The Reluctant Rock Star.


Musician, illustrator, animator, instrument inventor, producer and father of two, Chad VanGaalen is not only a very busy man, but also a very talented one. He has not always been as relentlessly productive, though. “Before I became a dad I used to be a real hobo, stoner dude,” he says. “I’d wake up and take a big dump and have a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee, and that would take an hour in itself.”

Chad’s recent bouts of productivity have led to a vast body of work that spans a series of musical genre’s and side projects and has also spawned animations for music videos for the likes of J Masics and Holy Fuck!. A brief tour of his Canadian home studio (as seen on a VBS video) will see a series of bizarre concoctions and inventions (the homemade drum that uses a Lego ramp as a means for rhythmic percussion is particularly endearing). The scenes give off a sense of a lonely hermit, sat up all hours building, scheming and plotting, which as I soon find out, isn’t far off how Chad would like to end up.

About his new record, ‘Diaper Island’, he says: “It sounds boring to talk about because it’s just a rock record,” adding: “After making the Women record [Chad produced ‘Public Strain’], I wanted to make guitars the focus, which I’d never really done before. It might sound boring to everybody else, as it’s like, ‘yeah the Stones did that forty years ago.’ I work on ambient drone recordings that are like twenty minutes long, and if it were up to me that’s what I’d be focusing on”

So is the album a result of you label’s wishes?

“Sub Pop are the best label in the world for putting up with me being a complete idiot most of the time, and I’m sure they would put out whatever I want. However, to tell you the truth, I think they wanted a little more out of it than what it is right now. I’m excited to get working on something else right now. One day I’ll make them happy!”

While Chad’s modesty may label his new album as merely a ‘rock record’, in actual fact, it’s far from the primitive image he sculpts. Since the rise of Fleet Foxes, this album may suffer from undue comparisons, as the vocal similarities are irrefutable, and the lingering songs often evoke a similar sensation. However, the record weaves between a series of genres from the gorgeous, lamenting, country-tinged ‘Sara’, to the tropical punk-pop of ‘Burning Photographs’. It seems for Chad this record is him performing at his least experimental, odd and uncompromising, which paradoxically he finds more uncomfortable, artistically. “It sounds silly,” he says, “but to make a rock record is pretty abstract for me. I’ve never really been comfortable being a songwriter.” I sheepishly enquire, is this a record that he doesn’t particularly like? “Errrrm…” comes the elongated response. “I dunno, I mean, I like it – there is definitely a flow to it. But erm…yeah, there are parts that are a little ill conceived, but I’m probably the wrong person to ask anyway…I’m the worst judge of my own music. I definitely don’t want to get pigeonholed as a rock guitar player, though.”

It soon becomes apparent that music is perhaps not Chad’s primary focus and means of artistic expression. “I like working with sound,” he tells me, “but it’s definitely the most clumsy rendition of myself. I have been drawing my whole life and it’s still the thing I enjoy most about life. Like, I wasn’t really intending on ever playing anything live, it was just an art project…now I have to play this for people! I tried a few things as a one-man band, as I didn’t want to put anyone through the pain of having to learn my songs. Then somewhere along the lines I got over myself and realised I was being pretty pretentious and found a good group of friends who are willing to do it, but it started off pretty painfully.”

So how does the idea of touring fit into it all?

“I’ve never really enjoyed touring that much. It whisks me away and now it takes me away from my family, which is even worse. You miss a lot, kids grow up quick and you don’t want to miss that.”

It sounds like the ideal scenario is one that keeps you working full time at home. “Yeah, exactly. That’s why I’ve been focusing on producing bands and in a perfect world I’d only like to tour maybe four weeks of the year.”

Chad even recorded every single aspect of his new record, no other person was involved at any point. “It was just me, and at the end of the day it’s a lot of work,” he says. “It sounds horrible, but I really enjoy it, although it is wearing a little bit thin. It would maybe be nice to have an engineer there, or at least someone to press record for me. But, then, I can’t imagine singing in front of somebody else in a studio – that just seems ridiculous to me.”

While Chad may struggle to come to terms with himself and his music both literally and existentially, the results are nevertheless a captivating insight into the workings of a frantic and restless artistic mind, furthermore one that operates on a multitude of artistic platforms and endeavours. Predicating what is next would be impossible, which is what makes Chad so exciting and endearing.


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