Gallant's biggest fear is talking about his music. "The way I approach [songwriting] is writing notes on your phone when you're kinda drunk and you're just writing shit," he says. "You don't want everyone else to read that." And it's clear from his debut album, Ology -- released on April 6 via Mind of a Genius Records -- that his vulnerability and isolation is what's at the front and center for the 24-year-old artist.
Born and raised in Columbia, Md.—a suburb of Washington D.C.—Christopher Gallant spent his teenage years wrestling with his teenage angst and emotions, trying to find a way to express it through songwriting. It's a common tale; his friends criticized his now sprawling falsetto, he kept going, and now he's releasing a debut album praised by your favorite music sites and plans to have an impressive showcase at Coachella this weekend. A show filled with surprises he's not willing to spill.
After attending NYU's Gallantin School of Individualized Study and coming face-to-face with the loneliness of New York City, Gallant moved to Los Angeles where he linked up with his now manager Jake Udell, dropped a debut project dubbed Zebra and subsequently signed with Mind of a Genius Records. However, it was the continued aura isolation of Los Angeles that spurred him face his inner demons -- a struggle clearly documented on Ology, and one we talked about ahead of Coachella.
Ology dropped a couple days ago, how did you celebrate its release?
Honestly I've kind of just been taking it easy and rehearsing for Coachella with my band. I had a really small gathering of a couple of my friends when I was in New York and I did the same thing when I was in LA. It was super lowkey.
Take me back to your NYU days when you started to really pursue music.
I grew up in Columbia, Maryland, which is really a suburban town, and it's natural, I feel like, for every kid who grows up in the suburbs to be like, "Oh, there's something better," and naturally doing a 180 flip -- which for me is New York. I was definitely more interested in the city and the program that I went to at NYU, which is the Gallatin School of Individualized Study. I was doing a lot of individualized studies and I felt really comfortable learning about things in my own space. I was doing individual study in high school so it really just felt natural. I wanted to take a lot of summer school classes so I could get out early and I ended up graduating early.
Did you end up hating New York?
I really liked NYU, I really liked New York the first year or so, and then it really started to tear me down a lot the last year, for sure. Mentally, I was getting lonely more and more -- and deteriorated and jaded and it started to affect me in a really negative way. The idea to move to Los Angeles came out of knowing that I needed to leave the city and I had an opportunity to go visit LA. It just felt like, "Wow, I didn't know you could do this. I just felt, like, cheated in life to be surrounded by things that you actually want to be around and not live in an environment that clearly doesn't want you there. It felt natural. It didn't have anything to do with the music, really, it was just for the mindset.
To you, is Los Angeles as lonely as New York?
You can definitely get real lonely in LA but there's no loneliness, at least to me, I've never known loneliness like waking up in New York, having no one around to connect with and just looking out and seeing the same things written on millions of faces. That's a very specific type of loneliness that just makes you question humanity in a way that solitude in LA can have a little more of an optimistic spin on it.
While you were in New York, I read that you got into songwriting a bit in the industry.
It was natural for me to study music and keep making music as a means to keep surviving another day. That's what I did when I was in New York. The culture around me was like, "Hey, if you're doing this [music] then you have to embody what it means to be an artist and you gotta tackle the industry," and all of this nonsense. At that time, when you're a teenager, you're like, "Why not?" I tried the whole "industry" vibe through songwriting, talking to managers and "teams" and it was really difficult because you're constantly compromising these hypothetical situations that go against your values, and at some point you're like, "What hands are pushing me in different directions?" It just doesn't really make any sense. I wasn't really about to be happy with the stuff that I was expressing.
photo by Hayden "BabyBoy" Belluomini
Were you actually writing for other artists or were you in just experimenting in writing workshops?
Nothing that I ever wrote ended up getting used. My lyrics didn't find in that spot. There are all these rules that I didn't know how to follow so I wasn't very good at it as a result. But I tried it out.
Once you moved to LA, how did you end up signing with Mind of a Genius?
It was really organic. It happened very naturally. I put out [my EP] Zebra; I didn't meet David [Dann, owner of MOAG] until eight months after I released Zebra. I was just putting out music on my own but even during that time, when I was doing shows off the songs of that EP, I was approached by a lot of people in the industry like, "I want to talk to you, come look at you."
That must've been overwhelming because you had a bad experience with the industry in NY.
