Interview by Alexis Roberts
Chad VanGaalen is a man who wears many hats. He’s a musician, one-man band, recording technician, illustrator, animator, short filmmaker, Canadian citizen and a dad. You may know him from his rather distinguishable lo-fi music or his eye grabbing and memorable animations that he creates to serve as music videos for his songs. Mr. VanGaalen and I had a chance to discuss his current album, Soft Airplane, his affinity for the visual arts and the benefits of being a self-sufficient DIY one-man show.
Can you tell me a little bit about Soft Airplane, your newest album?
It’s like a folk rock record. It’s kind of like my first real record. All the others were kind of compilations of songs that had been recorded in the past. With this one all of the songs were recorded all around the same time, so it’s kind of like the first records for me.
Is it conceptual or do you feel that it’s just overall more unified?
Not really. We were picking from a lot of songs so it just sort of ended up being the way that it was because of the way that we sequenced it.
And you’re writing and recording all of this by yourself?
So what are the hardest parts of being a one man bad and what are the payoffs?
Well, I get control over everything. So I get to do all the fun stuff. I also have to do all of the set up, so it would be nice to have someone to just boss around. There’s more payoff, obviously, than downfall because I wouldn’t be doing it this way if that wasn’t the case.
Do you ever get lonely?
Yeah, I do. I mean- it would be nice to have a sort of a permanent band together so I wouldn’t have to go by Chad VanGaalen because that’s like the worst band name ever. We don’t really have the space to do it, though, so that’s a problem.
So on tour you have one or two friends with you to play back up instruments?
Yeah. I used to just be a one man band. Playing the drums, the guitar… everything by myself. I’d play the drums with my feet and hold my guitar, it was a classic one man band setup. I was doing that for a long time but it’s hard to pull all the instruments off, so it ends up sounding pretty wonky sometimes. So… I started taking whoever was around and it seemed pretty permanent for a while…
Then we recorded this Women album in my basement and those guys are super popular right now and the guy that used to be my bass player is now in Women… We have constantly revolving members which is good and bad. You feel like you’re going through stuff over and over and always trying to re-solidify stuff that should be solid. It can be hard.
When you’re writing do you ever bring in you friends, or family or whomever and let them listen to your stuff? Or do you like to hole up and not let anyone know what you’re doing until you’re completely finished?
A little bit of both. I show my girlfriend just about everything. My close friends I’m constantly barraging with half finished songs and stuff. Sometimes I don’t, though. Lately I’ve been keeping to myself.
I’ve heard rumors about the Canadian government funding musicians. I’m curious if you have benefited from that or if you know how that works?
Up until now I’ve been getting about $20,000 per year. You do have to write a grant proposal it doesn’t just magically appear. There are millions of dollars that they have put away in each province. I’m in Alberta, so it came from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. They help us with a lot of tours. They give us all the money back that we spend on tours, so we aren’t spending money to tour outside of Canada. I also just finished a short animation project where they funded the whole thing. They gave me money for rent and food for the six months that I was working on it- so basically they paid for half of my year of living. It’s a pretty crazy situation. It sounds like a fairytale and it kind of is. If you have a project that’s worth doing they’ll almost always get behind you on it. They aren’t stingy with the money and it’s definitely nowhere near impossible to get a grant in this country. You just can’t be some asshole whose like “yeah I wana… do chalk drawings on the sidewalk!” You know what I mean? If you have a real project they will usually be into it. It’s more than likely that you’ll get at least some percentage of the funding that you’re asking for. Usually they’ll give you 80-90% of the money that you ask for.
Knowing that you make all of your own videos, when you’re writing songs do you have a picture in your mind that you’re trying to convey or is it after the song is written that you choose to make the video?
If you’ve seen the Molten Light video, that’s the only linear storyline that I’ve tried to marry the animation to 100% Usually I go off a stream of consciousness. If I already have a story in my head I’m actually more likely to drop it as a project so the morphological stream of consciousness I like a lot more and it’s more satisfying for me. Even if I have a slight idea of what I’m going to be doing it always ends up completely different, so that surprise element is definitely a benefit but I’m trying to incorporate more story lines into it with the shorts that I’ve been working on.
Do you feel your visual art and your music share any certain sensibilities?
Yeah. It’s like I was saying before, I never set out with a plan in mind. I never set out with any real stories and the stories I do get are usually from dreams and stuff. When you wake up from a dream though- there are always parts missing so I tend to elaborate on different parts. I’m not really a good storywriter in my waking life. Sometimes you have those rambling story lines in your dreams and you know you haven’t been sleeping long and those are the sorts of things I seem to latch onto. It seems less pretentious- or maybe I’m just lazy, I don’t know. It’s also impossible to criticize yourself in a dream, it seems like it’s coming from a more honest place, whereas if I were going to sit down and write a story I’d be like “Once upon a time a piece of poop and a piece of poop….” Yeah, I don’t know haha.
There is certainly a surrealist quality to your animations, but it’s refreshing to see a music video that’s not as stark and straightforward as many tend to be…
Exactly and that’s another thing- I never really liked music videos. I like the animated parts on Sesame Street. That shit tripped me out as a kid. I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t do it! It’s like they think “Let’s be another fuckin’ band making like a band video”. How bored do you wanna be? Way to kill the romantic element of art instantly. I get so frustrated with that shit. Like “where’s your face man? Why aren’t you rockin’?!” If you are gonna expect people to watch something I don’t wanna take people into a specific place- I don’t want to demand their attention I don’t wana take them someplace that I wanna take them. I want to present something like images and forms and make things morph into other things but you can think whatever you want about it. I don’t even fully understand what it is anyway, so why should I expect somebody else to critique it and come up with something. The magic part of it is you can get whatever you want out of it. It’s open to interpretation.
You really are the one man show. You’re doing all of your music, recording, all of your videos… Is there anything you aren’t good at?
You mean in terms of music or just in general?
Just generally speaking… Is the anything you never really got the hang of?
I’m super bad at languages. In Canada it’s mandatory that we go through French for at least 12 years. It never really stuck in my head and I spent a lot of time in Quebec and Montreal and I do have French-speaking friends and that’s always been difficult for me. It’s such a backwards thing in my brain. Languages have always been very difficult for me, so it’s frustrating but one of these days, I’ll get it.
Any finals words of wisdom?
Get your kids out of diapers as fast as you can because you don’t wanna be putting time capsules or encapsulated turds into the earth for too long.