Gallant discusses his full-length debut album Ology, the goal of always keeping things as raw and unfiltered as possible, and how he learned to become confident with his past history.
So I thought we’d start with a little bit of your background. You’ve been doing music since middle school, but a lot of the times when you showed the stuff you were working on, you didn’t get great reactions. Some of your friends, and even college professors, didn’t think you could sing that well, which now strikes as incredibly surprising. How did you end up processing and working through that to develop your voice over the years?
I guess it just came from the fact that I never really wrote music with the intention of getting any kind of praise or people telling me, “Oh, you did a good job. This sounds great.” I was a quiet kid, so writing songs that way was the only way I worked through the issues I was having. Singing was really one of the only times that I opened my mouth. I was just doing it for me and for fun, so I guess all of that criticism was pretty irrelevant to me.
Was there a moment then where things started to crystalize for you and you were able to get in a good creative groove for the first time?
Yeah, I think it was really when I decided to leave New York and move to L.A. I was born in the suburbs, so subconsciously that kind of environment was always embedded in my identity.
Once I made the decision to stop pretending like I could be a city dweller and accept the fact that I feel most at home in nature or when I’m driving myself around instead, it really allowed me to open up a lot more and get a lot more in touch with what was going on internally.
Your voice is your strongest instrument and what you’re most well known for. How did you learn when and how to use it? How did you learn when to pick your spots on when to keep things quiet or belt things out like on the end of “Jupiter?”
That’s all just kind of instinct. It goes with the first thought, best thought kind of mentality. It’s pretty primal at that point, so I would just say instinct more than any kind of well thought-out plan.
Something like that part on “Jupiter,” is that something you do a ton of takes on or are you able to tap into that and get it pretty quickly?
The album title Ology is pretty cool because that’s not an everyday word commonly used, and usually when it’s used it’s as part of a science like biology. How did you end up settling on that word and applying it to the album?
It never really felt like I was making an album when I was writing it. So rather than try to come up with some title that explained a process that I didn’t really relate to, I thought that it would make more sense to explain what I was doing and what I was making, which eventually became Ology.
It was trying to dig as deep as I possibly could. It’s not trying to let myself evade any of the tough questions that I was asking myself lyrically. It’s trying to learn more and more about myself so I can get into a better mental headspace. That’s what I eventually ended up doing, and I thought Ology described that process the best.
As someone who is pretty introverted, and you really get that sense from those lyrics, how does that factor into your songwriting and doing all the other things that comes with being a musician, like working with other people, being onstage, meeting fans and all that kind of stuff?
It’s a slow process. It’s definitely really gradual. It’s definitely outside of my comfort zone. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to have experiences that have consistently forced me to push myself. So every time a new challenge comes along, I would definitely welcome it.
When you initially started working on Zebra and the beginnings of Ology, you’ve talked about how you weren’t afraid to push yourself lyrically and write about whatever was on your mind because you didn’t expect it to be heard. Now that it is out there and a lot of people have been listening to it, what’s that like to know all these people are hearing it and responding to it now?
It’s definitely surreal. I’m just really honored that anyone’s listening at all and definitely humbled that some people seem to be connecting with it.
Speaking lyrically, do you think that’s going to make you more cautious in the future about what you write, or do you think that will maybe embolden you to take things even further?
I think probably more towards the second one than the first one, but I would say not even the second one. I think that I’ve been getting more and more self-aware and less self-conscious.
When you approach something with a complete blank kind of attitude and you know your goal is to be as honest as you possibly can with yourself, to not put up any kind of front and not try to impress anyone, then trying to write a song is completely counterproductive. As long as it’s as raw and as unfiltered as it can possibly be, then I feel like it’s moving in the right direction. So caring less is making something meaningful in my opinion.
Your move to L.A. was such a crucial part in your development. Zebra seemed to be a reaction to leaving New York and that kind of environment, while Ology seems in some instances to be a reaction to what you were doing on Zebra. Is that something you like to tap into, writing in a reactionary mode to what you had been doing previously?
I think, yeah, subconsciously that’s the case, but I think it’s more circumstantial than necessarily reactionary. It’s just whatever place I happen to be in. It’s either the beginning of something or the aftermath of something else. A lot of the time those feelings all start to come at once in those types of situations.
So even though Zebra was coming from New York and Ology was after I had been in L.A. for a while, I still feel like I explored a lot more and asked a lot more questions. I picked up a lot more pieces of the puzzle in Ology than I did in Zebra, and arguably I would say Zebra was coming from a much more complex situation. I do think it’s kind of all over the place, but whenever that kind of inspiration happens, it’s always inspiring.
[Laughs] I just realized how crazy of a statement that was. Whenever the inspiration strikes [laughs]. I guess I would say whenever that hits, it’s surprising, and I definitely welcome it.
One cool thing you’ve been doing on this tour is covering the Foo Fighters song “Learn to Fly.” I’ve always been such a huge Foo Fighters fan, and I really love how you stripped that song down and made it bare bones. What led you to covering that song and coming up with that arrangement?
It was one of those songs that you always heard. It has a very specific kind of vibe, you know? I was looking into the lyrics one day and realized the big picture of the whole thing. It really spoke to me. I don’t know exactly why I decided to do it. I was just messing around in the studio and decided to cover that song.
I had done it live a year or so ago, and then recently went back and started to connect with the lyrics again. So I decided to do it on this tour. I just think the lyrics are beautiful, and was really interested in reinterpreting them and putting them in a little bit of a different backdrop.
Something that always seems to be part of your artwork or whenever you perform is that sad face logo, and you’re usually wearing it on a T-shirt or a hat. How did you come up with that design and what does it mean to you that you have it all over the place with everything you do?
During Zebra I was using a lot of old photos of me as a kid and exploring this black and white nostalgia, digging into the past type of thing. With Ology, I really wanted to work at getting over that type of stuff. So the current photo of myself with the sad face was the first step in moving on and moving towards something a little bit different.
The sad face, obviously I’ve dealt with a lot of depression, etc., and it’s a thing that people who know me associate with me that kind of vibe. I thought the optimistic spin would be to put a glitter, iridescent gold shine to that. I guess ironically just the fact that I listed that and now I wear it all the time is a symbol of how confident I’ve become with that history.
Stylistically, you have a little bit of a ‘90s R&B background, a little bit of a rock background, and then your producer, Stint, has a little bit of a hardcore background. How do you like combining all these different things and coming up with these different mixtures that you have so far?
With Stint, it was really easy. I didn’t even know that about him. I’m definitely going to ask him about that [laughs]. We’re basically just best friends, and when we met the chemistry clicked super fast. The most important thing is we both felt comfortable laying whatever we wanted to lay out on the table.
I didn’t feel self-conscious about saying certain things lyrically, laying them on the mic in front of him, and he didn’t feel weird about suggesting ideas that were a little bit left of center. I think that kind of safe space that we created for each other was instrumental in making something that was still eclectic but also cohesive. It was a really special relationship, and still is and continues to be.