I definitely hold grudges. I don't trust people. But anyway, [David Dann] reached out while everyone else was reaching out at the same time. Eventually, I talked to a few [managers and publicists] who reached out and immediately had all of my suspicions [about the industry] confirmed. You know, just managers who didn't know how to do their jobs and just knew how to find people and rob them...latching themselves on to whatever you were putting out. But I met David and he didn't really give me any praise at all. He just wanted to know what was going on in my brain with the message I was trying to say. He kind of criticized a lot and suggested that there were better ways to say what I was trying to say. I ended up getting really upset and leaving, but then I called him late in the night and I was like, "Let's work together." It was refreshing, nothing was contrived, that's how it works with my current team.
With Zebra, where did you want to fit into the music scene?
I wasn't thinking about any of that at all—and I'm still not. I recorded the first thing that ended up on Zebra while I was still mixed up in the industry in New York but I remember just how frustrated I was with how the industry was laid out. I kept stuff that I wrote that I never wanted to share, that was embarrassing to even bring up, to record. So, I was like, "Fuck it, I'm going to stand 10 feet away from the mic. Fuck all the recording technology." I got a cheap mic, and that was kind of the catalyst for the entire EP that I ended up doing with my friend Felix [Snow]. That whole thing breathed life into what it mean to express everything that was bottled up inside.
Did you feel a sense of relief once Zebra was out?
It was more so after it was recorded, it was like that was the real me. That happens in many different forms and for that EP, it was just something really close to what considered honesty and vulnerability. I do the same thing all the time, just in other ways. I'll record a fucked up sounding trap EP in a day or some shit, and just load it on my computer. Or go to a rehearsal studio and record an iPhone punk rock thing. It's just purely cathartic.
So there's a trap-like EP of yours floating around the internet?
Oh yeah. It's not for a purpose but it's the way I get it from the inside out. The funny thing is, it's on Soundcloud. I put it under a fake name. You could find it, I liked a track from it from my Soundcloud. There's another punk rock EP that i did with Felix, I was playing some instruments. [Editor's Note: A track from a mysterious EP titled Jennifer Connelly under an alias—Nugget—was the only track not by an artist of notoriety liked from Gallant's Soundcloud. It has since been removed from the Internet.]
Once Zebra dropped, what was your reaction to its pick up?
It was surprising, I didn't really do anything to try to capitalize off of it. I didn't do many interviews, it was just kind of there. If anything, it made me want to dig deeper and learn more about myself. The whole point of me doing this whole thing, and it's always been, is just to progress and evolve as a person.
How have you seen yourself grow, personally, between projects?
It's hard to pinpoint what it is but even when I look back, I'm so very happy with the project that I made especially jumping over personal hurdles. My relationships with friends or family or whatever, and how I see myself in the world, or how I see myself in relation to other people—and I couldn't imagine having that much growth. My parents have always been the most supportive people in the world, and so were my friends. It's just about the growth.
I've read in interviews that your friends used to think your voice sucked.
They were totally justified, they weren't being mean, they were thinking that they were helping me out but I didn't care enough about the industry. But it was very solid advice. If there was any kind of growth, it's been based on the fact that I do a lot of recording now. It's having no judgment and blowing all of your inhibitions, and experimenting with different things, that your voice is a tool it just becomes more versatile.
What song on Ology was the most personal to you? One that you felt uncomfortable letting others hear?
"Bone & Tissue." Without getting too much into it, I was pushing myself a lot to say things that I didn't want my friends to hear or things that I had to explain. But this took it a little further. Even the delivery, especially the verses were on the border of, "Okay is this too soft?" It makes you really question yourself. I had a hard time on that end, on opening up, and it's like, "I'm going to be OK sounding this fragile on this song." It pushes me out of my comfort zone so far and invalidates all of these things about bravado [that I thought].
Another standout is "Skipping Stones." How'd you link with Jhene Aiko?
It was organic, there was no one saying, "Who should we get on a song?" I was working with Red Bull and they asked me if I wanted to meet Jhene. We talked and had a mutual friend, she put her emotions on the table and complimented mine in a perfect way. It felt really special.
Now that Ology is out, you're playing Coachella and going on tour with Zhu. What else do you have planned?
I'm working on the visuals, I think it's tough for me with visuals because you only have so much expertise. It's finding the balace between letting someone else take the reigns but then that's kind of against your values, I've been trying to find a balance for that. Immediately, I'm excited to go back home to [Los Angeles] before Coachella.