While you may recognize Chester Lockhart from over 300 of Todrick Hall’s YouTube videos, the singer-songwriter-creative director-actor-producer (and more) has been developing his own sound for the last two years. With a brand of spooky electro-pop inspired by the likes of FKA Twigs, Prince and Lana Del Rey, Lockhart’s newest release is the single “In Loving Memory,” which premieres below. The single is a part of Lockhart’s yet-to-be-released When Night Falls EP, from which he’ll share more songs later this year.
Billboard spoke to Lockhart about gay ghosts, his transition from theater to pop, being a queer artist and more.
You wrote the music and lyrics for the song, recorded it, mixed it and mastered it yourself, and then directed, produced, styled and choreographed the video. Hardly anyone ever does that anymore. What made you want to do it?
I’ve always had a very clear vision. I’ve worked for years with my best friend Todrick Hall. He’s another person who wears a lot of hats. When he has a vision, he executes it from start to finish. Having a theater background, I was so new to music but I always did creative things. I would tinker around in GarageBand when I was in high school and eventually I had amassed a lot of recordings but I didn’t know how to execute them. I didn’t know anybody who was a filmmaker or a stylist, but I had all these visions in my brain. I was like well, if nobody’s gonna help me do it then I should just create it myself because I don’t wanna hold all this stuff secret anymore.
How did you decide what you wanted your sound to be?
When I was a kid I was so obsessed with old Hollywood musical movies and the luscious scores they had with all the violins and the wind instruments. It made me feel so epic and I felt like that was real storytelling. A lot of my music comes from that very classical-almost sound. Growing up, I was also influenced a lot by trap music, by hip-hop and a lot of underground electronic music. There was a period when I was a teenager when all I listened to was death metal, like Suicide Silence, Impending Doom, Job for a Cowboy, bands like that, so I take all those things. I’m like a gay haunted house. Like kind of spooky but also beautiful but also a hint of glitter. I’ve really been into chamber choir sounds and manipulating voices, with a hip-hop undertone but very epic-sounding.
What can we expect from the When Night Falls EP?
It’s me dealing with my insecurities or me finding my own way through things. Less woe is me, more you know what, I’ve had a lot of shit happen to me but that is an experience and I will learn from it and move forward and be a badass bitch from it. I’ve literally produced and deleted probably 100 songs in the past six months because I’ve just changed a lot. I was in a really dark, unhappy place a while ago. I had all these songs that were ‘I’m so broken inside, I’m so upset.’ I just woke up one day and I really got my shit together and I was like, life is short. And that’s when I started going in this new direction and now I’m reworking everything. Before it was about when night falls, the dark times in your life, and now it’s about when night falls I come out and you can see me shake my ass. It’s like Lana Del Rey in West Hollywood now. Broken chains and gay ghosts, but we’re vogueing. I’ve been reworking myself because I personally have really come into my own and feel empowered, so I just want to show that.
How did you arrive at the “broken chains and gay ghosts” aesthetic?
As a kid, growing up gay, especially in an area where it was not accepted and with very conservative Christian parents, it was a really big challenge for me and I was always struggling to find myself, my voice. I lived so many lives just as a teenager. I was a nerdy theater kid, I was this death metal goth queen for a hot second, I went through this ‘80s tracksuit workout phase. I was just all over the place trying to find what I was. Finally when I became an adult and went out into the real world and just let myself be, I realized I was all of those things. I stopped trying to fit into all these little boxes and I took a little boxcutter and combined all those bitches with a little bit of glitter tape and here I am.
How did you move from your life in theater and dance to making pop music?
It just kind of happened. It was something I’ve always been interested in. There’s this videotape of me at two years old, maybe three or four. I go into the kitchen, I take off all my clothes and wrap a towel around my head, and I use chopsticks to play on pots and pans, like do a drum solo, and I sing “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”. That was my fantasy, you couldn’t tell me anything, bitch. I was everything, I was Whitney Houston. That whole idea of being this pop icon was always in my blood but it was my version of pop, which is so many different things. I’m working toward finding this amalgamation of all this stuff and hopefully recreating that video honestly. I do it every day in my kitchen naked. I’m naked right now.
Theater’s all about storytelling, every song serves a purpose. I love a good anthem about being with your friends at the club turnt up at 2 am. Because I come from this background of drama all the time, every song has to tell a story, has to really communicate exactly how I felt in that moment. That’s why I really started to mess around with production, because I wanted it all to really be cohesive. I had a feeling and so I would imagine that feeling for music and words would come and other times words come and then the music comes. It definitely has made me very dramatic in everything I do. It’s never subtle, never understated.
What initially made you want to transition into making pop?
I had a heart attack at the beginning of 2016, at 23. It was a good wakeup call for me because I was working myself to the bone doing so many things that weren’t necessarily for me. I was like a) life is short and b) if you don’t make things happen for yourself, it’s never gonna happen. I became so motivated to just do me and stop living for anyone else but myself. Plus, being gay is such a funny thing. I feel like people don’t really — in music especially — people didn’t take me seriously. Like, oh, you’re just a gay artist. And I was like, what the fuck does that mean? That doesn’t make any difference in what I can create. People just wouldn’t believe in me. We’ve only got this one life and I’m not about to not be Chester Lockhart, this gay haunted house witch queen.
What is the concept behind “In Loving Memory”?
There’s this guy who is a total asshole and broke my heart until I literally died and it’s in loving memory of my heart. My little fierce dancer bitches raise me from the dead so we can get him and take revenge on him and eventually kill his ass right back. It’s very dark pop, the sound is very electronic meets hip-hop meets just weirdness but it’s very fun. It’s super morbid but done in such a way that you can still dance to it and get your life at the club. It continues with my whole gay haunted house theme. Fun, but also horrifying.
When I was writing stuff this past year I was depressed, I was at a low point, and now I’ve been in a much better place and so I’ve kind of got this fuck you attitude, like Imma do me. I’m trying to push the boundaries of what not only I can do but what everyone is doing. I just want to really break boundaries and make it cool to be gay, make it cool to be mixed race, make it cool to be all these things because it is so cool. I just want to celebrate life and do it in my own spooky way.