The avant ‘n’ B newcomer Gallant (full name Christopher Gallant) has been compared to everyone from Prince to Thom Yorke – and even depicted as the alt-Frank Ocean. He’s an intriguing addition to the diverse Bluesfest 2017 bill, joining the similarly futuristic Laura Mvula. Gallant’s energetic – and immersive – live shows, including slots at 2016’s Coachella, have received rave reviews.
Gallant presented his debut album Ology, preceded by 2015’s single Weight In Gold, back in April. But, while the singer/songwriter has conducted more interviews than Ocean (or The Weeknd), he remains an enigma. It’s perhaps telling that the shyly amiable star prefers to be addressed as ‘Gallant’ to the familiar ‘Christopher’. “Gallant, I think, is totally cool,” Gallant says softly.
Gallant grew up relatively freely in the progressive planned community of Columbia, Maryland. Though exposed to ’90s R&B, he was attracted to the edgy lyricism of alternative acts – the nu-metal Incubus often mentioned in write-ups. Gallant started penning songs in junior high. Later, he studied music, or rather the music biz, at New York University. His feelings about this today are equivocal. “Ironically, I was surrounded by people that really made me hate every single aspect about the music industry. It made me really self-aware. I kinda went in there as a fairly unaffected young guy who still had faith in the process – and I left very self-aware, very cynical. That somehow allowed me to not have a lot of worry or anxiety when it came to the process.” Gallant did attempt to write ‘pop’, but his peers’ quizzical responses proved discouraging. He was unsettled, too, by the Big Apple’s “chaotic environment”.
In 2013 Gallant relocated to the West Coast where he’s currently “very, very happy” living in the San Fernando Valley suburb of Sherman Oaks. “I feel very tucked away.” Gallant began creating music that was, he says, “raw” and “purely for my own muse”. Blessed by a haunting falsetto, he developed a “future soul” with inflections of R&B, indie and electronica – imagine Bilal-meets-Joy Division.
Gallant circulated 2014’s Zebra EP, which, generating online buzz, led to his signing to the indie Mind Of A Genius Records – home of the mysterious EDM-type ZHU (on whose Testarossa Music he’d sing). Gallant also connected with Ajay “STiNT” Bhattacharyya – the Canadian, now based in Los Angeles, his chief collaborator on Ology. Bhattacharyya experienced success with the electronic outfit Data Romance prior to becoming a producer. (Notably, he guided NAO’s Girlfriend.) However, in contrast to most ‘urban’ albums, Ology has the sole ‘feature’ – Gallant duetting with Jhené Aiko on Skipping Stones (co-production here coming from leftfield hip-hop composer Adrian Younge).
Ology is in-sync with those sonically fluid – and idiosyncratic – 2016 albums from David Bowie, James Blake and, yep, Ocean. “I feel like I’m a part of a wave of people unapologetically doing something for themselves while others watch, or maybe not watch – you know, it doesn’t really make a difference,” Gallant ponders. “I’m always motivated by how much I’ve been able to grow personally – on a personal level and a mental plane – with every body of work that I’m involved in.”
Ology’s themes span angst, alienation and ambivalence. The bleakest song, Bourbon, opens with the lines, “I’m a headless horseman on quilted sand dunes/With my neck wide open, I pray for refuge.” Yet Gallant consistently talks of his music as being a positive force for personal growth – and self-knowledge. “It’s almost like therapy on steroids, but it’s completely self-driven,” he explains. “I couldn’t ask for a better mode of expression than one that has really long-lasting, life-long effects on the way that I connect with the world around me.”
Gallant has won influential fans across the spectrum – the biggest that ever-enthusiastic tastemaker Elton John. The eccentric veteran invited Gallant to accompany him on his ’70s R&B hit Bennie And The Jets at September’s Apple Music Festival in London. Last year, Gallant toured North America with indie-folk hero Sufjan Stevens, the pair uniting for a playful cover of Drake’s Hotline Bling,/em>. And Gallant has found another advocate in Seal. They shared the stage at Coachella, awesomely performing Seal’s ’90s classic Crazy. Mind, Gallant maintains that the Brit doesn’t “necessarily” advise him. “He leads by example, more than anything.” In January Gallant launched a YouTube series, In The Room, jamming with famous friends – the latest Jack Garratt.
Ology may not have crossed over majorly, but Gallant is revelling in unusual new opportunities. He contributed Reignite (with Knox Brown) to the Bridget Jones’s Baby soundtrack – spearheaded by the inevitable Ellie Goulding choon. Asked if he saw the rom-com on release and Gallant demurs, “Obviously, I’m not the demographic.” Then, in early October, Gallant appeared at the inaugural South By South Lawn: A White House Festival Of Ideas, Art, And Action – President Obama’s hipster initiative. Hailing from the wider DC area, Gallant had visited the White House previously. “It’s almost like a field trip,” he laughs. But, as a VIP, “it was a lot more intimate”. He actually met the President. The day was “very surreal”.
Gallant hasn’t yet contemplated a second album. After all, he’s been touring solidly. What’s more, Gallant himself isn’t done assessing Ology. “It’s funny because the recording process was so spur of the moment that I was still recording Ology basically the day before it was released – so it all seems very fresh.”
Gallant will make his Australian premiere, with band, next Easter long weekend at Bluesfest. Surprisingly, he brandishes his show as “pretty aggressive”. “It’s gonna be different – it’s gonna be not very typical, I would say. But it’s definitely gonna be a great representation of the individual that I am. I hope people walk away with a unique experience.”
Gallant will play Australia’s Bluesfest 2017 as well as two headline sideshows. See details below.
Gallant Bluesfest 2017 Sideshows
Monday, 17th April
The Corner, Melbourne
Tickets: Bluesfest Touring
Tuesday, 18th April
Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Tickets: Bluesfest Touring