gallant is back with a beautiful homage to 90s r&b
'Gentleman' is his first single since being nominated for a Grammy alongside Beyoncé and Rihanna.
Photography Sasha Samsonova
You can learn a lot about Gallant by reading his tweets. Like that the 26-year-old Maryland-born, Los Angeles-based musician thinks Isle of Dogs is the greatest movie of all time, or that he considers Los Angeles ramen to be better than the New York variety. You’ll also discover that he has a lot of thirsty fans pining for new music.
It’s been almost two years to the day since Gallant (real name Christopher Gallant) released Ology, his debut album that was nominated for Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 59th Grammys. His competition included Rihanna’s Anti and Beyoncé’s Lemonade. Gallant was undoubtedly the underdog, despite owning one of the finest falsettos in modern pop music. Since breaking onto the scene in 2016, his buttery smooth voice has been compared to Seal and Al Green; in a more gender-neutral world one might also add Toni Braxton and Mariah Carey to the mix. As a whole, Gallant’s music is unclassifiable. Each song has its own personality. Ology was more of a character study than an attempt to mark territory in a specific genre.
Today Gallant makes his triumphant return with “Gentleman”, a song he says was “inspired by all the stuff I was listening to from the late 90s and early 2000s.” It evolved from a song he wrote for Ology called “Open Up”. “I feel like I thought about it too much, like I changed too many things,” he says of the original song. “I made it the way I wanted it to sound, but it wasn’t all off the cuff, you know?”
To make something more organic, he took direction from late-90s R&B artists who liked to sing directly to the person they were trying to get with. They were all about the art of seduction and Gallant wanted to channel that into a modern pop song. “I took that approach and went with my first thought,” he says. “Then I worked on trying to blend a bunch of late-90s sounds together into something I liked.” The song was produced by Teddy Walton, whose production credits include A$AP Rocky’s “Electric Body” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Love”. It is being released along with a video that you can watch below, directed by Sasha Samsonova, which features a soft blue light reflecting off of Gallant’s perfectly sculpted body. It’s both sexy and vulnerable; a homage and a statement of intent. Gallant explains, “In that time period there was stuff Hype Williams was doing that had very specific lighting. People were experimenting with different ways of showing off how incredible humanity is, to be that vulnerable. It brought me back to Seal’s [ Human Being] album cover in order to display a side of humanity that just doesn’t get shown that often and in that way.”
“Gentleman” is your first new song since Ology. Was there a reason for the two-year gap?
Not really. It was a bunch of different things; touring, and trial and error. I just really wanted to make sure I was making the best music possible and that I believed would make me the most proud. I tried not to strategically saturate the marketplace. I was just really focused on creating something that I believed was really good.
Can we expect to hear more new music in 2018?
Yeah, there’s an album coming out this year. “Gentleman” is the one thing I’m going to try and stay with, because for me it was one thing that I’d truly wanted to make – the video and that song – so it’s definitely going to feed my soul for a little bit. But this year I want to release a bunch of things.
In February you wrote on Twitter that you accidentally deleted your album. Is that true?
No! That’s not true. I did start over a bunch of times and internally among the people I was working with it was kind of a thing. The Twitter thing was a joke for people that were working on the album.
Since your last record, America has gone from having the first black president to being ruled by someone many see as a white supremacist. Has the shift in American politics altered your own world view?
Yeah, for sure. The whole thing is so surreal, you know, and you realize that the only thing you have to focus on is your values. I think a lot of people did a lot of soul-searching, which is probably the opposite of what you’re supposed to do – implode instead of trying to spread a message – but I think it goes either way for a lot of people. For me, it really solidified the core of who I was, because my values don’t necessarily reflect the projected statement of America. You have to be a lot more solidified in what you believe and it definitely comes out in the art and in a lot of things. I can’t dive deeper into the album as a whole, but … maybe I’ll just say that I might have been making softer statements if what’s been going on hadn’t been going on for a couple of years now.
In 2016 you were nominated for a Grammy. How did you react when you first found out?
It was crazy. I was in the middle of Amsterdam and my friend from home called me. It was the middle of the afternoon, I guess it was the morning there for her. [When] she told me about it I didn’t think she was telling the truth. So I double-checked, I triple-checked, and when I found out it was real I told my band about it, because we’d all been working hard a year before the album came out, so they’d been playing those songs forever. And we were in the middle of this ‘look-at-me’ type thing, even after we did our headline tour we were begging for attention and not everyone was giving it to [us], so to get that type of recognition for that album, a lot of which my band played on too, it was a special moment for us. And it made me feel good, because it made me feel like I’d made something that was worth playing. After a while I was like, ‘shit, I dragged all these people to all these shows and nobody gives a fuck about it’, you know, it takes its toll.
In an interview in 2015 with the Baltimore Sun you compared living in New York to being in “prison,” and went on to say that “LA is very choose-your-own-adventure. It’s very open spaces.” Do you think the environment in Los Angeles has helped you be more creative?
Yeah I think so, because LA has gotten me really close to who I am. I grew up in the suburbs, so when I was a kid I would wake up, I’d watch Sonic Underground or some other TV show, I’d go to school, come back, play some video games or whatever, ride my bike and then come back home and play some more video games, and then go to sleep. I did that for years. In New York you’ve got to fake it ‘til you make it. You walk into the street you’ve got to not acknowledge anybody, you’ve got to get on the subway and go to this party, and that party, and you got to meet people, you’ve got to shake hands and be confident. You’ve got to apply for this thing and that thing, all this shit, and then at the end of the day if you’re not from New York you’re performing in an imaginary reality TV show.
Being in LA, it took a while, maybe the first year or two in LA I was still performing, like ‘I gotta have this experience and I have to go this party and this function,’ or whatever. But after a while I was like, I’m going to focus on [being] the person I always dreamed of being, behind all the stuff associated with the music industry, just on a personal level, and so I’ve been able to get more attached to my personality and do shit that I like to do. That’s definitely helped me have a stronger footing before I go out on the road.
Do you like to drive around LA, or are you a public transport person?
Yeah, I definitely like to drive. When I first got my car in Maryland, it was like a whole new door of freedom opened up. I was really excited to get back behind the wheel [in LA] and feel like I could just drive whenever. I can just sit here and be like, ‘I can drive to Florida right now.’ You can go wherever.
You’re a longtime fan of Korean and Japanese pop music, but Asian pop music hasn’t really been embraced in America. Do you have any thoughts on why that is?
I think just the way music is set up in America, it’s so divided and people are so obsessed with putting things in boxes. They completely overlook music that comes in from Japan and Korea and I think that there are even deeper issues to it, but I don’t want to make any accusations. I think people just don’t take it seriously. They look straight past it. Especially the music that leans more hip hop and R&B, people who are creating that in America look at it in a different way and they’re not open-minded or accepting enough to put it on the same playing field as the stuff that they listen to. It’s just how a lot of Americans are, and it’s a shame.
In February you tweeted at the producer Yaeji and asked if she wanted to collaborate. Did she reply?
No she didn’t, but that’s cool. I’m going to keep trying because she’s awesome, she’s doing her own thing and she doesn’t give a fuck about what anyone else thinks. I just think she’s great. I’m a fan.
You also tweeted that DRAM’s debut album Big Baby D.R.A.M has one of the best covers of all time. Can we expect to see something amazing on the cover of your next album?
Oh yeah, that’s one of the best of all time. It’s probably not right for me, because it all has to do with who he is and what the music is. If I could do something that, in my way, does that for what this project is, and for what the music is and who I am...then that would be incredible.