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An Interview with Chad Vangaalen

Maybe you’ve heard of Chad VanGaalen. Maybe you haven’t. Let me tell you a bit about the weird and wacky world that VanGaalen lives in.
The 41-year-old, Calgary based, multi-faceted artist has been making music since 1998, and has self produced and released six albums through Flemish Eye (Canada) / Sub Pop (Worldwide) – the most recent of which was Light Information (2017), a collection of songs about “not being comfortable with anything.”
He developed a unique animation style that he has used in not only his own music videos and album covers, but he has also lended his talents to artists like Tanya Tagaq, Holy fuck, Dan Deacon, Shabazz Palaces, The Head and the Heart, Timbre Timbre (which he won the 2015 Prism Prize for) and is currently working on a video for Father John Misty.
Last year he released the first installment of his Sci-Fi video titled TARBOZ (translated log of inhabitants) and had his illustration for a robot called ‘Terry’ transformed into a character for the Adult Swim program Dream Corp, LLC (which he also scored the soundtrack for).
Starting to feel like you don’t do enough with your life? Let’s not forget that he’s a father, a husband, a sculptor, a handyman and a touring musician. The last (and first) time VanGaalen came to Niagara was when he headlined the 2017 In the Soil Music and Arts Festival and on July 18, VanGaalen drops into St. Catharines with a stop at the Warehouse on an off date during his Festival season.

You started out drawing at a young age, did you also play music as a child? When did you start making making recordings that would end up on your first album Infiniheart (2004)?

I kind of got a late start with music. That first record was a mix of stuff that I’d been passing around for a while since the late 90’s and we kind of compiled them and sequenced it so that it sounded like a record. I’m not that great at looking back, but I’m still doing what I’ve been doing since I was a kid – I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.

So, you started out as an artist. Did your art influence the way you made music?

I would say so. The stuff that really inspired me, it was presented as a piece of art. The first record I put out was also mixed with a ton of instrumental longer pieces and those came from the music that I was listening to at the time. I was fascinated with album covers. I loved how they made the music multi-formatted. That, and it just being a thing that you find, not really about it being a live performance necessarily.

As companion pieces to your music, you also do your own artwork and music videos. Your art and your music mesh well together. How do you multi-task through that and all the projects that you do, and would you like to see more people doing this?

I got introduced to animation through the Quickdraw Animation Society here in Calgary that’s a non-profit, so you sign up as a member and you have access to a great facility and all the tools are in front of you. It really helped me figure out how animation works.
I think that maybe people haven’t been given the opportunity. Its weird. Having kids and having worked with kids you see that stuff being stifled pretty early on. A lot of the time when I run into people and they want to ask me ‘Oh, how do you do animation?’ Really, its just about being introduced to it at the right time and then building that confidence, everybody has the tools to do anything now but people will always be apprehensive about it.

I sat down and watched TARBOZ (translated log of inhabitants) and just thought, what the fuck is going through this guy’s head? What was that like to create?

I know you worked on the first episode for years. Exactly. Nothing much is going on there. Nothing special. It was more just to prove to myself that you can do something start to finish. I was approaching it in a stream of consciousness feel, but I feel like it might be alienating in that there’s no point to it. It was just to prove to myself that I had the energy to make it happen and I hope in the future I could get other people on board to help with the voice acting and writing a script. I would love to team up with some people so I can collaborate. A collaborative effort needs to happen because you go insane. I was fucking insane by the end of that – I was miserable.

In comparison: what’s it like when you go to make a record? Do you just hope to accomplish it from start to finish? Or do you toy around forever on things?

I’m always compiling stuff. For the most part, all of the records are just compilations of songs, and when I want to take a break and maybe do some touring behind a record I’ll put together the songs and pass it around and see what people like and then sequence the album from there. I’m kind of getting into pulling from older songs. I feel like I’m going back in time and that’s the new ‘going forward.’ I like the idea of putting together the idea of putting out records in the future that are actually from the past.

What was it like to see your illustration for Terry (Dream Corp, LLC) come to life at The Jim Henson Company’s studio?

When I was going out there they had already built Terry, we were working on another character for the second season. For this new character I got to go in and talk to the people in charge who are the builders. It was awesome, it was wild. There were other things that blew my mind more than that. That was maybe the least impressive thing about the trip. Seeing all these characters from my childhood that I worshipped like characters from the Dark Crystal and Fraggle Rock and Sesame Street was crazier for me. I was tripping out on that.

One of the lines from your press release state that Light Information is about not being comfortable with anything. Does that still hold true a year later?

I think I swing back and forth between that unhealthy digital lifestyle — as my kids are entering that world as well — and the natural world. I’m sure the digital world is going to become more integrated and I think were kind of in an awkward transition. I don’t know man; everything is just so wild and crazy.

I don’t know if I’m a little but optimistic, but I think that people are going to stray from, or rebel against the digital life that we’re kind of living in.

It’s funny, because I say that, but at the same time I don’t want to sound like an old person complaining about shit. Its just evolution, its all natural and I get that. But it’s moving so quick that its hard not to see the snowball happening. Its moving so quickly and people just accept it as the norm.

On Light Information you were able to span the different generations of your life where you sing about your father on ‘Broken Bell’ and then your kids sing on ‘Static Shape’ as well. I think that family is something that also kind of grounds you in that natural life that we’ve been talking about.

I think that it’s natural for me to write about my own world. I spend a lot of time in this bubble. Literally, my kids were running in in that moment and I had the microphones set up and I suggested that they sing along to the song. It’s bound to happen when you’re surrounded by it constantly. To avoid it, would be more effort in the long run.

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