs for union events like the May Day celebrations in Guelph.
Over the next few years Richard worked on writing and rehearsing the music that would become “Aging Recycling Plant” and “All Of Your Raw Materials”, two vastly different albums that showcased his love of both 90’s rock music and country music. During this time Richard traveled to Six Nations to support the reclamation of Kanohnstaton near Caledonia, and the injustice of settler colonialism featured prominently in several of his songs from this time. “Aging Recycling Plant” was created with Richard’s band The Hollow Hooves, recorded by Dan Beeson at the Pinball House in Guelph, and released in 2009. “All of Your Raw Materials” was created with his band The Oil Spills, recorded by Andy Magoffin at The House of Miracles in London, ON, and first released on CD in 2009, later re-released on vinyl by You’ve Changed Records in 2010.
Richard was also a musical collaborator and drummer with his then-partner Sarah Mangle’s band Sarah Mangle Buys a Bear, together with their friends Fezz Stenton and Gregory Burton. They released the album “We Wanna Know” in 2009 and toured together, memorably opening the Electric Eclectics Festival in Meaford, looking out over a fantastic sunset.
While on a cross country tour with his friend Jenny Mitchell (Jenny Omnichord) and her then one-year-old son Otis in 2010, Richard wrote the EP “Soundtrack to the Life of a Car Nearly Driving into the Pacific”, which he later recorded in the home of longtime friend and musical collaborator, Jessy-Bell Smith.
His friends Dave Lander and Mathias Kom had at this time relocated to St. John’s, NL, and Richard was surprised to receive a video from them, showing a room full of people performing a cover of his song Qq (from “A Little Less Like A Rock, A Little More Like Home”) together with an enthusiastic invitation to come out to Newfoundland. Richard traveled to St. John’s with The Oil Spills in 2010, driving and taking the ferry over after playing Sappyfest in August. They played a house show their first night, followed by two shows at the bar CBTG’s, and stayed over with three of the four Nicoll siblings – Billy, Jake and Ilya – also meeting Alison Corbett and Noah Bender who joined The Oil Spills up on stage during their sets.
In the following years, Richard wrote a new album with his band The Glitterbombs, releasing “Over the Roar of the Engine” in 2013 and touring out to Canada’s East Coast. For each of their shows, The Glitterbombs’ accordion player Cricket put together matching costume elements, including glittery skirts, tights, hats and headbands – changing it up from show to show. The album was released as a zine and a set of trading cards, complete with lyrics and chord charts so that others could play the music together in the way Richard loved to do with his friends.
In 2013 Richard traveled to Whitehorse with You’ve Changed label mates Shotgun Jimmie, Steve Lambke, and Ian Kehoem, joining Michael Feuerstack, Mathias Kom, Colleen Collins, David Trenaman, Wax Mannequin and Kyle Cashen, for a collaborative songwriting project initiated by Headless Owl Records. Together they performed their songs in Whitehorse as “The Cost of Doing Business” accompanied by live projections by Shary Boyle. As part of this project Richard wrote and recorded the song Snailhouse, which was included on the compilation “Community Theatre: Northern Register” released by Headless Owl in 2014.
In 2014 Richard released “Home & Back Again” a split EP with byron, planning a Western Canadian tour with byron and Danielle Hagel which was cut short by health complications.
Late in 2016 Richard’s mother died from Huntington’s Disease after living with the terminal, degenerative illness for more than a decade. Richard felt and grieved this loss very deeply, continuing to process his grief through the rest of his life.
In 2017 he released the album “Taking the Long Way Home” with You’ve Changed Records, recorded by Andy Magoffin at The House of Miracles, and went on to perform at Lawnya Vawnya in St. John’s that May, catching a ride east on The Golden Bus later that summer and making the move out to to Sackville, NB in August. The songs in “Taking the Long Way Home” were written and recorded before his mother’s passing. They lovingly tell stories of his music-filled family life and childhood homes, and were originally written with the intention of playing them with his father.
While living in Sackville, Richard became a part of the town’s lively, tight-knit community of artists, playing music with his then-partner Klarka Weinwurm and friend Glen Barrington in the band Double Vision, which released a self-titled EP in 2019, playing a handful of shows including a set at Sappyfest.
Richard lived and worked in Sackville until the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, at which point he decided to move back to the Owen Sound area, moving in with his father Darrell, temporarily. That fall, Richard moved back to Guelph, sharing an apartment that overlooked the Speed River on Arthur Street North with his friend Clayton Dyon and Clayton’s dog Farley.
Arriving back in Guelph, Richard set about forming a new band, rehearsing whenever possible, and playing a handful of shows in Southern Ontario through the summer and fall of 2022, including house shows hosted by Alison Corbett in Kitchener, by Wax Mannequin in Hamilton and Andy Magoffin in Cambridge, as well as shows at The Heartwood in Owen Sound, The Tranzac in Toronto, and at the Jimmy Jazz in Guelph (opening for his friend C.L. McLaughlin’s band Weird Lines). It was during this time he met his much beloved partner sophia bartholomew, who he lived with until his passing. The two met through mutual friends, playing pool together at The Real Deal, and they grew close through their shared sense of humour, their love of art and music, and the unusual shared experience of having both almost died in their late teens, surviving major surgeries.
Richard and his band began recording with Scott Merritt at The Cottage in Guelph in February 2023, and his forthcoming album “All Wild Things Are Shy” will be released by You’ve Changed Records. Songs on the album wrestle with death, love, loss, winter, spring, hope, fear, and anger, also paying tribute to Richard’s cat, Sweep (Sweep-o Depot). They were recorded through the increasing physical, mental and emotional difficulty Richard was experiencing as his Huntington’s Disease symptoms worsened much faster than anyone had expected. The symptoms affected his ability to sing and play the guitar, and they made the decision making about song arrangements much more laboured and difficult.
Richard played his last show this past May, opening for Abigail Lapel at the baby g in Toronto, accompanied on guitar by his friend Rich Burnett. At the time no one realized that this would be his last public performance.
Through his sense of fun and humour, his deep sensitivity and compassion, his thoughtfulness, his community-mindedness and his music, Richard was connected to and loved by many many people. He will be remembered very fondly and very deeply missed.
A public memorial service for Richard will take place in Guelph later this year.