The Great Gallant: Getting to know RnB’s rising star
He’s been dubbed ‘the one to watch’ by industry tastemakers everywhere, and it’s not hard to see why everyone has their eyes, and ears, on Maryland’s Christopher Gallant. With a piercing falsetto and a stylistic breadth that spans R’n’B, electronic, blues and rock, the spotlight has fallen effortlessly on GALLANT since the release of his debut album, Ology, last April. His accolades continue to stack up, with nominations, collaborations and live shows at a calibre belonging to artists who’ve been in the game a lot longer. Gallant’s live performance and lyricism are thrilling and intimate; both are endearing displays of expression, unfiltered honesty and what is means to be innately human.
Gallant called me after soundcheck at his Bluesfest sideshow in Sydney and, despite being a self-proclaimed introvert, he spoke humbly with candour and tenacity; an unwilling player in the game of celebrity, but happy to be there nonetheless. We spoke about his quick rise to fame, being handpicked to sing with Elton John and finding quiet moments with a good cartoon.
So this time last year you were playing Coachella, now you’re here in Australia having just debuted at Bluesfest and headlining shows in Sydney and Melbourne. So far, how are we doing in comparison to the States?
It’s great so far, I’ve wanted to come here for a long time. In the States, it’s cool, it’s been kind of a long haul but in Australia it’s been a first time introduction since not a lot of people are familiar with my music so it’s been really fun kind of just introducing it all, basically for the first time. It’s been great meeting everyone at Bluesfest and these shows so far.
Did you get any time to check out any of the other artists at Bluesfest?
I went in with all these very grandiose plans of seeing a long night of music but unfortunately I didn’t get to catch any. I’ll have to come back and see it ’cause, I mean, this year the bill was just incredible so I can only imagine it’s gonna stay consistent and next year’s bill will be just as impressive.
This past year has been quite a ride for you. You’ve only just released Ology last year, did you expect this kind of reception when you put out the album?
No, not at all. It’s been really surreal, the entire year and all the incredible things I’ve had a chance to experience so I’m just really happy that people are listening to it at all, and being on tour the majority of last year was just incredible to be able to have a connection with new audiences every night. I definitely didn’t imagine it but retrospectively I couldn’t have asked for more.
Well from the outside, it seems like such as seamless rise to the top for you, yet your lyrics tell such cathartic stories of struggle and heartbreak. Has songwriting always been an outlet for you?
Yeah, I mean, really more so than the musical aspects. I’m a pretty reserved individual so that’s just kind of how I gave myself therapy for free, you know, and that remains to be its main utility.
Well you’re speaking to a writer, so I can relate to that.
You’ve got your Youtube series, In The Room, as a way to pay tribute to those who inspire you, which has already featured Seal and Jack Garratt and Sufjan Stevens. Who else would you like to bring in?
I’m really excited about that series. I’ve actually shot three or four episodes that I haven’t put out yet but I’m really excited to share those. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say who it is but they’re all people that I really admire and have been lucky enough to have some sort of relationship with for the past six months. So it’s just a really fun, low stakes way of saying, “Hey, you know, thank you and if it’s cool with you I’d like to basically publicly say how much you inspire me and how much you mean to the musical ethos.” So I’m just happy to always have those opportunities to meet the people I look up to.
You’ve also had Elton John call your voice ‘an astonishing instrument.’ How did that moment with him come about?
Yeah, it’s very crazy and very surreal. The fact that he’s so plugged into what’s going on musically, now at all, when he obviously doesn’t have to be, he can just sit up in a giant castle somewhere and not pay attention to the rest of the world. But instead he is deeply ensconced in the fabric of all the new music coming out and he’s integral in a lot of these new artists’ careers. He’s saying, “Hey I have this opportunity at this major festival in London and I’m just gonna use that opportunity to invite artists that I think are really cool.” It’s a very unique motivation that not a lot of people of his calibre have. So I was really honoured that he chose me as worthy of someone that people should hear.
You do have some serious pipes. Have you always sung or is it something you picked up when you realised you had something to sing about?
I’ve always sung but I wasn’t very good.
I find that hard to believe!
(Laughs) No, trust me! It’s just when you’re alone and that’s just what came naturally and I didn’t have anyone looking over my shoulder since I spent a lot of time just writing music by myself.
So you’ve toured with Sufjan Stevens, but also John Legend. And you can pack out crowds at Coachella, but also Bluesfest. People have drawn comparisons between you and Frank Ocean, but also you and Sam Smith. Where do you feel like you fit in all this?
I think that maybe I just don’t. And I’m happy with that. But I’m really honoured that I’ve been able to experience vastly different audiences with people who fit in different categories of music that I all look up to equally. So it’s been a pretty unique experience that I’m really just honoured to have.
Is there any kind of specific community, or culture, within music that you feel like you belong to? There’s a lot of artists at the forefront of RnB with you, but do you feel like it’s your duty to break the mould or do you find your community with those people?
It’s really all over the place for me. I think if I have any community, it’s with the people in the audience. Honestly, I look out at the crowd and just the makeup of the crowd reminds me a lot of my friends growing up and my hometown. It’s almost more work to define it than to just accept that not everything has to be defined. I’m just happy to be able to relate to those people.
Amongst all this has there been one moment where you’ve had to pinch yourself or you know, kind of lock yourself in a cupboard, take a deep breath and recalibrate your idea of reality?
(Laughs) Yeah, definitely. It’s happened a lot, but most recently when I found out that the album was nominated for a Grammy in the States was really one of those moments. I was just so honoured that they were paying attention at all, or that they thought it was worthy of any kind of recognition. Especially for the album itself that I worked really hard on. That’s the biggest moment that comes to mind.
Have you always intended to work with electronic music or do you perhaps feel like this is the direction the world is moving in right now, and you have to find a way to make it your own?
I wish I had that much method going into it but I honestly didn’t really think about it that much at all (laughs). There’s a lot of things about electronic music that I really admire just as much as there is about other styles that I really admire. I thought as little as possible and whatever came out just came out.
You can see that natural artistic expression in your live performance and the way you move when you sing. Did being on stage come naturally too?
Honestly, I don’t know if anything came naturally. That was the process of making the album, being alone, and being on stage is like I’m alone, but I’m on stage. If that makes sense. It’s just more for me than anything else.
I know Stint was big part of your album process, too. Was he someone you sought out to work with or did that come about organically?
I wouldn’t say sought out but someone sent me a link to his Soundcloud and I was like, “Oh, this is tight.” Then I met him and we made some songs (laughs). It was one of those types of things to be honest. And we were just really compatible as friends and we started hanging out and we went to Comic-Con…
You went to Comic-Con!
Oh, I’m a huge cartoon nerd so I go there for the Cartoon Network aspect and a little bit of the anime stuff. Right now I’m a huge Steven Universe fan and a huge Regular Show fan and then it ended. I’m a video game type dude and I’ve always been into anime and Miyazaki films.
So that’s where you find your down time then, in between all this madness.
Absolutely! On the tour bus, it’s just me sitting there silently watching cartoons.
The rock and roll lifestyle.
(laughs) Some people can’t keep up!
Okay, I won’t keep you too long but I want to know about your time here Down Under? Have you tried Vegemite or held a koala?
No! But I’ve been really trying to see some koalas. Vegemite, I remember from an episode of Rocket Power and I’ve been trying to find it but no one has even mentioned it since I’ve been here. So I guess all the stereotypes are just unwarranted.
Photo: Daniel Davis via Redbull.com
Words by Tianna Harris