Gallant discusses his Prince tribute, Coachella, and Miyazaki films [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]

We first fell for Gallant’s mesmerizing voice all the way back in 2013, highlighting “Manhattan” in our first-ever Sunday Night Soul series. As the years went by, our adoration, along with many other’s, grew insurmountably, release-by-release.

In between two jaw-dropping performances at Coachella, and an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, we were able to link up with one of the most buzz-worthy artists in the scene.

TMN: Thanks for taking some time to meet with us. We’ve been fans for quite some time, so it’s an honor to sit down with you.

Gallant: Thank you for all the support for so many years. For real.

TMN: First off, let’s talk about tonight’s show, which is here in Denver, Colorado. Is this your first time to the Mile High City?

Gallant: No, actually, on my tour with Sufjan Stevens in the fall we stopped by Denver. It was one of the best crowds I’ve ever played for. It was a sit-down auditorium.

TMN: Paramount?

Gallant: Yep! It was awesome.

TMN: You’re coming off of a massive two-weekend performance at Coachella. What was that like for you?

Gallant: It was surreal. I felt like that was the biggest crowd I’ve ever played for. To have Seal out with me the first weekend and Jhené Aiko the second weekend was crazy. I felt really undeserving, but I was glad the crowd was responding to it.

TMN: Prince passed away on April 21st. You paid tribute not once, but twice at Coachella not 36 hours later. When did you make the call to do that?

Gallant: I’m not sure. I really didn’t want to do it because obviously there’s nothing I could do — no one cares about me, and Prince is such a huge influence and a legend, so I definitely didn’t want to send the wrong message. But, as I was there, interacting with [Sufjan and Jhené], it became clear that there was a level of respect we had to pay. It was a quick decision, and it was just supposed to be a head nod to show that we owe everything to somebody bigger.


TMN: Musically, how did you pull it off? Did you already know the songs by heart?

Gallant: (Laughs) “Purple Rain” I actually didn’t. That was a tough one. “Diamonds and Pearls” I love. My favorite Prince song is “Little Red Corvette.” And then, my band knows everything by heart. It was fairly easy to get everything together, but “Purple Rain” took a little more effort in the two-hour window that we had.

TMN: Coachella also showcased a collaboration that a lot of us had been waiting to see since we first caught wind of it: performing “Weight In Gold” with Seal. How did that collaboration come to be?

Gallant: I’ve been talking about Seal for a while. When I started meeting people on his team and working with him on his new record — which is amazing — it became more reasonable in my head that I might cross paths with him. Maybe eight months after that, I had the opportunity to meet him at his manager’s house.

I had an idea of doing something to pay tribute to him, and it turned out that he really loved “Weight in Gold.” He said, “Yo, we should film this.” It was in the midst of me filming my In the Room series, which is just me and a bunch of people I really respect trying to do something for me to pay tribute and pay respects. So, it really came together organically, but it was completely surreal for me. To shoot that video with him singing my song, it was hard not to just pass out, like, “This is the end of my life now.” He’s my hero. So, it was crazy that he kept in touch and wanted to be involved in other facets.

TMN: That’s incredible. What a story. We once described your music as something that “casually grinds against the top 40 world,” meaning you both appeal to those searching for hook-centric RnB, yet do so in a manner that’s completely unique and on point with your vision. When did that style start to develop?

Gallant: I’m not sure. It definitely wasn’t a conscious thing. Two years ago I put out my self-released EP, and it was very much just me saying, “Hey, this conventional shit that I’m doing in New York isn’t fulfilling. It’s not me. They’re shooting down all of the things that I’m writing that make it feel real to me, like real diary journal entries — which is why I started doing music in the first place.” I didn’t care about music; I cared about expressing myself in that way.

It wasn’t intentional. I was just trying to mash together as many different influences as I could to have an accurate representation of who I am, what I was talking about, and what I wanted to sonically portray. Actually, not even portray, but more so what I would want to hear. Stuff that would make me uncomfortable. It just happened to sound the way that it does, but I’m glad you have that perception. I definitely wasn’t trying to do that.


TMN: Let’s go back even further. When did you realize you had a musical gift?

