Gallant talks ‘Sweet Insomnia,’ being compared to Maxwell, getting into acting and more
REVOLT caught up with Gallant at his ‘Sweet Insomnia’ listening party in Los Angeles to chat about his recording process, the inspiration behind the new album, and more. Check out the interview here!
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Off the rip, Gallant may seem like a timid, conservative young gentleman. But, he’s got pipes for days. With a falsetto that has drawn comparisons to greats such as Maxwell, the Maryland-bred, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter has created a name for himself in the R&B world.
Having graduated New York University with a music degree, real name Christopher Gallant went above and beyond when it came to his artistry. In fact, he took anthropology and sociology classes to study trends, culture, history — all relating to who he was as an African-American in society. It’s these moments of vulnerability that allow audiences to connect and confide in him.
In 2016, Gallant unleashed his critically acclaimed debut album titled Ology, which gave him his first Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Urban Album. But, his work doesn’t stop…
In addition to joining Jamie N Commons and Skylar Grey in remaking Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train” and being a musical contributor to Steven Universe: The Movie, the 27-year-old created three different albums before Sweet Insomnia, which is out today, Friday, Oct. 25. Lead singles include “Sharpest Edges,” “Crimes,” and “Compromise” featuring Sabrina Claudio, and “Sleep On It.”
REVOLT caught up with Gallant at his Sweet Insomnia listening party in Los Angeles to chat about his recording process, the inspiration behind the new album, working with Sabrina Claudio, Steven Universe: The Movie and more. Check out the interview below!
What are you most excited about with Sweet Insomnia dropping October 25?
I’m excited to hear what people feel about the lo-fi stuff.
What’s the significance in the title?
All the lyrics of every song really have to do with the bittersweet feeling of everything. I’m not an optimist, not a pessimist anymore either. So, everything’s bittersweet. With Ology, I was constantly digging deep into myself to try to pull shit out maybe I tried to bury — and put that on the wax. Every single thing I did, whether it was, ‘Oh, maybe we should bend this synth a little bit and detune this, take this kick and make it a little later than usual,’ played into the fact that I just didn’t sleep at all. Everything was so hazy and lazy. I took the simplest version of both of those words and stuck them together to make Sweet Insomnia.
As someone who struggles with insomnia, talk about spinning it to be a positive.
It’s tough. During the worst days of my insomnia, I’d get really confused. There were times where I thought that people were against me when they weren’t. There’d be times where the only way I’d feel comfortable and happy with everything is if I just didn’t give a fuck about anything — that was dangerous, too. The biggest lesson I learned was if you feel you haven’t slept a lot, try to lay off the smoke. Lay off the drinking for a bit ‘cause it’s going to make it worse. The closer you get to reality — even if you’re in that weird period of sleep deprivation — the better off you’re going to be.
What inspired ‘Sleep On It’?
I grew up in Columbia, Maryland. So, Howard County. We had DC, Baltimore stations. Shout out WHUR, 92Q, WKYS. They play the deep cuts of all the R&B artists. Toni Braxton, Sisqó — both from Maryland — Ginuwine, who’s from D.C., that’s all I knew. I wasn’t really a hip hop kid growing up at all, just because the stations were there. I had always wanted to write something that felt like mid-2000s. But, I never knew exactly how to do it.
I was watching the new version of DuckTales on Disney XD, I had just the melody of (starts singing ‘Sleep on It’). But I didn’t know what the lyrics were at the time. It was slower. I put a voice note in my phone and took it to my homeboy Stint. Then, my other homeboy Jeff Gitty came through and laid some fire guitar. My other homeboy Boy Matthews came, he’s great at taking lyrics and making it more concise. We just vibed out on that chorus for a bit and got something that was exactly what I was trying to make in the first place.
Those kinds of slow burning — I don’t even know what you call it, but the kind of chorus where it’s happening and you’re like (claps slowly). You can see the boy band with the shiny pants, it just popped into my head. I had written this other song ‘Gentleman’ that was a very similar type of process, but it came from a slightly darker place because I didn’t exactly know how to finish the project I was working on at that time. Now it’s like, ‘Alright, it’s February, let’s do this project.’ I’m happy it came together the way it did.
What is Maxwell’s influence on your work?
When I first started, my voice was very terrible. I got kicked out of the church choir for being off-key all the time. I learned how to sing from listening to Usher records and trying to mimic his voice exactly. Maxwell was never afraid to just stay in his falsetto, like, ‘Yo, this is what the song is.’ Hearing ‘This Woman’s Work’ and anybody who has a lane who claims it like, ‘This is my shit, I’m doing this. I don’t care what anybody else says,’ you gotta feel inspired by that. Maxwell’s the GOAT, Usher’s the GOAT, and Ne-Yo’s the GOAT.
Talk about linking with Sabrina Claudio on ‘Compromise’? How did you guys meet?
One of my closest friends Stint who lives 10 minutes away from me, we’ve been best friends for five years now. He did this song for Sabrina Claudio called ‘Unravel Me,’ then my girl shot the video for that song, too. It was one of those things that just kept coming up. I love that song. It’s Stint doing the experimental electronic shit when I first got to know him.
