Gallant has been leaving himself little messages, and learning to exist outside of classification, he tells Rip Nicholson.
GALLANT interviewed November 1, 2016
For Street Press Australia [VIEW HERE]
Christopher Gallant’s penchant for using music as therapy has been well-documented since his rise to prominence, not least on his debut album Ology. “If you have an issue you’re trying to work through or you’re trying to understand why you react a certain way to certain things it helps to leave yourself a message,” advises Gallant. “This whole album is me leaving myself a message… It’s cathartic because it just helps me. Like, some people go do yoga, some people go to the gym, that’s what I do.”
It’s been part of how he has approached music since before his 2014 debut EP Zebra, and the Los Angeles-based artist “hasn’t yet strayed from that initial spark”. Gallant’s search for comprehension isn’t something turned solely within, however, the young singer-songwriter understanding that self-awareness requires a deep wealth of outer context.
“[While studying music at New York University] I was constantly surrounded by the energy of peers who were really focused on the aesthetic of being an artist or whatever they call themselves,” Gallant reflects. “They weren’t really focused on the why or the process and it carried over into a lot of professors, too. Outside of the class when I was trying to be in the industry, so to speak, I was messing around with different business people left and right and it all just had that vibe, that kind of feeling of nothing really real. Just very hollow.”
“It’s cathartic because it just helps me. Like, some people go do yoga, some people go to the gym, that’s what I do.”
After moving to Sherman Oaks, tucked into LA’s San Fernando Valley, Gallant soon fell into a more like-minded crowd within the music industry. “It took me back to a place not contrived, because at that point whatever I did didn’t matter because I still thought you had to fit into some kind of box to make it work and I wasn’t interested in making it work,” he explains. “To get back to where I was when I first started making music in that diary-type way, that move solidified my decision to stick to that instead of slowly trying to morph into something that was of everyone else’s kind of expectation of me.”
Thankfully, Gallant found an inspiration for not being chiselled down to shape early on in British-born singer Seal, with whom he shared a session on the second episode of his collaborative video series, In The Room. An apparent mutual respect between the two was galvanised when Seal showed up for an electrifying walk-on performance his 1991 classic Crazy at Gallant’s set at this year’s Coachella.
Gallant has spoken highly of Seal’s influence several times, expressing admiration in equal measure for both the Brit’s music and his refusal to kowtow to any one label. “I got to see him completely disregard any kind of category. He just didn’t exist in that world, and he defined himself as an individual person with some of the most poetic lyrics that I’d ever heard at that point. Obviously him being a black male, I just didn’t know you could do that – which is really sad. So at a very early age, thankfully, it made me feel that you can exist outside of a set of categories or genres. That really solidified my love for making music because I knew how real I can be.”
Gallant, how are you?
Hey, I’m chillin’.
What are you up to today and whereabouts are you?
I am in LA where I’ve been living for the past three years. And I’ve just finished the North American portion of my headlining tour so I have a little bit of time to stay in one place and do a little bit of work then I head over to Korea then the rest of Europe.
Korea? I imagine that’s going to be a very interesting show. That’s a return trip?
Yeah, I was there a month and a half ago at a festival but this is going to be my first headline show in Asia.
They must have loved you at the festival enough to book you for your own show?
(Laughs) well I mean they’ve been great out there. So it’s going to be great to go back out and perform for those guys again.
Halloween is upon us. Do you have or did you have anything planned for it?
I think I got all Halloween’d out, this weekend, I went to a party and I don’t remember what I did for the rest of the weekend which is usually a good sign that I had a good time. So, right now I’m back in work mode I’ve got some stuff later this week so I’m trying to get back into focus mode.
I see on Twitter you questioned someone’s M&M costume. Do you believe a Halloween costume should be something scary?
No, and you know, I’m not the most qualified person to answer that, I rarely wear costumes but I just think it should be something creative and have some kind of theme and I think the M&M costume is just a bit played.
So it’s a question of creativity, right.
Yeah, if you’re gonna go for it you may as well go all the way.
It’s been documented that you began recording songs in middle school to parse your teen emotions, referring to is as being “a cathartic thing – the same way that you would write something in your diary”.
Yeah, I mean it’s very, I’m writing to myself for myself so it’s kind of like if you have an issue you’re trying to work through or you’re trying to understand why you react a certain way to certain things it helps to leave yourself a message and this whole album is me leaving myself a message. It’s a habit that started when I first started writing music which wasn’t at all with the intention of trying to impress anyone or trying to make anything that’s fashionable what-soever, but it’s purely just for me. It’s like when you’re in school and you make up your own language and you just write to yourself in your stupid little language that you made up. It’s cathartic because it just helps me, like some people go do yoga, some people go to the gym. That’s what I do. I was very surprised when people reacted to it all in a lot of positive ways. As of now I haven’t strayed from that initial spark.
You have laid out some of your most personal and rawest emotions (things like regret, guilt, loneliness) on standout tracks such as Manhattan, Jupiter Grayscale and Sienna – which are really the EP’s strongest hits. Then you made Blue Bucket of Gold with Sufjan Stevens – an old fable. Less personal. So, my question is, what’s the difference in how you approach a Gallant song without any personal attachment?
Well, it’s weird because with Blue Bucket of Gold I was on tour with Sufjan Stevens and that arrangement of his is like one of his most things that he’s ever done. When I heard that for the first time when he was on tour it was something I hadn’t heard before and I read into the back story and getting into the conversations I had with him after every show it became very internalised for. Especially during that time I was really ill. I think we did that December/January and right after that tour I got very, very sick and I couldn’t do anything for months and so I kind of had to creep out from under my covers to go and do that. So that really meant something special. It is different in the sense that when I write the words are so, I dunno, like I’m not thinking about how people would perceive them at all. It’s just very idiosyncratic but when you feel something as intensely as Blue Bucket of Gold, you’re applying the same kind of rawness and you’re not thinking there’s someone looking over your shoulder just to deliver it. That’s the same kind of thing that happened to me with the Janet Jackson song which is like my childhood, nostalgic type song. There’s a lot of stuff I think I’ve done that borrows from that same world. And if you stare in my eyes I’m probably a million miles away. So I would say it’s definitely a different approach but it’s the same sentiment, you’re completely in your own world, you’re not worried about anything else that’s going on outside of the bubble. And, once you’re in it, you’re in it.
Outside of your bubble, you had mentioned previously that your earlier work (Zebra) was a sonic diary of your time in New York. When you moved to Los Angeles what sonic difference did that make to your soundscape?
If anything, I think, moving away from New York symbolised, I went to school in New York, I went to NYU and I was just constantly surrounded by energy of peers who were really focused on the aesthetic of being an artist or whatever they call themselves. And they weren’t really focused on the why or the process and it carried over into a lot of professors, too. Outside of the class when I was trying to be in the industry, so to speak, I was messing around with different business people left and right and it all just had that vibe, that kind of feeling of nothing really real. Just very hollow. So moving away was me moving away from all of that. So it was me consciously moving away from that type-a music industry-type vibe. And, it wasn’t until much later after I moved to LA that I started to meet people in the industry that were really genuine that didn’t come that place. I think that if anything, the biggest effect that had on my sound was it took me back to a place of not contrived and at that point whatever i did didn’t matter because, at that time I still thought you had to fit into some kind of box to make it work and I wasn’t interested in making it work. So, to kind of get back to where I was when I first started making music in that diary-type way that we’re talking about, that move solidified my decision to stick to that instead of slowly trying to morph into something that was of everyone else’s kind of expectation of me.
Can you appreciate the battles you’ve fought to get to where you are today?
Yeah, I think it does, for sure. I don’t feel like I’ve strayed from any values so far so that’s definitely worth it.
In The Room series, you’ve mixed it up with Sufjan Stevens, Seal and Jack Garratt. What brought on this selection, was it a label promotion or something more holistic?
No. The label thing would have made it a lot easier, for sure. But, I had always talked about how much I admired Seal because when I was growing up I got to see him completely disregard any kind of box. It helps that he isn’t American but that’s the American system that forces people into. He just didn’t exist in that world and he defined himself as an individual person with some of the most poetic lyrics that I’ve ever heard at that point. Obviously him being a black male, it just wasn’t something, I just didn’t know you could do that – which is really sad. So at a very early age, thankfully, it made me feel that you can exist outside of a set of categories or genres. That really solidified my love for making music because I knew how real I can be.