When Chris Gallant arrived in Los Angeles in his car in the fall of 2013, he was not a happy dude. He was, in fact, straight-up depressed.
They say that New York chews you up and spits you out. Gallant had been spit across the country to L.A., a city they say usually kicks you around for awhile before it sends you running back to wherever you came from. But while his time working angles in the east coast music industry had thrust Gallant into despondency, L.A. would offer the catharsis and solitude that would help his career take off.
Raised in Maryland, the now 23-year-old alt-R&B singer started off making songs in his bedroom. “I’d play it for my friends and they’d say it was the worst and whackest music,” Gallant says. He studied music at NYU and after graduation, set about becoming a professional singer while getting involved in the world of pop songwriting. The veil came off the industry when he was told that his lyrics were too strange, that he didn’t fit tidily into a genre, and that he’d have to become some manufactured pop product if he wanted to make it.
“People had an idea of what R&B artists or pop artists usually say,” Gallant says, “which was like, ‘Talk about sex, talk about partying, and be positive, don’t be too much of a downer.’”
But the advice didn’t serve the raw emotional content of his lyrics, and Gallant (pronounced gah-lahnt) felt caged. Disillusioned, he moved back in with his parents and then made the cross country trek to SoCal. Here, he found a place in the Valley (choosing that part of town because it was the most suburban), and quietly went about making his music while marketing himself on the Internet. He soon had an EP, Zebra, which he calls a sonic diary about dealing with the aftermath of New York. Zebra was produced by the well-connected Felix Snow, whom Gallant knew from college and who is also his roommate out in the Val.
Zebra got love from NME, Pitchfork, and The Guardian, and was ultimately sent to David Dann, the founder of indie label Mind of a Genius. Dann liked the sound, connected with Gallant, and invited some friends to see him at the Bootleg. There were approximately 10 people in the audience, but two of them were Tom Windish, founder of influential booking company the Windish Agency, and Jake Udell, founder of Th3rd Brain management, who has guided the careers of electronic acts Krewella and Zhu. The music began and, as Udell tells it, he cried because it was so beautiful. Gallant had a team.
What Gallant says he loves most about this crew, more than their connections and influence, is that they’ve largely left him to his own devices. “It’s almost like they allowed me to just work in silence and do their end of the deal when it came time, rather than sit with me and micromanage my thought process.”
That process includes a lot of journaling and internal arguing and has resulted in a number of singles that highlight the explosive, vulnerable quality of Gallant’s work, attributes not always associated with R&B. (“People just decided I was an R&B artist because I’m black,” he says.)
"Talking In Your Sleep" and "Open Up" are confessional, and "Weight In Gold," which debuted this past June 30 on Apple Music by heavyweight selector Zane Lowe, sounds like "Diamonds and Pearls"-era Prince. Influenced by a wide range of artists including Babyface, Toni Braxton, Jackie Wilson, Incubus and Radiohead, Gallant still doesn’t fit into any one box, but despite what he was told in the New York days, that's starting to matter less and less.
His live set is something entirely different as well. Onstage, Gallant expands his work into something raw, kinetic, intimate and impassioned, a visceral display of everything the self-described loner typically keeps on the inside. He’s doing something right, as his recent showcase at Bardot’s School Night was sold out. Even Skrillex was there.
Gallant's music has millions of online plays, and a body of work is forthcoming this fall. He says his newer work references internal struggles that haven’t dissipated, but evolved, after nearly two years in L.A.
“I hope I’m getting to a better place mentally as a human being," he says. "A defining moment will be when I get listen to [a collection of my songs] for the first time. That will feel like an accomplishment.”
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Gallant plays Popshop West with Verite at the Echoplex on Thursday, July 9.