We linked in the studio, wrote this other slower R&B record about reconciliation, her putting me on blast for shit that I’ve done wrong in a relationship. I had this song ‘Compromise’ that was Afrobeats/Latin beat — way more Latin beat at the time than Afrobeat. It was me rambling on and on about how I’d gone to therapy and done all this shit. It was a weird song. But, I still had the hook, I played it for her and gave her the rundown of where I wanted to go with it. She vibed with it, then we took the ideas we’d written for the first song and put them into the second song.
What did it mean to get T-Pain on the ‘Gentleman (Remix)’?
It was crazy. T-Pain represented something to my generation for a long time, he was the mainstream voice of R&B. To see him do the Tiny Desk and switch over to this really vulnerable authentic side of himself, that was trippy for people in my shoes to see. It was really inspiring for people of the new school of R&B. It made them feel like they could just own their shit, do their brand the way they want to do it, and their audience will find their way to them.
What’s your recording process like?
It’s all over the place. A lot of stuff I do [are] in my own set up that I’ve had for 10 years: just two KRK speakers and a blue mic. But then, some of it’s done with the producer at the time, who’s the most involved in the record. The past two have been Stint, so I just jet over to his house and we vibe for a while. Things can be done in big studios that use a little bit of the budget. Things can be done so spur of the moment that it can only happen at 4am, when I’m walking around in my underwear at my crib. Things that I slave over for a year and a half, things that are started and finished in three hours… it’s really all over the place.
What are some of your studio essentials
A six-pack of beer. That’s the only thing on my rider, too.
Best memory from recording this album?
It’s funny, I was with Stint last night. We were doing some changes on this one song we had slaved over for a year. There was a time where we changed the production completely, we’re trying to figure out the right sounds. We had a Mellotron going. We had two different wooden synths… trying to get the perfect sound. Then, my cousin introduced me to Civilization (a production game), I got it on my Nintendo Switch. The touch controls were weird, so I got it on my iPad. I was playing Civilization trying to maximize it, [and] at the same time trying to figure out the right sound to use.
Those moments where you’re deep in the trenches, but you still don’t feel any pressure because you’re trying to perfect something that you know is mostly there — 98% there, but you’re trying to get that extra 2% — those are my favorite moments of the process because there’s no pressure. You’re not trying to get any creative juices from anywhere. You’re just trying to tailor something to make it the perfect-shaped puzzle piece to fit and complete the picture.
Talk about contributing to Steven Universe: The Movie alongside Chance The Rapper, Estelle, and James Faunteroy.
When I first met James three years ago, we talked about Steven Universe for an hour and a half. That’s how we became friends. He’s the first person I’m like, ‘Yo, we’re actually on the same page.’ When I was doing my first album, Ology, there was a moment where I was in my room in Columbia, Maryland and I watched the whole first season of Steven Universe. Aivi & Surasshu (the two main musical contributors on the show) did this thing where they’d take drum and bass beats, and mix it with this 8-bit sound. They’d put this very heavy pre-lo-fi base that dominates the whole mix on top of it. It really inspired me a lot.
On my first album, it’s ‘Weight In Gold.’ Before that, it’s ‘Oh, Universe.’ Rebecca (Sugar, founder of Steven Universe) had this outro on the show where it was kind of jazzy. Both of them together inspired the 8-bit sounds of ‘Weight In Gold’ and the jazzy vibe of ‘Oh, Universe’ — and the name. It was surreal. I met Rebecca after acting on a different show on Cartoon Network and it was instant chemistry. She’s from near where I grew up in Maryland and her partner has a show on Cartoon Network, too. He’s one of the few African-American dudes with their own show on that network. He’s from my actual hometown, Columbia. Just so much to talk about, we kept in touch.
We did a song with Sufjan Stevens called ‘TOOGOODTOBETRUE’ with Stint, too. It was such a natural thing. We were vibing in the studio. She’s like, ‘Yo, I’m working on this movie.’ We wrote a couple of songs. All the work we did culminated into the finale of the movie. So, to see that finally come to fruition — because I’m talking we worked on that in 2017 — to see that on TV now, especially as I’m coming out with my album and getting everything tight, it’s really surreal. She’s the best.
I remember your ‘Insecure’ party, any more acting endeavors?
I’m trying, yes. I did a lot of acting when I was a kid and it was fun. Then, I fell out of love with it. But, I’ve never had more fun then when I was on set with Issa and the whole ‘Insecure’ crew. I was in a recording studio for the first time not singing, just acting. Every time I’m in that building, it feels like I’m where I’m supposed to be.
What are some goals for yourself as an artist at this point in your career?
I’m really excited to get this album out. Even though I’ve gotten over a lot of the hurdles I tried two navigate from 2017 to now, finally seeing this project out in the world is going to free me up to do a lot of things that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I wish I could elaborate, but I’m going to finally get out of the trenches of constant criticism and get into some projects.
Is there anything else you’d like to let us know ?
My album Sweet Insomnia comes out October 25. My record ‘Sleep On It’ is out right now. Check out the video featuring Ginuwine if you haven’t seen it.
How was getting Ginuwine in there?
It was crazy! It was surreal as fuck. I sent him the treatment and idea I had, which was basically a couple reconciling after an argument. The bare bones basic mid-2000s music video that you could think of. I wanted to put some flip phones and iPods. It’s Ginuwine, Cameron the model, we got a Motorola razor, pink IPod mini — not even the nano. I’m walking around in a white ‘Touched By An Angel’ fit before it hit the Hallmark channel.