Gallant On Being the Man in the Mirror When Nobody’s Looking
Don't label him an R&B singer
Back in September, Sir Elton John played an emotionally powerful song by a budding singer live on Beats 1 radio. “He’s going to be an artist to watch… he’s going to be huge,” the legend predicted after “Weight In Gold” rang through the airwaves. The knight wasn’t the only one to give Gallant a music heavyweight co-sign. Over the past year, he’s collaborated with Seal for an acoustic cover of “Weight In Gold” (below), and joined Sufjan Stevens on tour for the experience of a lifetime. With bucket list items checked, it’s kind of hard to believe Christopher Gallant is in the middle of promoting a debut album.
Gallant was a teen in Columbia, Maryland, when he began recording music to bring scribbled thoughts from his journal to life. It wasn’t much of a hit with his friends. “The lyrics didn’t make any sense to them because they’re 13-year-old kids,” said Gallant. After high school, he moved to NYC to pursue a higher education—specifically at NYU’s Gallatin– and to continue working on his art. Unfortunately, the Concrete Jungle wasn’t apt for the type of artist Gallant wanted to be: one free of labels and genres. It wasn’t until his move to Los Angeles in 2014 that the world got to hear Gallant’s thoughts translated through music for the first time in his moody EP, Zebra. The EP was personal, unapologetic—and fans wanted more. “It was surprising to see that reaction with some of the stuff from Zebra. I think that kind of drove me to dig even deeper with this album,” he told us over the phone. Now at 24, Gallant continues to write as if no one’s looking over his shoulder, sharing his thoughts in his signature falsetto style. Except this time, the crowd is much older.
Gallant’s debut album, Ology, is a direct result of his bravery in being vulnerable and opening himself up for his fans to relate to. After all, we are listening to pages from his journal. Ology took a year-and-a-half to write, and with the backing of a major label (Mind of a Genius/Warner Bros. Records), he was able to incorporate a live band in the studio, to again bring the words he thought he’d never say to life. Mass Appeal caught up with the rising star to discuss his latest album, what he’s learned along the way, and how Seal inspired him to change his perception of what defines a Black man.
Mass Appeal: So Ology…from what I’ve read, your writing from comes from a very personal place. Are all these songs your emotional state and how you’re feeling right now?
Gallant: I would say most of them are. I think some of the stuff that I thought about lyrically, I really can’t say out loud. I write it to the point where I really just don’t want to put [the songs] out. The thought of someone hearing those lyrics and the delivery in certain songs just makes me really like, “Wow, why did I let myself do that?” It’s kind of really embarrassing.
What’s an example of a track that made you feel that way?
The lyrics in “Bourbon” I really don’t like talking about. The delivery and the verses of “Bone + Tissue.” The verses of “Open Up.” It’s right on the line between a little bit too soft or whatever. Even the lyrics in the last song, “Chandra,” for sure. Even the lyrics in the last song are unapologetically like Disney. But at the same time, this is all stuff that I genuinely would write if nobody was over my shoulder, and it’s all stuff that I would genuinely listen to if nobody was in the room with me. It’s kind of a fine line between being who you are in the bathroom mirror when nobody’s looking and then, accepting the fact that other people will connect with that version of yourself.
I was watching your live performances and I noticed your energy stays high track after track. How do you bring that energy level every time you step on the stage?
I’m not sure at all, because I’m definitely not that dude in everyday life. I’m chill. I think when I was approaching the performance aspect, I really didn’t want to do some kind of interpretation of the stuff I was writing about. I didn’t wanna bring that thematically to the stage. I really wanted to focus on that type of—back to the bathroom mirror thing—no judgement and no inhibition to the stage. I guess the way I perform [is] the result of that philosophy.
You said you’re a really chill guy when you’re not on the stage. What are some main differences between the artist Gallant and just Chris Gallant?
The major differences? I’ve never worded it like that. That’s crazy. I never think of it like that. I’m not sure. I never thought of it like two separate things really. But I don’t know…I mean, I guess I’m not going to talk about my feelings with you in real life.
Are you sure? This is a therapy session actually. This is what we’re doing. I’m getting there. No, I’m kidding.
[Laughs] Even then, I’m sure it would be tough. If I’m talking to someone in real life, even my closest friends, you really gotta pull shit out of me. I’m not going to offer up stuff like that, you know. I like to stay inside, I like to play video games. That’s who I am. I feel like lyrically, I’m a lot bolder. I like to offer up all this information. It seems like I have this crazy wild, imagination or something where I’m like prancing around in a forest or whatever. It may seem like I’m an extrovert or something. I like being the center of attention and that’s also not who I am.
