Gallant Talks Signature Falsetto, Being an Introverted Songwriter & His Introspective Debut 'Ology'
Gallant's comfort zones are discomfort and contrast. The 24-year-old tenor and songwriter didn’t start singing until age 14. When it was time for college, he traded his native suburb of Columbia, Maryland, for NYU.
Three years and a BA in music later, Gallant swapped the Big Apple for another contrasting city: Los Angeles. On the West is where he'd find his footing, Spotify stardom, new management, and label, Mind of a Genius. Soon after would come an EP (Zebra), opportunity to open for Sufjan Stevens and a remix collab with Seal for the new vocalist’s mountainous ballad “Weight In Gold.”
Gallant’s debut album Ology offers some of the most abstract and excruciatingly vulnerable writing heard from a rookie this decade––there are WTF song titles like “Percogesic” and labyrinth lines like “I’m a tritone bible with misprint logic,” off the smoky “Bourbon.” This summer, you can experience these numbers live as Gallant tours with label mate Zhu and makes his Coachella debut. For now, get to know the raw talent whose muse is his own complexities.
The first thing that stands out about your voice is it’s extremely comfortable in the clouds. Where did you develop your falsetto?
I’m really not sure where it came from. Once I started recording vocals…I eventually started developing a voice that allowed me to do whatever I thought. Getting to that point allows me to stay in the clouds when lyrically and sonically, it called for that. I wish there was some form of training. Most of the stuff I was doing, my friends would say, “This the worst music I’ve ever heard.” Nobody gave me compliments on my voice. Even college professors would say this isn’t your thing.
For sure. It just seemed like this music was truly a way for me to get certain things out that I can’t talk about because of who I am. I’m not an extrovert.
Does being an introvert make collaborating with other writers like Jhene Aiko difficult?
I’ve tried collaborating with other writers and it just doesn’t work. I just feel like someone’s looking over my shoulder, like I’m making too many compromises. [The Jhene collaboration] was very random, but came together in a very organic way. I was working with Stint, who did most of the album, and Adrian Younge and somebody brought up Jhene. So I met with Jhene a couple days later, she vibed to everything and wrote a verse. It turned out very interesting.
What were your musical influences growing up?
I feel like every black kid is like, “My parents listen to Motown,” and there was a lot of '90s R&B laying around my house, so I would say, everyone is expecting me to listen to this so screw this, I’m gonna put all this aside and listen to like Incubus, alternative rock and progressive rock in the U.K. At the end of the day, I just realized there was something special about that '90s R&B like Babyface, Brandy and Toni Braxton.
How dare you try to run from R. Kelly and Jodeci. '90s R&B is undeniable.
[Laughs] I really tried [Laughs]. The same thing with New York…I was a suburban kid trying to be in the city so I ran away from it. But New York just wasn’t for me so I ran away from it [as well].
While attending Columbia, were you actively pursuing a career as an entertainer?
I feel like it was around that time that I kind of lost myself in that process. I was surrounded by all these New York people who were so focused on doing music this specific way and in this box. I did the songwriting thing and everybody kept saying your lyrics are too weird. People would really rip me apart so I left New York and took a year off to reset.
When did you begin to feel appreciated as an artist?
Right after I moved to L.A. was when I released my first little piece from the Zebra EP and unexpectedly, started to pick up a little Internet traction. I kind of got by off of what I was making from Spotify.
Was Spotify your first music service?
Yeah, I was a really early adopter. I was waiting for them to debut in the U.S. when they were overseas. The blog community, which I was still learning about, was kind of helping me spread my music [through the service].
Your music, your writing especially, sounds like a young man who’s really gone through it emotionally. How much of your music is autobiographical?
All of it. It’s pretty raw and it’s hard for me to talk about the lyrics. I definitely got to a point with my last EP where I wasn’t really expecting it to be heard, so I was just writing whatever. With this album, I pushed myself even more to the point where I was like, “God, I hope nobody asks me about this.”
Is Ology focused on one relationship or a series of relationships?
A lot of it is just my relationship with myself. I’m asking a lot of questions and challenging myself within my head; my relationship with the world; friends or family or spirituality -- a bunch of topics which make up who I am as a human being.