Chad VanGaalen goes into the light
Canadian singer and artist Chad VanGaalen tends to spread his creativity around. In addition to writing, recording, and releasing his own albums, VanGaalen also works as an illustrator and animator.
Not unlike others who work in a home studio, he’s recorded and produced albums for fellow artists. But VanGaalen also designs their album covers and animates/directs their videos.
Although it was completed years ago, VanGaalen’s own animated short film, TARBOZ, recently debuted on Pitchfork and is now available on YouTube.
On top of that, the multi-talented performer composes scores for Adult Swim and has been shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize multiple times.
He also just released his sixth album, Light Information, on Sub Pop Records.
Written, played, and produced by VanGaalen in his own Calgary garage studio, the album was born from tinkering with the experimental instruments that help to clutter it.
The result is another collection of gorgeous off-kilter pop that ranges from frenetic garage rock (Golden Oceans) and atmospheric instrumentals (Prep Piano and 770) to synth-drenched harmonies (Static Shape) and soft, chugging sing-alongs (Pine and Clover).
PACIFIC recently spoke with VanGaalen about it all from his home in Alberta.
PACIFIC: You’re about to head out on a sizeable tour. What makes the checklist for something like that?
CHAD VANGALLEN: Get the band together and play as much as we can. I have a pretty hard time remembering, so I need a ton of practice. Getting all my underwear. I definitely go underwear shopping.
You finally released TARBOZ.
That was actually going on in the background of the last record. It premiered a couple of years ago when I finished it. I just recently put it online. I was feeling pretty seasick about releasing it onto the Internet. Although it’s a finished piece of work, it’s also like a train wreck. And that’s just because of the way I approached it. I certainly would never make a film that way again. I guess that was me learning how to make a film. I put myself through film school with that. People aren’t showing off their graduation pieces 10 years later for a reason.
What changed your mind about releasing it?
A lot of my friends were all, ‘Don’t get so weird about it, man. It’s awesome. It’s like a stoner jam. You put out your other stoner jams and you’re not going to put out your opus stoner jam?’
I also just got to the point where not putting it out was equally as weird. I rolled the die of the universe and it landed on snake eye. So I put it out.
You also just released Light Information. The slide guitar kind of became the centerpiece of your last album (Shrink Dust). Was there an anchor like that for this one?
Well, this record was really hard to sequence. There was a lot of prepared piano and 770 (synthesizer) in it. Whether those songs made it on the record or not, that was the dark sword in the forest that I found. It was my weapon of choice. I have synths in all of my records, but that one seems to fit best.
But I feel like the real instrument for me, these days, is my studio. I’m capturing songs quickly and in a pretty dirty way. Light Information is pretty rough around the edges — production-wise. I spent a lot of time writing songs that failed. There was a lot to pick from.
However, because of that, they were also rough around the edges. Even that first song, Mind Highjacker’s Curse, is pretty garbled and gross. Three microphones hooked up to a tape machine. And if I got the skeleton within the first few minutes of writing the track, then I was more satisfied with the spontaneity of it.
And as a father of two, it’s also about an economy of time. It really pays off to be quick and concise. Which, in the long run, I think is probably better. I had my time to f**k around and watch the minutes go by. It’s also nice to just know what you’re going to do.
You have so many irons in so many fires. Does your own creative process stay consistent?
I’m constantly working on videos and animations for people. Plus there’s soundtrack work. So when I get an hour, I’ll definitely put an idea out there and try to capture it to tape. And that goes in a folder. I just build that folder alongside all of my other projects. Organization is the s--t that kills me. Naming songs as well. It’s like, ‘What’s this? Beluga Face Man — 12:31p.m.’ And trying to look those up afterward… I need to become a bit more of an adult in the way I save these things.
Trying to track down the s**t afterward was a bit of nightmare on this record. But I’m slowly getting better at it. I come back to those folders of songs and I painfully put my family through listening to stuff. I think my wife has pretty much decided every record since Soft Airplane. I’m like, ‘Well, what about this song?’ And she’s like, ‘Um, you’ve written a hundred of those songs. Didn’t you already do that one?’ And then I’m like, ‘Oh, no. I totally have done that one.’ That’s the process (laughs).
Does the songs of this album represent the time between records for you, or was it a tapestry taken from ideas you’ve collected over the years?
Yeah, it’s pretty non-linear. Golden Oceans was kind of the lynchpin for this record. And that song was written right after (2011 album) Diaper Island - in that same era of those songs. But it’s interesting to pull something out of the past like that and build. Really, I don’t know how much I had to do with it. Stuff really starts gluing itself to whatever song it chooses and then you start fitting things together. And to tell you the truth, I kind of feel better about going backwards a bit. There’s always that push for the new version. But I kind of like the first generation iPod. What happened to that thing? It used to hold so many songs.
What’s next for you?
I’m super focused on winter gardening. I’m trying to have a green house and just a healthier and less impactful life, really. I’m slowly coming around to closing that gap between the earth and me. In today’s world, that’s really been the thing that has saved me.
Chad VanGaalen w/ NE-HI
When: 8:30 p.m. Thurs. Nov. 16
Where: Soda Bar, 3615 El Cajon Blvd., Normal Heights.
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