Interview: Gallant Talks Life, Lyrics, and Loving in Cold Blood
An interview with Gallant after his performance at Mamby on the Beach 2016 in Chicago. Watch the end of this interview, originally recorded on Snapchat, now on YouTube.
Some idiot must have chucked a water bottle at me. An offense worth annoyance but not a reaction, I continue taking photos, refusing to turn around. My feet are soaking wet. An arm’s-length in front of me, Gallant is on stage pouring every single day of his 24 years into an unforgettable performance. I’m watching a future legend. He throws the mic stand and collapses, still holding the microphone to his lips. The tenor is wailing beautifully in falsetto. His drummer jerks suddenly to one side. Ducking for cover, he narrowly misses a beefsteak tomato-sized water balloon. I finally realize what’s happening. We’re under attack — by Mamby.
Last weekend, Chicago’s Mamby on the Beach gathered an amazing lineup of talent from the genres of Hip-Hop, Dance, and Pop and threw water balloons at them. It was rude and it was great, if we’re being honest. An all-inclusive water balloon fight where no one was safe, breaking the wall between artist and audience. An aloof musician would have thrown up the deuces and exited stage left, but Gallant was up to the challenge. Before attention could be diverted to the florescent bombs above, he lunged into the crowd, not once but three times. His behavior became more controlled, more emotional. He made it impossible to look away.
Before this show I knew Christopher Gallant, known simply as Gallant, to be a thoughtful songwriter but now I know him to be a magnanimous performer, giving all of himself without reservation.
We talked backstage after his set.
Exclusive Interview: Gallant
GALLANT: Those water balloons were crazy.
KARI: Yea, I was taking photos from the pit. Thanks for meeting me.
GALLANT: Of course.
KARI: You and I share something in common. Growing up, I was really into a lot of 80s rock, some alternative, like you. It wasn’t what most around me were listening to but I related to the music. Still, there’s something about 90s R&B, right? What do you think that is? What do you think it was about the time that made the music so special?
GALLANT: I think it has something to do with … It evokes that very nostalgic barbecue vibe.
KARI: Like, something familial.
GALLANT: Yea, exactly. There’s a melody, of course, but the structure kind of loses it after a while. It’s just them doing what they feel. Nobody really makes music like that.
KARI: Well, you’re making music like that.
GALLANT: I’m inspired. I’m trying.
KARI: I hear a lot of 90s R&B in your sound, a little 90s Maxwell. I hear a little Usher.
GALLANT: Oh, word? Ok.
KARI: But when I say inspiration what do you say?
GALLANT: It’s really like a cesspool of a bunch of different things…
KARI: Not a cesspool.
GALLANT: [laughs] Right, well a delicious cesspool if there is such a term. I listen to Toni Braxton, Brandy. Babyface is a huge inspiration for me. I’m a huge Maxwell fan. I’m a big D’Angelo fan. So many more…
Talking in Your Sleep
KARI: I thought about Toni, she has a song about talking in your sleep. Ever heard it?
GALLANT: Toni? I have to have heard it.
KARI: Let me transition that into another question: You’ve got a song, “Talking in Your Sleep.” In it you sing, “Waiting for your bus / Even though you know you’ll end up / Walking a mile on your own.” That to me sounds like, ‘Girl, where you going ‘cause don’t nobody want you like I want you.’
GALLANT: [laughs] It could be a little of that. Or it could be about talking to yourself and you’re looking at yourself in the mirror like, “I see you talking in your sleep, waiting for something to happen and it’s never going to happen.”
KARI: So what do you do then, when you don’t see success in the future.
GALLANT: Yea. I guess in that song I don’t really have any type of solution. I’m just taking another sip of wine and dealing with it.
“I’m Really Boring.”
KARI: Where do you find inspiration for your lyrics? Do they come from relationships?
GALLANT: Sometimes, but most of the time it’s just … I’m really boring. I just chill at home by myself, play video games, watch CNN, cartoons, whatever. Sometimes it’s just …
GALLANT: Life and having nothing else to do. Since I’m alone with my own thoughts and my own self, I have to overanalyze myself and try to figure out why I react to certain things in a certain way.
KARI: If more people thought things through before acting, it would change the environment, especially in a city like Chicago where we have a lot of struggle.
GALLANT: Definitely, and if people thought before they reacted too.
KARI: I read that you studied music at NYU. Do you think it’s important for a musician to perfect their craft on a studious level?
GALLANT: No, not at all.
KARI: Why did you do it?
GALLANT: I’ve always been weird. Through high school I did my own thing. I did a lot of independent research. I wanted to learn about myself in the context of the world. So, I studied a lot of sociology and anthropology.
KARI: I could see that working beautifully into writing lyrics.
GALLANT: Definitely. Because what are you talking about? You’re talking about influences from the outside world, how they’re channeled through the different receptors in your brain and kind of filtered into how you feel, and documenting that. That’s basically what the world is: trends and how things move. Because I was studying those things on my own, I wanted to go to NYU and continue studying that. It’s like taking African American studies.
KARI: Right, because that doesn’t make you “better black”.
GALLANT: Exactly, but it makes you understand things. That’s what music studies did. It didn’t make me a better musician but it helped me understand.
KARI: When thinking about the blogs and other platforms that carried your music at the beginning of your career, do you think those outlets helped or hindered you? Is music suffering in this digital age or are electronics helping us produce more and better music?
GALLANT: I think it helps. I was the kid in middle and high school downloading everything.
GALLANT: No, illegally.
KARI: Oh, good. Me too. I feel bad about it now, though. We need authenticity. We need artists to stay sincere, like you are. Talking to you does make me feel bad about all those illegal downloads back in the day.
GALLANT: I wouldn’t worry about it because [at the time] it was a cultural signal that we were giving to whatever industries were trying to force us to buy things. We wanted to be free.
KARI: Well, I was just broke.
GALLANT: We were all broke. We wanted to be free. We wanted to be inspired. So, let us be inspired. That’s why streaming services have really opened up the market.
Where There’s a Seal, There’s a Way
KARI: Should we expect another episode of your YouTube series In the Room?
GALLANT: Oh, yea. I just shot episode 5 and I think I only have 2 episodes out right now.
KARI: The last episode includes Seal. Who made the call when Seal wanted to work with you?
GALLANT: Oh, man! I found out he wanted to meet me. He heard my song somewhere. I think one of his homies passed it to him. When we met, I was planning to ask for some way to honor him. I was thinking of asking for permission to sing one of his songs. He suggested we do “Weight in Gold”. I was shocked. That dude’s my hero.
KARI: It makes sense that you’ve worked with Seal and Jhené [Aiko] because they both have such emotional lyrics. I feel like your lyrics are very personal. I also love that you didn’t just have Seal sing on the song with you but instead you remade the entire track. Do you handle a lot of your production?
GALLANT: I like to give the producer all the credit but they’re my friends. I’m working with my homies. On this album it was me and Stint. We did everything from the ground up.
All images: Kari Herrera/Chicagoings