How Grammy-Nominated Platinum Recording Artist Gallant Has Continued To Raise The Bar In The World Of R&B
Read about the journey of the pioneering spirit that harnesses R&B’s very own Gallant below.
Behind the mysterious and elusive vigor that possesses Gallant lies a beautifully written open book, one that highlights the good, the bad and the ugly. Originally from a quiet and insular suburban neighborhood in Maryland, the fervent 27-year old musician and songwriter has persistently been on a path of continual expansion, never being okay with complacency or staying in one place, whether that be internally or externally. Known for his unprecedented vocal range, his falsetto sends the souls of anyone listening. Shifting from the rustic stillness of Maryland to the loud, bustle of New York to study at NYU, connecting to history, trends, and culture through his studies would later bring him closer to discovering and developing his place relating to music before making the move to Los Angeles. Releasing his first solo album in 2014 titled Zebra, his fine-tuned sound was introduced under this angelic and yet misty persona; his voice piercing the ears and souls of many before later releasing the album that would change his direction two years later.
In 2016, Gallant released Ology via Mind of a Genius and Warner Records, which was nominated at the 59th Grammys for Best Contemporary Urban Album. His songwriting has always been one of my favorite aspects to his approach musically, songs like “Miyazaki”, “Percogesic”, and “Weight In Gold” being just a few that have lyrically connected with me tirelessly over the years. Gallant has never been one of those artists who push to make “hits”, his process remaining genuine and perpetually geared towards authenticity. Although becoming more collaborative with other artists over the years with artists like 6LACK, Jhene Aiko, and Sabrina Claudio, Gallant is also a sedimentary entity, one that stands firmly on his own. Releasing his most recent album Sweet Insomnia, Gallant and I were able to connect over his experiences last weekend over the phone to examine his perspective over navigating through life’s highs and lows, how his sound has developed, the person he’s evolved into over the years spiritually and how these breakthroughs have reflected in his music.
What was it like making that adjustment from Maryland to Los Angeles?
When I left Maryland, the first place I went to was New York. I attended NYU for a bit and kinda got a taste of the transition that was to come next for me. Where I’m from in Maryland, it almost has this storybook feel to it; there’s this abundance of nature surrounding it. Therefore, I spent a lot of time alone. I never traveled to D.C. or Baltimore to hang out as most people did. To jump from that to New York was more jarring than moving from New York straight to Los Angeles. When I moved to Los Angeles, it felt like more of a homecoming for me because I got the chance to be connected to more of the world in a way that Maryland doesn’t necessarily seem to. I also got to tuck myself away in the valley when I got here. I lived in North Hollywood, moved to Sherman Oaks and now I’m in Pasadena. I’m just grateful that I was able to have New York as a buffer.
Originally discovering you back in 2016 through your ‘Ology’ album, what themes or concepts, in particular, played a significant role in the development of that project?
When I made my first album, it was very uprooting. I was dealing with a lot of depression and didn’t give a fuck about anything. I wasn’t even experiencing life at the time; I was a walking sob story. I constantly had these walls up. From working through those issues to being on tour, to opening up to the world and connecting with other people in a way that I wasn’t able to before, I learned about what it means to have a balanced outlook on life. I think it’s important to see the lighter side as well as the darker side of things, too. For example, I’m not living in total darkness thinking everything is completely hopeless but at the same time, I’m not allowing myself to be one of those people who is stuck in this delusion thinking that every single thing is the greatest in the world. That’s not my vibe at all. It’s not realistic.
A lot of the things I wrote about all circle back to this sense of balance. The song “Doesn’t Matter” is like this innocent love story that also transitions into this dark, suicide story; there’s death but there’s also life. Writing this was very fulfilling for me as were a lot of the themes throughout the album. It’s the bittersweetness of it all. Nothing is 100% great or terrible, although you are the one who makes the pieces make sense. It’s a viewpoint that doesn’t crop or cut out anything. Through that, it’s more anecdotal; I felt like I could tell more stories about myself, my childhood, and my current place in the world in a more pragmatic way vs. it being just a series of dark thoughts that I had in the middle of the night.
How would you say your soundscape overall has evolved from the beginning of your career to the present time?
I was always interested in blending the sounds that I liked. For instance, I used a lot of ambient textures in my first EP ‘Zebra’ which released back in 2014 and from there, I wanted to incorporate more alternative rock vibes. There weren’t any R&B elements in the first project which was the point because it’s already so deeply ingrained in how I sing. My sensibilities told me that I didn’t need that addition. With ‘Sweet Insomnia’, I found myself pulling a lot of nostalgic R&B from the 2000s along with some mid to late 90s R&B as well. Mixing all of that with these weird 8-bit sounding synths makes the overall sound a lot less shrill. I like everything to have a lot of high-end information and be sparkly but, with this one I wanted it to be low, mid, dry and warm. Like a wooden box. Even at that same time, it was less of a conscious “oh, this is the sound I’m going to go for” thing. It was me naturally just leaning toward something more on the chillwave/chill hop side.
