Gallant is pretty tired. As I meet him and a few members of his crew in Warner’s glass monolith of an office, he’s sat on an inoffensively designed couch looking just a little weary. His fatigue is understandable given that the day before he was supporting Stevie Wonder at British Summertime in Hyde Park; the day before that he was in the Netherlands at the North Sea Jazz Festival; and the day before that he was in Copenhagen.
I ask him when his next day off is and he replies, with no resentment, “well technically today is one.” You see, right now Christopher Gallant – who goes monomously by his last name – is in the middle of a gruelling world tour that’s set to entrench his already rapidly germinating fanbase. He first broke through Soundcloud’s crowded RnB singer-songwriter sphere in 2014 with his “Zebra EP”, but it wasn’t until last year’s “Weight in Gold” – a soaring, soulful mediation on the burden of solitude – that people (including Zayn Lowe) began to take notice.
The track is one of 16 fiercely lyrical, often melancholy songs from his debut album Ology; the cover of which features a pensive Gallant with a sad face graffitied in gold over him. It’s not the subtlest of clues as to the nature of the record, but it’s fitting given that raw introspection is indisputably Gallant’s artistic MO. “I basically started it with the attitude that at the beginning of the process I feel like this, this is the emotion kind of at the core of who I am, and it’s probably never going to go away, but I can see it in different lights,” he explains, before continuing: “So while I was recording I was really just focused on digging up tons of information about myself, being as open as I possibly could be, really like analysing every inch of my psyche in a way. Just with the goal of trying to be a better person and to try and make better connections and just grow over all.”
Sure, plenty of artists make “personal” music, but you almost get the sense with Gallant that as a listener you’re intruding on a conversation he’s having with himself (or, indeed, a therapist); that this is a project of hermetic self-absorption that we’re lucky enough to be able to eavesdrop on. Of course, the process of making a studio album could never be truly a solo effort. And, in Gallant’s case, a musical interlocutor is present in the form of co-producer STiNT, whose soundscapes blend everything from triumphant jazz to airy electronica to moreish effect. That partnership was as much a burgeoning friendship as it was a collaboration and, as Gallant explains, “it was basically me and him for the whole album minus three or four songs.” Nonetheless, he reflects, “it was a very insular process.”
That insularity was present right from the beginning for Gallant, who describes his younger self as “always very quiet, very reserved, like the kid at the family reunion that doesn’t say anything and you wonder what’s wrong with them.” He goes on to add that the music he recorded on a PC using just a plug-in mic became, “the way I said things that for some reason I just couldn’t say and I guess it just evolved into a habit that I never really stopped.”
It’s a habit that led him to study music at NYU – where he insists there “was more like a sociological approach and an anthropological approach” than a highly formal one. Then came an opportunity to tour with Sufjan Stevens who, a far cry from the turnt-up gigs Gallant was used to, would often play proper sit-down venues where (shockingly) no alcohol was served. At first that change of pace was difficult for Gallant, but eventually it “became really comfortable and really cathartic.” It’s enriched his performances, which have a distinctive energy about them: an intense dynamism that comes from Gallant’s writhing stage presence. Or, as he puts it: “my shows have gotten a lot more mellifluous.”
Mellifluous. Not a word you hear a great deal, least of all from a contemporary musician teetering on the cusp of pop recognition and mainstream success. But that’s just it. It’s Gallant’s rare thoughtfulness and his joy in language and lyricism which make him such an intriguing proposition. Surprisingly though, he’s not a music elitist, and he concludes that as long as artists do what they do for themselves and not to “please somebody else…then everything is worth looking back on years from now to be seen as a patch on the quilt of humanity.” His patch is just beginning, a tapestry whose threads are starting to make some cohesive sense. Watch out Frank Ocean.