By David DeRocco

Rik Emmett’s current bio says he’s “digging in deep at his revamped Rec Room Studio,” experimenting with digital technology and recording music he’s planning on releasing in “a steady stream of new songs” without worrying about the content forming a cohesive album. It’s all part of a strategy he’s hoping will provide the soundtrack for the next chapter in his career – a chapter entitled “Electrik/Acoustik.” It’s the kind of open-ended recording project that I suggest may prove counterproductive to a musician far less disciplined than a guitar god like Rik Emmett.

“Maybe I’m not as disciplined as I should be,” laughs Rik, who rather than recording on the day of our interview was instead uprooting the above-mentioned studio – along with his enormous collection of guitars, instruments and all his worldly possessions – in preparation of selling his house. “My kids moved out about 20 odd guitars and instruments today, there are 35 to 40 of these things in cases in the furnace room, there are guitars on hangers in the studio, the usual chaos. But to address your question – I feel like I’ve got a dozen or 15 things ready to go.”

For an artist who has released 19 albums since departing the band that made him a superstar – the internationally revered power-trio Triumph – you’d think having “things ready to go” would be his natural state of existence. Emmett has not been one to rest on his hefty rock star laurels, which include having recorded a dozen platinum albums during his Triumph years. Since then he’s channeled his guitar talents into projects ranging from rock to blues to jazz to folk to classical, earning entry into three Canadian Halls of Fame, a star on the Walk of Fame in his Mississauga hometown and a few “Best Guitarist” awards along the way. As a music educator, Emmett also lends his wisdom to students at Humber College, where he’s taught Songwriting, Music Business and Directed Studies.

When it comes to his primary job – making music – Rik’s focus now is transitioning his recording career to digital platforms that are reshaping the music industry, a brave new world where any kid with a laptop and a YouTube channel can record and distribute both music and video. It’s a generational shift away from the old recording industry model that helped Emmett produce his most popular works, where video is now often more important that the audio being recorded.

“YouTube is such an important conduit to promote music and make it viable,” suggests Emmett, who performs at the Seneca Queen Theatre in Niagara Falls May 2nd. “That’s really how it works. I would have to be naïve and old fashioned to think I can make a recording and it can be convincing enough to simply sell on its own. Everything’s viral now – videos with four people playing on one guitar, it’s all viral. Word of mouth is the litmus test. You don’t even need to make a great video either. With iPhone, and iMovie anyone can record video. And don’t even talk about the quality of master recording. I remember when I was trying to compete against the recording quality of Steely Dan and Rush albums.”

As someone who’s into his fifth decade as a career musician, does Rik feel such accessibility to recording and proliferation of music from sources other than record labels is a good thing or a bad thing?

“I think it’s both,” he suggests. “Part of me says the bar has been lowered. Everyone’s in, everyone’s a rock star. The good thing is, you can make an album on your laptop now. The bad thing is, there’s so much more junk to chew your way through to get to the good stuff.”

Where the industry has significantly benefitted, says Emmett, is in the emergence of true raw musical talent. Given his stature as one of the world’s best guitar players, he’s in a good position to judge such proficiencies.

“I teach at Humber College, and I see the quality of musicians showing up. They’re coming in at age 20 with an extremely high level of proficiency. With the musicians I grew up with, it was often tough to find a rhythm section to play with; there were few good bass players and drummers. Now kids are growing up playing alongside recorded tracks. There’s been a quantum leap in the ability I see in the last 20 years.”

Does the current industry model of releasing music for on-line consumption mean the concept of the classic vinyl album is dead? The man behind such rock classics as Allied Forces, Surveillance, Rock and Roll Machine and Progressions of Power believes the cyclical nature of pop culture may just be the album’s saving grace.

“The thing about fashion and style and culture is that is has a tendency to come back full circle,” says Rik, whose solo career began in 1990 with the smash hit album, Absolutely. “Vinyl albums became out of fashion when CD’s arrived. There’s now a subculture who swear by (vinyl records). You have to face reality. No one will sell albums the way the Beatles, Michael Jackson or even Celine Dion did. And that’s okay. There’s viability in short form creativity and long form. Sometimes I’ll say to songwriters, ‘just listen to what the song is telling you it wants to be.’ Sometimes it only wants to be a short pop confection. Other times you may need the Royal Philharmonic!”

One of the things that Rik says won’t be coming back is another reunion with his Triumph bandmates, who could be celebrating their 40th anniversary in 2015. “We reconciled in 2007, did the reunion thing in 2008. That brought things full circle. And frankly, Gil doesn’t want to do it anymore. In the wake of doing those shows, Gil said he doesn’t enjoy the pressure of it. It’s not fun for him. And if it’s not fun, we gave each other permission to not do it.”

As a veteran musician, does Rik have any admiration for a band like The Rolling Stones, who recently announced more tour dates on their 50th anniversary tour?

“I admire it on a certain level. I admire watching BB King get helped out on stage so he can play in his mid-80s. But you have to be careful it’s not a parody of what you were and what you did, turning it into a freak show of what it used to be. I do think musicians have a unique thing. As an athlete, there comes a time you have to hang it up, you can’t compete. As musicians, you evolve. When the Stones go out, it’s a five star trip all the way, more like a cruise vacation. For me, parts of me think, am I doing this as an exercise in ego, or doing it because I still really want it. Some days it’s not as easy to answer as others. I still want to keep chasing the muse – the art and craft of it still compels me. If you get up on stage, and can make a moment where people go ‘that just gave me something money can’t buy.’ Then you go, ‘I can still make that happen.’ When you get to share that with an audience, it’s a lovely thing.”

And who is in the audience to see Rik Emmett these days, considering his forays into and mastery over every conceivable form of guitar-based music on the planet – is it the people still screaming to hear “Magic Power,” or the fans who prefer the more sublime artistry of solo pieces like “Santa Fe Horizon?”

“Well, the people who want to hear Santa Fe Horizon, they’re not the screamers,” laughs Rik. “Those who want to hear “Magic Power,” they’re the screamers. I played Jersey last weekend, and people brought their kids. There’s now a couple generations who appreciate what I’m doing. What happens as a career runs its course, it’s kind of a long time to expect people to stick around. People who were huge fans of Triumph, they grew up and got married, they had kids, got mortgages — they gravitate away. Over time, they come back. I don’t worry about my audience. I’m not trying to sound selfish, it’s just the humility involved in art. I worry more internally. I’ll do what I do, and if they show up, it’s great.”