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DJ Rich A stops to smell the roses

Pemberton-born DJ has seen his profile grow alongside Vancouver hip-hop sensation SonReal

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The life of a touring DJ is probably not as glamorous as you imagine.

The long nights, cheap takeout, and strange beds in faraway cities don't exactly make for the sexiest Instagram feed, but it's a necessary grind for anyone trying to make it in the cutthroat music biz.

It's a hustle familiar to Pemberton-raised DJ Rich A, born Rich Hartl, who has seen his profile grow in recent years as the long-time DJ for Vancouver hip-hop sensation SonReal. And in those moments when life on the road isn't all it's cracked up to be, when he longs for the comforts of home, Hartl is quick to reset his perspective and take stock of just how far he's come.

"Sometimes you get tired or whatever and you take it all for granted. You're in a whole new state or city or something and then you put yourself in check and have a look around and take a moment to soak it in," he says.

"Even today, we were driving to the rehearsal studio and I just had this little flashback. I saw the West Hollywood sign and thought, 'I'm definitely not in Pemberton anymore.'"

Hartl would be lying if he told you he had any notion of the circuitous path his career would take from DJing the Pemberton Hotel to jam-packed concert halls across North America. At the tender age of 21, he landed his first gig at the PemHo with aspirations of one day bringing his bass-fuelled playlists to the clubs of Whistler. He eventually secured a residency at Tommy Africa's, learned the ropes from Whistler's Mat the Alien, and would move to Vancouver to focus on his music full-time.

"I really didn't know the potential back then. I was just getting into it and having fun playing tracks for my friends and bringing something new to Pemberton," Hartl, now 34, explains. "Then I moved to Vancouver and met SonReal about 10 years ago now, and that opened my eyes to everything."

SonReal, born Aaron Hoffman, has experienced something of a meteoric rise in the Canadian hip-hop scene since peppering the internet with a flurry of free mixtapes in the early 2010s. He has been nominated for a pair of Junos, his videos have collectively racked up tens of millions of YouTube plays, and he has started to make important in-roads into the American market — his latest single, "My Friend," is a touching tribute to his late father that was produced by none other than 11-time Grammy winner and R&B Svengali, Babyface.

SonReal's full-length debut, One Long Dream, released in August, was recorded almost entirely in L.A., and Hartl says the hypercreative environment of the City of Angels has helped him broaden his horizons as an artist.

"Vancouver is inspiring, it's a great place; I love it. But there's just something in the air down here: everyone's working on music or movies or whatever they're doing. Everybody's got a hustle," he says.

To that end, Hartl has been learning the keyboard for the past year — "Right now, I'm having more fun playing keys than DJing," he admits — and has even dabbled in songwriting, helping pen the track "A Thousand Highways" off a forthcoming SonReal project.

"It's inspiring to grow as an artist into something else," he says.

For the time being, Hartl is focused on SonReal's upcoming tour, which will bring the crew to a number of U.S. cities for the first time. He's also looking forward to a homecoming of sorts on Nov. 10, when SonReal plays the Vogue Theatre for what should be a pretty lively crowd.

For more info on the tour, visit iamsonreal.com.

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