From Ology to your Sweet Insomnia album, what transitions were you going through in your own life and how did that reflect in your expression with music?
I was going through a period of realizing how much I continuously kept feeling bad about the past. I felt like I always had these walls up and it was impossible to connect with other people. I wasn’t able to keep friends as easily as I did when I was younger. I never really f*cked with talking about my feelings. I also wasn’t aware of how universal my problems were at the time, either. That feeling of walking into a party and feeling like everyone is either judging you, expecting something of you or having to be everyone’s entertainment or the life of the party. It wasn’t until I had these conversations that I discovered the universality of the things I felt. It wasn’t until I went on tour and got to explain where I was coming from on my ‘Ology’ album.
People explained to me why they liked that album and that encouraged me to be more straightforward with the story that I was telling lyrically. I feel like this project is easier to decipher because I’m talking about the here and now (one specific story arch) whereas, with previous projects, it was a series of pictures that fit together. My perspective changed greatly and I was able to experiment with things I didn’t write about before. This time around, I enjoyed being more direct. It’s not easy being transparent with my emotions so taking whatever feeling or idea that comes to mind and outlining that entire experience forces me to be open.
Who were your musical influences during your upbringing and how would you say those influences have played a role in your development as an artist?
I listened to a lot of Babyface and Toni Braxton. Even Usher and Ne-yo, too. It’s funny cause when I was growing up, I used to try to mimic their voices to try to sound like them. I would listen to what my friends would listen to as well. I would even latch onto something that people didn’t expect me to listen to – something more disproportionate. There are a lot of people within R&B that made me feel a certain way, and that was always a feeling I wanted to translate to other people or even just strictly to myself. I also can’t deny that there is something raw and interesting about hearing an approach to songwriting that is close to My Chemical Romance or something that is not necessarily trying to sell records. It’s about expressing raw emotion. Like a page ripped straight from your diary.
What are some of your greatest memories when you created Sweet Insomnia?
I think at the very end, I got addicted to Civilization 6 which is a strategy game that takes like 2 days to complete. It’s the most time-consuming sh*t you could play. You’ve got a whole country and you try to win by taking over, going to war, having the most culture or the most science. There’s one memory that I have in particular where I was at my homie’s house where we had gone through this stifle of redoing the album 3 times. So much had changed at my record label that it affected the process of the album. We spent a couple of weeks doing final touches and just making it happen, even after all that took place. From making a ton of unreleased music with other artists to figuring out what the “perfect album” meant to me, I kept asking myself, “should I make something like ‘Ology’ or should I not?” Once it came time, it just felt like a release of “here are the pieces of my album, this is what we need to do to finish it.” During those two weeks of refining, it brought me back to that feeling that I had when I was a kid playing a video game that I liked with a friend in a home setting. At that moment, I felt like I was making an album.
What was your session with 6LACK like for the song “Sweet Insomnia”?
He was traveling a bunch at the time so I wasn’t there for the session. The only time we connected was in person when we were shooting the music video for the song. We had talked online for the longest time before that, though. I had a few songs that I thought he would’ve been perfect on. It always goes that way though; I think someone would be perfect for something then maybe, they have other ideas or it just doesn’t work out, they’re not in town, etc. For some reason, he connected with this one in particular after I sent him the whole album. When I got back, I realized how fitting it was and it made me wonder why I didn’t think of the idea sooner. He’s such a genuine person, too. The way he approached it, it didn’t feel like work. If you connect with it and it makes sense, then I’ll do it. If it doesn’t make sense, then I won’t. It has to come from a real place and I believe in that wholeheartedly.
Where do you plan on taking things with yourself this year both musically and personally?
Definitely in a positive direction. I feel like I’ve been freed up creatively. I feel like I’ve been able to do a lot of projects now whereas back then, I would’ve felt paralyzed or like I wasn’t capable of doing due to the pressure of making a second album or getting caught up in everything that isn’t a part of the music-making process. From the industry to the expectations, it can be a lot to handle. I’m just really happy to be in the creative space that I’m in now. I feel like I’m starting to enter another phase of self-discovery – like there’s something else for me to reconnect with inside. It’s like that saying: “the grass is always greener on the other side” but you get to the greener grass and it doesn’t necessarily hold up. It may appear to be a saturated evergreen color when it’s just your average green. I just want to live the way that I did when I was a kid. I didn’t have many obstacles mentally and I didn’t worry about anything. Freeness is the space in which I want to reside for as long as I can.
Stream Gallant’s latest album Sweet Insomnia available on all platforms: