photography: Marshall James McKinley // interview: Marshall and Krista Barry
We are living in a time where more music is being produced than ever before, but how much of that music is truly great? Gallant may be one of the few of his era to put forth great music – music with depth, vulnerability, and strikingly bold talent. He has the street style of a minimalist, but his music and his performances are explosive in energy and all-consuming.
Touring nonstop for over a year, promoting his debut album Ology, the R&B up-and-comer Gallant has recently made stops at ACL, The White House, Apple Music Festival, and at last, The University of Colorado Boulder. Before taking the stage at the Glenn Miller Ballroom on October 12th, Gallant sat down with Crave to discuss his past year, Los Angeles, and his recording process.
Where would you call home?
Right now, Los Angeles. I’m from Columbia, Maryland, which is a suburb of D.C., and I went to school in New York, then I moved to L.A. I’ve been there for two and a half years, and I just feel the closest to home there.
How did going to NYU shape you as an artist?
It made me hate everything about pursing music, because all my classmates were focused on the aesthetic of pursing it, and all the professors encouraged that.
But then there were solid lines of curriculum where you were spending your days diving into all these albums and dissecting different mixes and learning how one genre of music is formed from the seeds of ten others from around the world, tracing the roots and the etymology of all the sounds. In a way, it gave me a lot of understanding, but also I think it made me a lot more self-aware, which was good, because it let me make music from a completely secure place – meaning no insecure way of thinking about people looking over my shoulder and thinking about how people are going to listen to it.
But you found yourself in Los Angeles?
I graduated in three years, so then I had the parental gap year, so I was just hanging out, and it just didn’t feel good to be in New York without the college environment that made New York so inviting and so cool. And it’s just not, in my opinion, a really fun place. It just felt really stifle, not even creatively, just on a personal level. I wasn’t really happy.
So L.A. gave that sense of like “oh, this is something new, and this is cool” and at the same time it had a cul-de-sac type vibe, and I could get in the car and drive, and it felt like I had a lot more freedom. And obviously it’s beautiful in California. It relaxes you, and you don’t feel like you have to have every second of your day filled, otherwise you’re not doing anything with your life. I just like that vibe a lot more.
I read that you were discovered at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles?
Yeah, I had this EP I had released called “Zebra” in 2014, and I was just putting it on the internet and somehow I was able to do shows off the back of that. Hype machine was popping back then and SoundCloud didn’t suck. I guess I got lucky with that, and I was surprised by the response to the songs I was putting out. So during one of those shows, I ended up meeting people in the industry that I didn’t hate and got along with on a personal level, and I guess eight months from then I started working on my album that just got released this year.
What’s the level of interaction you’d like to have with your fans?
My audience is still really small which is awesome, but it’s also really diverse and there’s no real pull in any direction. And it’s cool, cause that’s where I grew up, Columbia, where everybody was all over the place, and no one was really repping a culture or anything – everyone was just a part of it. So every time I meet my audience members, they all just remind me of my friends growing up. It’s cool to consistently see that kind of understanding in play.
When did you find out you would be performing at the White House and what was your reaction?
I think that was last week? We found out four days before. It’s hard, because if I think about those types of things too much it really freaks me out. Going in, it’s like, “oh, this is so tight, I’m really honored,” but also, it’s scary logistically, because we were trying to scramble to get together all those flights and figure out the set. We landed and basically went right there. There’s a lot of mental preparation, so I guess if anything I was focused on that. Obviously to have that opportunity was such an honor, and I just had to do whatever I had to do to make it work.
What was it like performing with Elton John?
It’s the same thing. I can’t think about it too much. It was just that mental game of preparing everyday subconsciously, especially that week because I had like ten things to do while I was in London. If anything, I just kinda tensed up as if I was about to go into the ring or something, and focused on making it as good as I could.
I actually met him before when he played a song of mine on his radio show, and I got the opportunity to go to Vegas and see him during his residency and talk to him. So to have that follow-up relationship build in such a massive way was surreal for me.
What’s your personal favorite song you’ve ever released?
I think it would be “Chandra,” which is a song that I don’t think anyone has ever listened to from my album. It’s like a Disney song, but the lyrics are really fucked up. I worked on it over the course of six months or so. For me, it represents best who I am, because I like shit that some people might say is really cheesy, but at the same time, lyrically I really strive to completely undercut all that in whatever way possible. I think that song does it the best.
The production of your music is really cool and combines different elements of jazz, R&B, and electronic. What goes into the production of your songs?
It’s usually just my homie, and then we spend however long it takes, like a year working on it, and I try to not let too many other people get involved. With the EP, it was with my best friend at the time, Felix. And then for this album, it was my friend AJ who goes by Stent. It was super low key, we weren’t interested in the typical producer shit, and we just like hung out and made a bunch of songs. I feel like It’s hard, definitely during this process, when people wanted to try and do the whole “oh, let’s work with this person today and this person tomorrow and make a bunch of songs.” But none of those songs were good, so I’d rather stick with an approach that feels organic and honest, rather than trying to churn out a bunch of trite stuff.
What does your year look like going forward?
Well right now, I think I’m over the hump of the crazy scheduling in terms of touring, because it’s been nonstop basically since march and bouncing back and forth from Europe and Korea. But from here on out, it’s pretty chill. I’m going to a couple more events in the D.C. area for political stuff, which is new for me. Hopefully through December I’ll get a little bit of a break and be able to get energy to be able to focus on making something else, maybe not another project but something that gives a detailed rundown of everything I’ve been through this year. Definitely looking forward to getting off the tour and having some time to be in one spot for a while.