Interview: Gallant Talks 'Ology' and His Dream Collaboration With Brandy

The 24-year-old artist shares his thoughts on the music industry, his new album, and more.

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Complex Original

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For the first half of last year, Gallant was still under the radar. The Columbia, MD native was adjusting to Los Angeles after leaving New York’s fast-pace environment, pushing his self-released EP, Zebra, which openly discussed the aftermath of his move through a sonic diary. The project caught the attention of mainly alternative and R&B listeners, but his big break came when Zane Lowe world premiered “Weight in Gold” on Beats 1 Radio. More tastemakers started to embrace him as the 24-year-old artist became less concerned with how he should maneuver in the music industry and focused on putting out quality music. If you've got talent like Gallant, people will follow.

We're almost halfway through 2016 and Gallant is on a career trajectory any new artist would love to be on. He’s gotten praise from Elton John, Moby, and Seal. His debut album, Ology, on Mind of a Genius Records, has received positive reviews for its vulnerability and honesty. Fans have looked forward to his live performance because his music often consumes him and it brings out his unparalleled energy. "It’s kind of a meditative experience, it’s really cathartic for me," he says. These past two weekends at Coachella, he performed withSeal and Jhené Aiko to enormous crowds, each golden moment solidifying he’s the future of the eclectic space he works in.

But right now, Gallant is relaxing in the mid-afternoon sun after having brunch with friends at the Miramonte Resort & Spa in Palm Springs. He has some time to decompress before his set for the first weekend of Coachella. During our conversation, we talk about his feelings about the music industry, what he’s learned after making Ology, and why he wants to work with Brandy.

I’ve read that you weren’t a fan of the music industry at first. How do you feel about it now that they are behind you?
I think it’s better now because it is for the right reasons. Like before, it was me trying to adopt some kind of persona that would fit into the industry and now it is very much the other way around, which is how it should be.

It feels better for me and it feels like I am more connected with the reasons I started doing music in the first place, which was be a better human and to grow as a person and to learn more about myself. That’s what I feel like I am actively doing, so if people are living and connecting with that both on the listener’s side and the business side, then that’s totally cool with me 'cause it feels more honest in person.

Do you like the respect you are getting from the industry?
Honestly, I don’t think about it that much but the people that I met so far—a lot of them just aren’t genuine. But a lot of them are. I feel people I am surrounded by are people who are truly here for the right reasons and bring things to the table who just like ideas and have the same kind of mindset of whatever sector in the industry that they are involved in as I do with the creation aspect.

Do you keep your circle pretty tight?
It’s pretty tight. I’m just a super chill dude. I don’t really like hanging out with a ton of people or being around a ton of people or be the center of attention or anything. Normally, I’m just chilling by myself watching cartoons. It’s kind of my default.

You’re performing at Coachella for the first time and you just did SXSW. Why are those important resume builders for you? It must’ve taken you a long time to get recognized.
Yeah, I went on tour with Sufjan Stevens who is a brilliant folk indie type of dude. Being there and doing that [in front of] a crowd of kind of older people who are just sitting in theaters to doing high-energy festivals is a jarring kind of jump. SXSW was a great experience. I kept it super low-key. I just stayed way outside in the suburbs. Dipped into my show, dipped right out. Didn’t party or anything and that felt great. I feel like this is going to be a similar kind of thing for me. I’m just stoked to be around the energy.

Is it true you were laughed at during one of your first shows?
[Laughs.] I don’t know about that. I was doing shows off an EP that I released. It was a really modest show, it didn’t have a lot of people. I didn’t get laughed at though. I know that when I was first making music, like in middle school, I would show it to my friends and they would think it was wack. Even if I were to get laughed at, I wouldn’t think that much of it. It’d be kind of funny both ways.

