If you've heard Drake's Nothing Was The Same, you know that "From Time" featuring Jhené Aiko and production from Noah "40" Shebib is a standout song on the album. Reportedly originally titled "Momentous Occasions," the song finds Jhene singing heart-wrenching lines like "I love me, I love me enough for the both of us" and Drake speaking to an old flame. The soft, delicate piano harmonies are the creation of Grammy nominated Canadian musician Chilly Gonzales, who worked with Drake on Take Care and whose song "The Tourist" was used on the "Outro" of So Far Gone.
Drake teased the song early last month with the tweet, "40. Gonzales. Jhene Aiko. Might be my new favorite song. @JheneAiko @chillygonzales @OVO40." From their work before, and Gonzales's incredible piano skills, we knew the track would indeed be something momentous. The song is in E flat minor, which is one of the reasons it will make you feel extra emotional (Songs like Thelonius Monk's "Round Midnight" are in E Flat minor, to give you further explanation of your own feelings).
We reached out by email to Gonzales who resides in Cologne, Germany to ask about how him and Drake first linked up, what their music writing process is like in the studio, and what future projects he has coming up.
Interview by Lauren Nostro (@LAURENcynthia)
How did you originally link up with Drake? I know he sampled "The Tourist" on So Far Gone. Had he reached out to you previously about that?
He used the entirety of the Tourist as "Outro" on So Far Gone. When I learned that he was a Solo Piano fan, I began a long process of trying to link up with him and his team. How was it when you both linked up in person for the first time?
The public link-up finally happened when we performed together at the Juno Awards. But we had met at a private social function in Toronto in 2010 after the mixtape. There was a piano at the party and he requested I play some piano and I performed "Dot" from Solo Piano.
The piano's job on the outro [to Marvins Room] is to "make the song cry" instrumentally, where words can't express it anymore.
After that, you worked with him on Take Care. How did that come about?
After rehearsing for the Junos comedy routine that we were doing together, he started to play me tracks from Take Care in progress. I played a first take outro to "Marvin's Room" pretty much on first listen. I thought I was just sketching out possible ideas on a digital synth for an eventual "proper" acoustic piano session….to my surprise, they just reacted so intensely to it, so that first take was the one on the album. The piano's job on the outro is to "make the song cry" instrumentally, where words can't express it anymore.The first time you heard "Marvin's Room," what was your reaction to it?
I was affected by it and promptly played the outro, so it all happened in a blur. The voicemail was a personal touch I suppose and it led to Drake shouting me out on Twitter for the first time.
You worked on "Good Ones Go Interlude," too.
That was a song we came up with in the studio together—Drake quietly singing to himself, Noah "40" Shebib on beats and changing the keyboard sounds that I'm playing. Those four chords somehow broke through amongst many chambers in a longer loose improvising session.
When Drake would come up with a hook of some kind, it would be considered a "chorus" until he wrote something better, which would push the old chorus into a kind of bridge position, and then a new hook which would push the first hook into verse position. It reminds me of how I used to marvel at Bee Gees songs which contained verses, bridges, and hooks that were all chorus-level.
You've worked with so many artists—Feist, Daft Punk, Peaches. What sets Drake apart? What have you learned from him musically? And what have you taught him?
For me what sets Drake apart is that rap music is the only contemporary music I really feel deeply, and those other artists are not in the rap genre. Other than rap it's Romantic-era classical music that moves me...So performing with an orchestra and making music with Drake would be highest on the list of "momentous occasions," which isn't so bad for a song title in the end. I might use it.
I taught Drake those chords from "Good Ones Go" in his Junos dressing room on the digital piano. As far as what I learned, I got a window into his writing process. When he would come up with a hook of some kind, it would be considered a "chorus" until he wrote something better, which would push the old chorus into a kind of bridge position, and then a new hook which would push the first hook into verse position, and so on. It reminds me of how I used to marvel at Bee Gees songs which contained verses, bridges, and hooks that were all chorus-level.
Now with NWTS approaching, you worked on the track "From Time" with Jhené Aiko, how did that song come about?
I had another epic writing session with Drake and 40 last fall, and that led to some songs-in-progress, but "From Time" is a piano piece I recorded at home in Cologne, Germany and sent to him among many ideas for him to possibly get inspired by. 40 produced all of the other elements.
What was your immediate reaction to hearing the final version of "From Time" with Jhené Aiko?
I haven't heard the finished song yet. I think I'll hear it when it comes out.
Drake has a taste for cooler, '80s harmonies that don't "resolve" in normal ways, and I often think of harmonies like those of the group Prefab Sprout to inspire me to compose for him.
When you're working with hip-hop artists, I know you've said you don't want to be in the world of classical and jazz music only, but how do you translate your knowledge of that to hip-hop?
I am specialized in harmony, and rap music has a highly developed harmonic world because it's dramatic music. I am endlessly fascinated with the individual harmonic styles of certain hip-hop producers, and hearing how some rappers prefer certain kinds of chords—you hear a difference between how Rick Ross sounds on a dark, "closed" harmony sound of a Lex Luger-type beat, or a more "open" lush Justic League chord sequence. Drake has a taste for cooler, '80s harmonies that don't "resolve" in normal ways, and I often think of harmonies like those of the group Prefab Sprout to inspire me to compose for him.
What projects do you have coming up after tour?
I am working on a book of easy to play piano pieces and some new collaborations with Berlin electronic producer Boys Noize, both for 2014. I am also practicing a lot of piano in order to be a better musician and entertainer.
In the rap world, I'm doing something with Domo Genesis from Mellowhigh/Odd Future.
Listen to more of Chilly Gonzales' sounds on Soundcloud.