interview | chilly gonzales

Live_©_Barbican Hall, photographer mark Allan.

© Barbican Hall, photographer Mark Allan.

Just like Daft Punk, with whom he collaborated on Random Access Memories, Chilly Gonzales has been wise enough to avoid getting stuck in the trap of fame. Seated on the terrace of the Parisian café where we meet, the man is only recognised by a few music aficionados.

Other than his prestigious collaborations with Drake, Peaches, Feist or Boys Noize, Gonzo – also known as Jason Beck – has already released ten albums in his career. Blurring lines between electro, pop and hip hop, Chilly Gonzales has a predilection for extreme performances which, at times border on contemporary art. Gonzales sat down with Schön! to talk to us about his projects, breaking the image of the eccentric stage persona, and about how music saved his life.

Tell us about your book. How did this idea come to you? 

Lately, I became very interested in meeting people after my concerts. All these people who said that they were inspired to get back to playing the piano. At some point, I was satisfied: I could basically play everything I heard on the radio, I felt like I had a super power : the ability to translate what I heard into music. I was the nerdy-smart kid who was able to play any instrument. I also realised that when I write music, I wasn’t doing it for anyone but myself. So, even though the music is quite simple, I was using all my techniques: long intervals, very technical stuff.

But I often thought that one day, I should do a book of sheet music, something simple for others. We’re looking for people who took lessons, who stopped and who remain totally fascinated by music.

Music has become easier because of technological advances, especially in electro . What do you think about it?

I’m very much in favour of these changes. It’s interesting to see how easy software is becoming. My thirteen year-old nephew makes incredible dubstep beats on his computer and that’s great ! Most old school musicians criticise this technological progress in music, but it’s fantastic ! It’s super important to stay connected to this young generation. My proudest moments are when people link me to artists like Drake, I think ‘OK, Thank God, I’m part of today’s music.’

The Ivory Tower concept is very recurrent in your work ! You even named your film after this.

(He laughs) Yes, because the character I play in the movie is living in an Ivory Tower, I was playing my worst nightmare. I allowed myself to be a self-indulgent system hater. In real life, I don’t hate our system, I’m trying to find my own special way to live with it, because it’s so much more fun. Living in a Ivory tower is  such a sad existence, even though it’s reassuring , it’s glauque in here, like you would say in French.

You collaborated with Daft Punk on their latest album…I’m guessing that was a special collaboration!

It was three years ago, in 2011. Two years before the album came out. I happened to be in Los Angeles, working with Feist, and I’ve done some things with them before, here and there. We were not friends exactly, but good colleagues, but of course I really admire Daft Punk as music icons. It was one of those chance encounters, one thing led to another, I came by to their studio and we worked together.

This year, for the first time, you are hosting masterclasses. It’s quite surprising for an artist like yourself, who has the reputation of being a little bit inaccessible… ?

This is my way of showing people what’s really in the book. I wrote a text for every piece, it’s not just sheet music. I really want to explain my views, my musical theory. I’m really involved in the process. I’m trying to find the people who are the most interested. I literally have no agenda here, except creating hopeful musical geniuses. 

Music really saved my life, I’m becoming more and more aware of that fact. It makes me really wanna share it, and more people have potentially their life saved by it. Socially, psychologically, for many reasons. Piano is one of the healthiest thing you can get obsessed about. There’s so many bad things you can get obsessed about, that will fuck you up…but music is one of the best. 

There’s an interesting contrast between your eccentric artistic character, and the seriousness with which you approach music…

I’ve had a lot of authority issues, but never when it came to learning  music. Because at least, I realised that it brought me so much joy, that it was actually worth me learning more about it. In everything else, I could be very rebellious. My behaviour,  when I first came into the music business, was like that, too. I said a lot of stuff publicly, I didn’t want to fit the ‘polite musician’ ideal, so I decided to be totally unpredictable.

But when it comes to music itself? I’m very wise and reverential. Luckily, we all change, and I don’t feel the need to be like I used to. For example, now that I let myself go out of the ‘mean-onstage character’ once in a while, it feels very different. It’s almost more fun. You know, it’s really like a toy, except that I can stop it anytime.

What are your upcoming projects ? Are you working on a new album ?

I’m working on a couple of projects. First, a project with Boyz Noize ; It will be not released under my name, or Boyz Noize’s name. We created a new group together. The name of the project is Ivory tower, again and again! 

I’m also working on my next album, but let’s just say that it will be an acoustic project, that will go beyond my previous Solo piano albums.

 Words / Melanie Mendelewitsch

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