Do your friends get to know you better listening to your music?
You know, I don’t know. I’ve never really talked to my friends in depth about my music. That’s actually something that I’d like to learn though. I mean even my family it’s kind of like, I don’t know, I probably would run away from it with questions about the lyrical content or anything. So I haven’t approached them with anything. I mean they love my music. They’re really supportive. They’ve always been. But you know, sometimes my dad will be like, “Did you just say this in the lyrics?” And I’ll kinda be like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I think they take it on a very surface type of way, which is totally fine with me.
You’ve mentioned using music as a means of self-discovery, so far, with two projects under your belt, what have you learned about yourself?
I learned a lot of things aren’t set in stone. We were talking about the center of attention thing, I learned that I can navigate that. I’ve learned that things that used to really upset me, don’t necessarily have to. Things that put me in a depressed kind of mood, don’t necessarily have to. I’ve kind of evolved and shaped the way that I look at the world, and the way I look at friendships, the way that I look at priorities, etc. A lot of people attribute it to growing up, but I couldn’t imagine growing up the way that I have without having to go through that miracle purge and having to look back on and contextualize that. Like writing a journal or something.
But you go one step further than writing a journal because you write and then you create a sonic atmosphere. Why did you choose making music as opposed to just writing in a journal?
I just decided I’m gonna write this down and I’m gonna try to make music around it. That’s just the way my brain worked. I’d play it for my friends and my friends would hate it, and the lyrics didn’t make any sense to them because they’re 13-year-old kids. For some reason, it was just like a bad habit and I never grew out of it. So, I can’t imagine any other way to express myself.
Who were you listening to, as a 13-year-old, when you started to create music?
I was listening to ‘90s R&B, and then I thought, “Oh, this is just what society wants me to listen to because I’m Black and whatever.” I rebelled against it and started listening to what my friends were listening to, which was the emo scene, little bit of progressive U.K. and alternative stuff. I really connected with the lyrical content, but didn’t feel the same way as I did with ‘90s R&B, so I tried to mash em together. I was just as inspired by that as like playing Legends of Zelda and Settlers of Catan and playing melodies on the ocarina. Some themes [in Zelda] like the Temple of Light were really fire. My musical palate is formed from the world. The lakes that I dipped my feet in with my friends, the mountains that I sled down, and the snowstorm when school was canceled. The way the sky looks like, how many clouds, how many trees do you got in your backyard. That all mattered to me.
You sang with Seal in your “In The Room” video series, and you were quoted saying, “Seal was the guy that made it okay to straddle genres. He just absolutely refused to conform.” In what ways do you feel like you’re refusing to conform?
When I think about boxes and labels, it doesn’t seem honest. It seems manufactured to be like, “Ok, I’m Chris Gallant and I’m going to write my name down on a piece of paper and describe all the things that Chris Gallant is.” Now, I don’t do things in my life that fit the adjectives that I wrote down. With Seal, the thing about him that always got me was, people say, “Seal, R&B singer.” It’s just crazy to me that this guy who came out the U.K. doing exactly what he wanted to do, writing poetic lyrics with a wide variety of influences and giving his own delivery. It’s just confusing as to why he would be categorized as something so much the opposite of what he has brought to the table. Hearing those words, hearing that sonic palate that he laid down really inspired me to change my idea of being a Black man. At that point, I didn’t know you were allowed to be a Black man and be writing stuff that was that honest, and not writing stuff that fits into that category of “R&B.” I just didn’t know. So, when I figured that out, it felt like I was lied to for a really long time and it really opened my eyes.
Describe your “In the Room” series.
I wanted to find some kind of way to pay some kind of tribute and just say, “Thank you.” Starting with Sufjan [Stevens]. I had an incredible opportunity to go on tour with him, which is an honor and one of the greatest experiences of my life. He asked me to collaborate with him, and it just kind of happened naturally. I’ve been trying to grow who I am emotionally. To be standing next to someone who inspires that really makes you learn, makes you grow a lot, contributes to your growth as a person. I wanted to try and find a way to continue that feeling and crossing paths with people. It felt like a natural thing to do.
That’s dope. You’re always trying to push yourself and keep yourself outside the box.
Yea, definitely. Mentally, psychologically. It’s a whole process for me to try and grow emotionally and evolve as a human. I have to make sure that I’m really doing the things that are going to contribute to that evolution.