Gallant: Never. I definitely didn’t have a gift. It was always just the way that I said things out loud. I’m a quiet dude. I don’t really talk about my feelings;

I do it lyrically, to the point where it’s embarrassing to put out because I’m delivering a line in such a vulnerable, soft way, nobody should hear it. I’m saying lyrics in such a way that’s pushing what’s confident or acceptable. That excites me, though, because, in that process, I inevitably evolve as a human.
That’s always been my goal from day one. I couldn’t imagine even getting to the point I’m at right now, even mentally, without going through a process of writing, digging, and excavating my brain and my soul. Knowing that I’m continuing that process is what makes it worthwhile.

TMN: You’ve mentioned the word vulnerable a couple of times. Does it scare the shit out of you to perform your art in front of crowds?

Gallant: That’s a different kind of vulnerable. I feel like it mirrors the process, for sure. Who I am on stage isn’t anything close to who I am offstage. It doesn’t feel conscious. It’s more catharsis than anything else.

TMN: Did your family help foster this passion? Or was it something you did on your own?

Gallant: It’s both. It wasn’t a musical household, at all. My parents aren’t into music at all, but despite that, they’ve always been very supportive. I didn’t really have direct help in terms of musicality, but their support helped motivate me, providing me with all the tools I needed.

TMN: How did things unfold with TH3RD BRAIN and Mind of a Genius? And, how important is it for budding artists to have the right people around them?

Gallant: It was really random. I was doing shows off the back of my self-released EP. You know how it is — you release stuff on the Internet, start getting random e-mails from people, and I was really disenchanted with everything about the industry. I didn’t want to deal with any of that, honestly. There was a point where I said, “Alright, let me start taking meetings and start talking to people.” Immediately, all of my suspicions were confirmed. All these people were just whack. I don’t even know how to describe it. Randomly, I met David Dann [from Mind of a Genius], and he was just the opposite of everyone.

He didn’t have anything nice to say, really. (Laughs) It wasn’t even about the music, really. It was about what I valued. He suggested that there are better ways to do things. It led me to call him early in the morning and say, “Hey, I think we should work together.”

It all happened very naturally and organically. It was always camaraderie before business. I don’t think we did any business stuff for months.

TMN: Following up on that, can you give some advice to up-and-coming artists who may be going into those situations? How important is it to craft the right team around you?

Gallant: It’s definitely important, but I don’t think it’s conscious. It’s definitely a people-oriented thing. I feel like you’ll just know. It sounds like some fairytale shit, but I feel like you’ll know when the people are there for the right reasons.


TMN: What does the rest of 2016 look like for you?

Gallant: A lot of touring. After this one, I’m doing a European tour, a bunch of festivals, and my headline tour is coming together. On top of that, I’m doing some musical things that are totally out of my comfort zone, that I’m really looking forward to doing. I’m not really focused on anything with a second album yet, but I’m really excited about how everything is coming together.

TMN: Sounds like you have enough on your plate right now. Alright, let’s switch gears a bit and fire off some random questions so we can get to know you outside of your music. Gallant has three meanings in the dictionary: brave, chivalrous, or flirty. Which do you most align with?

Gallant: (Laughs) I’m not sure. It’s my family name, so I don’t even know if subconsciously I’ve grown to adhere to one of those definitions. But, none of them really seem to fit the build. Maybe chivalrous? I’m pretty polite.

TMN: Name three things you have in your fridge, no matter what.

Gallant: Beer. Milk, because I’m eating those Golden Grahams constantly. Some coconut water, maybe? I don’t cook, if you couldn’t tell.

TMN: Where did you get your affection for Miyazaki films?

Gallant: I’ve always loved Japanese culture and anime. All through college I took Japanese language and always had a goal of being fluent. Miyazaki is an incredible director and some of my favorite full-length anime films are by him and his studio. I just really love his films.

TMN: If you could “Freaky Friday” with anyone in the world, meaning you take their body, they take yours, who would you switch with?

Gallant: (Laughs) Wow, this is complex! Huh. Interesting. I’ll go with the George Clooney route. He could clean up my act and make me super confident. As him, I’d probably just watch cartoons all day and not use it to my advantage at all.

TMN: Last one — it’s a bit off the wall, but if your music were any animal, what would it be?

Gallant: Probably a Penguin. You see a Penguin and you’re like, “What the fuck is that?” But a lot of people like penguins, you know?