All Eyes on Gallant
Diary entries generally aren’t meant to be read to an audience of millions, but that’s just another day in the life of up-and-comer Christopher Gallant. Better known by only his surname, the 24-year-old musician first emerged in 2014 with his self-released EP, Zebra, and early last month, he released his first full-length album, Ology, via Mind Of A Genius. Skillfully toeing the line between macro and micro trials of heart and mind, Ology marks a sonically rapturous and bracingly sincere debut. The Washington, D.C.-native and Los Angeles-based artist worked with STiNT for much of the album’s production, which culls its inspiration from ’80s and ’90s soul, R&B, U.K. dubstep, alt rock, and more.
Now touring with Zhu, a fellow MOAG signee, Gallant will play two shows in New York this week—tomorrow and Thursday night at Terminal 5. Just before his return to the city, where he lived while studying at New York University, we spoke with Gallant over the phone about making Ology, laying it all on the line, and finding his way through an unforgiving industry.
BENJAMIN LINDSAY: I’m sure you’ve had a busy few weeks since the album release.
GALLANT: I would say it’s been more on the hectic side, but hopefully on the tour I’ll see some interesting places. It’s a little less rigorous than the last tour I did, so I’m looking forward to a nice balance of work and relaxation.
LINDSAY: What can we expect with your live outing? What’s it like opening for Zhu?
GALLANT: It’s going to be be fun. My last tour was with Sufjan Stevens and we were doing all sit-down venues. No alcohol was really served. It was an older crowd. That was a crazy experience to tailor my show around that. This is going to be a 180. Coming out of South By [Southwest] and Coachella, it should be a smooth transition. I’m looking forward to it.
LINDSAY: When did you first started making music?
GALLANT: I guess, like, 13, in middle school. I was just doing it because I was bored and that’s how I was getting out the emotions that I was feeling. I was writing in journals, but trying to put it in a song made more sense to me.
LINDSAY: Now, 10 years later, is that still your catharsis: sitting down and writing?
GALLANT: Definitely. I feel the same way when I’m finished, like, “Oh man, this is taking it too far,” “This is too soft,” or “I’m talking about too much in the lyrics.” That feeling of embarrassment is what I’m after when it comes to making music because it helps me learn more about myself. Even now, I can’t imagine being the person that I am without having written the stuff on this album.
LINDSAY: What’s the audience and critical reception been like for you?
GALLANT: I’m definitely honored to have anyone care. I think coming out of New York and NYU—like a culture where people are chasing after this bastardized understanding of what making music is about—it’s nice to have people latch on to something [when] you had to leave a manufactured world in order to fight for something more true.
LINDSAY: What was your time like in New York after NYU? Were you trying to make inroads into the industry and it didn’t really happen until L.A., or did you immediately go to L.A. after school?
GALLANT: I graduated early, I graduated in three years. I went to L.A. after, but it was mostly because I didn’t vibe with the city. The music industry was something that people in my program were obsessed with, in a way. So naturally, you meet people and you get into that world a little bit. But it just wasn’t for me. I didn’t really care. I didn’t really like it. I realized after graduation that I wasn’t mentally—I just didn’t feel well. That’s why I decided to move to L.A. because I had visited for a little bit, and I was, like, “Wow, this feels like home.” I guess the answer is I wasn’t really consciously doing anything in terms of a career. I was just trying to be more stable.
LINDSAY: Is the culture and music industry much different in L.A.?
GALLANT: It’s the same pretty much everywhere. It depends on the people. I guess when I’m talking about the business in New York, it’s nothing about New York. It took me awhile to realize that people who work in the industry are pretty much genuinely and generally whack and don’t really care. You’re really gonna have some issues if you put a lot of faith and trust in these people. I burned through a lot of those kinds of relationships. But it just took me completely disavowing it and denouncing that world in order to return to making things that felt real to me and helped me progress as a human being. That’s been my goal since then. And the people who are around me now share that value.
LINDSAY: How do you feel your music has changed over the years?
GALLANT: I think it’s digging deeper and asking myself more questions and letting myself get away with less and putting myself out there more and making myself as uncomfortable as possible. Even now, I feel it slowly shift toward digging deeper for very specific issues and things that I had buried in my head for years. So just those processes of bringing up stuff that you’ve suppressed and putting it up on a chalkboard and analyzing it. Having something on record to look back on and be like, “Oh, I remember going through this moment,” or, “I remember what I learned through this”—that’s something that I think is really important.
LINDSAY: I assume that’s where you get your title from? “Ology” as kind of a study of the self?
GALLANT: Exactly. It just felt like a very never-ending pursuit for knowledge or progress or whatever without any clear beginning and without any solid conclusion.
LINDSAY: Is your songwriting collaborative at all?
GALLANT: I have to be by myself. Production-wise, I like collaborating a lot because I’m not a great producer. Building stuff up from the ground up with somebody that I trust is what the whole thing’s about. But when it comes to writing, I can’t have anyone else in there with me.
LINDSAY: What collaborations have meant the most to you?
GALLANT: STiNT, who did most of Ology—he’s a homie of mine. It’s easy to knock down those walls that might cause some kind of self-consciousness. It makes it a lot easier. It feels unique and it feels special.
LINDSAY: Looking to your debut EP, Zebra, were you consciously going in a different direction with Ology?
GALLANT: Not consciously. [Zebra] was definitely really ambient. The vocals were really buried. It was really reverby. It was representative of this swell of [a] black and white, depressed kind of brooding moodiness that I was going through. And while that was accurate representation, it was a little bit one-dimensional. I wanted to try and create more of a 3D model of everything instead of being so blunt with it.
LINDSAY: Everything I read about you pegs you as an R&B artist. Do you identify with that?
GALLANT: People say, “Oh, you’re black, so it’s R&B.” They do that with Seal, which is crazy, because he makes, like, Celine Dion poetic power ballads. And they say, “Oh, he has black skin, so he’s R&B.” I just wanted to try and join everything together in a natural way. I hope other people think if they listen to [Ology], it represents a good palette of a lot of the influences that I’ve taken in. Musically, at least.
INDSAY: Was Prince at all an influence?
GALLANT: I feel inferior even just talking about him. He’s the greatest of all time. I’m sure you’ll do an interview with 10 artists following his death, and they’re all going to say the same thing. But it’s just, honestly, in my head, [he] was the greatest of all time. I was very shocked.
LINDSAY: What are you most looking forward to about taking this album on tour?
GALLANT: I think that on the Sufjan Stevens tour, the album wasn’t out, but I was doing a lot of album material. Nobody really had an anchor to connect with. And so I was basically selling myself. Not in a bad way, but it was me. I was out there presenting. This is going to be a little bit more personal. And it felt a little bit more personal, even since South By, just because I am not as intimidated. I feel I have a body of work that I’m really proud of that represents who I am.