“There were all these rules that I didn’t understand.”
Disillusioned with the New York music scene, former NYU student Chris Gallant moved to Los Angeles in 2013 to pursue his music out west. He refused to let the confines and expectations of others stifle his creativity.
Now a rising R&B star, Gallant (as he’s now known professionally) grew up in suburban Maryland. A self-professed introvert and private person, he was first drawn to music as a teenager, looking for a way to express his emotions and inner thoughts. “My parents worked a lot and I would come home from school and have nothing to do,” he says, citing nineties R&B artists like Baby Face, Dione Ward, and Toni Braxton among his early influences.
Following his well-received EP, Zebra, Gallant released his stunning debut full-length album, Ology, in April, catching the attention of artists like Elton John and Seal. Now touring to increasingly bigger crowds, he’s put a high priority on challenging himself to new limits, personally and artistically. Digital Trends sat down with Gallant recently to chat about his music, old and new, his real-world inspirations, and more.
DT: Do you remember any of the first songs that you wrote?
Gallant: Oh yeah for sure! I’m almost scared to go into it. It was really bad, but at the same time, it was as honest as I could possibly be. If you look at me as a 13-year-old, the anger and abrasiveness that I had mixed with the stuff that I was writing. It totally mirrors my closed-off personality now, versus me just completely letting everyone go lyrically. I feel like that stayed with me, that separation. I grew to get used to it.
When I was in middle school trying to express myself, everyone has that period where they’re filled with all this shit and they don’t really know what to say … I just gravitated towards using a USB mic on my computer and writing songs, which were horrible. It was just me vomiting out everything that was locked inside, and I guess it was just like a bad habit, you never stop doing it.
I noticed a marked difference between Zebra and Ology. Was there anything in particular that contributed to that, or more an evolution in your writing overtime?
I went to NYU, I was there for a while, and while I was working on different projects, it became clear that the industry was a very specific kind of thing. The stuff that I was writing on Zebra was a result of me rebelling against that whole culture. There was stuff on that EP that I wrote that I played for my team members in New York, and they were like, “Umm…that’s cool but if you do that, you have to do this …” I guess Zebra is a bit more to the point, brooding, very much about how I was feeling. The new album, Ology, is a bit more questioning, not letting myself get away with sticking to one thing, more digging deep and trying to analyze every emotion and every reaction.
I know I’m really pushing myself to the utmost limit of vulnerability. I feel like that in itself is a message that I can stand on.
So much of music is about everything else. Musicians don’t live in a vacuum where they make music only inspired by other music. What inspires you that isn’t music?
Honestly, I’m glad you said that because literally music inspires me a little bit, but it’s probably only 10 percent. Every time someone asks me, “Oh what musicians (inspire you)” I always say that it’s music but it’s really going outside, taking walks on trails, riding bikes with friends, going to the cul-de-sac, sliding down a mountain when it’s a blizzard outside, looking at the sky at night … being up late at night and being awake and not able to sleep, you just hear the silence as it gets louder in your head. It’s that stuff. It’s so powerful to me. And music is cool, but I could easily have seen myself gravitate towards many other art forms. I’m sure it would have been the same. I would never hold music above everything else.
Talk to me about the In the Room series.
As I was doing shows for the EP and starting to write new stuff, I was getting these opportunities to cross paths with artists that I really admired and really inspired me. Going on tour with Sufjan [Stevens] was the first time where I was in close proximity with these people which was incredible. I grew up listening to them and drew a lot of inspiration from them. Sufjan did the first one and it was such a natural thing, and then every opportunity I had to cross paths I just threw it out there as a way for me to pay tribute. I can’t believe that the artists that we got agreed because, truly, they are my biggest inspirations. Completely surreal to be standing next to them.
Gallant is currently on tour with fellow Mind of a Genius label-mate, Zhu, to promote Ology. As he performs for larger and more prestigious audiences, including his recent television debut on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, the creative powerhouse maintains the same driven perspective that brought him this far.
“I really pushed myself and dug deep. I guess the thing that I took away [from making the album] was a very specific feeling of embarrassment which I’m going to continue to push for. I know there’s still room to grow, there’s more I can reveal, more that I can find out.”