You’re an artist signed to Mind of a Genius. Why is this label a perfect fit for you?
I met David Dann, who is the head of the label. We just really connected in a natural way. A lot of people tried to reach out based on when you have a small amount of Internet buzz. People try to say what’s up or whatever. I wasn’t talking to them based on a label. I was talking to David because he was a person. We were talking about possibilities. The label thing just sort of came later. Just finding a way we could all work together in a cool way.

What did you guys connect on?
Just kind of the fakeness and wackness of the industry. Who should have a say in what aspects. He doesn’t try to butter people up, he’s very critical but it’s critical in a good way. Honestly, we connected because he’s a dope person and it just made sense. I do my thing and he does his thing and we have a little bit more respect for each other.

Your album, Ology, just came out. When you were creating this, what type of vibe did you want to capture for your listeners?
I made it for me. I really wanted to dig deeper and be more vulnerable and push myself to grow as an human being. I hope people hear the honesty in it and the humility in it. It was basically just all me and my friend Stint and a few other producers. But it wasn’t a pieced together project. It was just done in isolation with a very small number of people. I hope it’s the best representation of who I am as an artist and as a person as well. 

It’s like LiveJournal or Xanga. You just write stuff that nobody wants to read and you just upload it.

What did you learn about yourself after finishing the album?
I learned a lot. I tried to not let myself get away with avoiding questions that I was asking. I feel like my first EP was very brooding, describing one kind of emotion I was going through. With this one, there was a lot more questions. I felt like I pulled a lot of questions out of myself, analyzing every action, analyzing every emotion that I felt. It was like I was putting myself on a wall and dissecting everything about me. So just that process itself was very special.

Where do you draw your lyrics from? Is it through a lot of different life experiences?
Yeah, it’s different things. I keep a lot of everything inside. I don’t really like talking about myself half the time or my feelings. I just put it there. It’s like LiveJournal or Xanga. You just write stuff that nobody wants to read and you just upload it. That’s how it feels with the project and music. I just write it, put it up. Don’t listen to it, don’t talk about it. Because I went through that process of making it, I’ve become a better person and progressed and evolved.

Tell me about “Skipping Stones.” That’s with you, Jhené Aiko, and Adrian Younge?
Yeah. Adrian has this spot where he has all these vintage authentic pieces from the '60s and we recorded all on tape, it was crazy. He has such a specific palette and he doesn’t want to sway from that. I just brought Stint [with me to the session] because I’m a shy dude.

Me and Stint are friends so at one point it was easy for me to actually express what I wanted to express. We were all in the room and someone was like, “Yeah, you should meet Jhené.” I was like, “Yeah, totally." We just met and we naturally just went in. She fleshed out the song and it was crazy. It wasn’t like, “Who should we get on this song?” It was just natural and organic.

Is Stint a producer you plan on sticking with?
Stint basically did the whole album, minus like three songs. I don’t know. We have to see. No matter who it is, I really like the idea of working with one dude mainly because that friendship has to be there and that connection has to be there in order for me to open up. We are just building everything from the ground up together. I can’t wrap my head doing that with multiple people. It just seems a little orchestrated.

You recently did one of your songs, “Weight in Gold,” with Seal as part of your "In the Room" series. How did that come together?
I just had the opportunity to cross paths with people who really inspired me. Like, “Hey, I want to pay tribute to these people somehow.” I guess it started with Sufjan because we were on tour with each other and it just happened. We were able to connect on that level. I’m like, “Wow, this is the best way I could possibly pay tribute to people who inspire me so deeply.” So the Seal thing happened, it started with just an idea and it grew into this series that I am honored to be apart of.

How was that experience with Seal?
It was crazy. It was completely surreal. He’s such a hero of mine. To have him even care about the song in the first place, let alone be willing to sing it with me was completely mind-blowing.

Whose one artist you would love to work with in the future?
I’ve always wanted to work with Brandy. That’s always been a dream of mine. Honestly, anyone who has been a part of my growth. There’s so many that I can’t even name them all. To have an opportunity to meet any of those people, let alone doing any work with anyone of those people would be just incredible.

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