Chris Garneau: The New Gay Interview
Gay Brooklyn singer/songwriter Chris Garneau was originally discovered by a member of Xiu Xiu,but his music is more melodic and accessible than the queer-fronted band could ever claim. As a break from the more folksy and personal tracks of his 2007 debut, this July’s El Radio sees a full compliment of glam-esque falsettos, melodic segues that would make George Harrison proud, and overall a sustained atmosphere of disquieted storytelling that elevates it above the ever-growing crop of sensitive young men with guitars. (And there’s no good way to mention that Chris is really cute, but c’mon. You’re seeing the same picture I am.)
DC residents who missed his opening set for Thao Nguyen and Xiu Xiu last spring might be able to get a second chance this summer. His new disc El Radio won’t be released until then either (and I unfortunately couldn’t find any tracks for you all online) but it’s of high quality. You should be excited to hear it. And to get you even more excited in the intervening months, you should check out the following interview. Chris was nice enough to give us sometime on the phone to discuss pederastic midget clowns, the Williamsburg hipster scene and the supposed temptations of the road.
The New Gay: This album seems to be a real departure from your last one. How has your writing style grown or changed?
Chris Garneau: I’ve sort of made a decision to take a focus off myself. It started happening naturally and when I realized that’s what I was doing I enhanced it more, and I just really have been writing about other people and thing that were happening in the world and other peoples’ stories. What started happening in the last few years is I would hear these stories and they would become immediately inspiring.
“Dirty Night Clowns” was written about the crazy story, with a sad twist, of this guy who was a midget who was dressed up as a clown and was breaking into peoples’ homes and molesting their children. There was personal story with it for a friend of mine, I entertained the idea of creating this character and addressing the issues that come with sexual abuse and particularly pedophilia, all of that crazy stuff. It was a chance to play on things that are real and really disturbing and sad, but also giving a different path with romantic characters. The same is true of “No More Pirates,” which refers to the people that we generally don’t like. The pirates I refer to are the people who abuse human rights, from politicians to militant fighters and warriors. “Fireflies” is the other songs that is mystical. There are these abstract characters and they all stand for something. That’s the point of it anyway.
TNG: Is it safe to say that this is darker record than your last one?
CG: [laughing] I don’t know if I would say darker, necessarily, it’s more universal or global. The looming dark cloud over the whole world has been over me. That is darker. But is there hope? I’m wondering. The thing is, though, the songs we just talked about with the characters, I am attempting to bring whimsical light into that stuff and hopefully it’s at least more fun to listen to even if the underlying ideas are a bit dark. I did want to have fun with this record, and the point of it is to keep talking about things that are really profound and important, and we do live in a beautiful planet and there is alot of fun and laughter and playing and love. It’s dark and not dark, I guess.
TNG: The whole album has a sort of baroque or gypsy sound around it. Where does that come from?
CG: I studied piano from when i was very young. In my teens I studied classically, I was playing a lot Bach and other things. The classical training I had in my brain for so many years led to so many things that you hear now, things that are sort of modernizing that original sound.
TNG: I also thought that it had a real glam tinge to it as well, between all the piano and your falsetto it reminded me of Bowie or T-Rex. Is this the first you’ve heard of that?
CG: Yes, it is. That’s really nice to hear, I appreciate that era. Actually its funny, I’ve sort of started listening to T-Rex again a lot lately on a daily basis. But nothing was intentional, I had never even gone there in my mind. Whatever it was was accidental. It’s a nice compliment, though, so thank you.
TNG: I know that Jamie Stewart from Xiu Xiu brought you to your original record label. Are you still in touch? Is he a professional influence on you?
CG: we are in touch. I met [former Xiu Xiu member] Caralee McElroy much before Jamie, but when she joined the band is how I met him. He was able to help me out with a label and all of that good stuff. We’re in touch, but everyone lives all over the place now. Caralee amd I are starting a side project in this coming year, it does not have a name yet.She’s been so inspiring to me and so helpful in these last few years. She’s gotten me on my feet, musically and in life. She’s been very helpful to me.
TNG: How old are you?
TNG: It’s impressive that you’re a signed musician at that age. How does it affect you?
CG: I really feel like I’m in such the beginning right now, I still feel like everything is new. I’m learning something every single day. The struggle is still persistent. It’s very difficult to make a living. It’s hard to make this be the only thing that I do, so, you know I’m putting out a second record in hopes that things will get a little easier with it, and then a third and fourth. But it’s cool, I’m really grateful for what is happening at the moment. That being said it’s still very challenging and I hope there is more to come.
TNG: What are some of the mistakes you’ve made or lessons you’ve learned?
CG: Some mistakes I’ve made have been ones that I’m not sure I’m done making yet. That includes not properly taking care of myself when I should be, which directly affects the work that I’m trying to do. I’m getting better at that but it’s still hard sometimes. It’s really easy to get distracted. Just learning how to grow up is still challenging. More specifically, there are little boring things that come up all the time. The things I’ve learned abut being in the public eye a little bit, not that I’m entirely in in but I am sometimes, I’ve occasionally given info that I have later regretted, or I have said things about people that I shouldn’t say, or been disrespectful and wished I hadn’t been. It’s hard to do because you forget you’re not just talking to your friend, or someone you’re just talking to. You have to be careful about the things you tell people… like maybe right now. That’s just learning how it goes.
TNG: Are you single?
CG: Yeah, that’s something I don’t care to talk about anymore. That’s definitely a weird road I would rather keep that to myself if you don’t mind.
TNG: That’s fine, I was just wondering about the temptations of the road, or if that’s just something people project onto musicians.
CG: I wonder about that too. It seems like a very classic story, touring and being in a different place every day. I often wonder how it actually happens, because it’s really hard to find a time to even send someone an email or make a phone call. I don’t know how bands are constantly sleeping with different people every night or partying all the time. Maybe I’m doing something wrong when I’m on tour, but all I ever want to do is go back to the hotel and go to sleep. I mean, I like my drinks and I like to hang out, but by the time you finish a show and pack up and have a few drinks you have to eventually leave. I think it’s more like the dude bands that works out for, they’re a little nasty and they are drunk from when they wake up till when they go to bed, and they’re maybe more misogynistic or taking advantage of people.
TNG: What’s your relationship to the current crop of queer indie rockers like Ed Droste or Final Fantasy or Erik Blood?
CG: It’s a weird area for me. I usually feel quite a bit of distance when it comes to sexuality, but general characteristics of music and bands and sort of genres, in all that it all starts getting cluttery in my head. As the queer thing goes, there are a good five or ten that comes up in groups all the time. [Final Fantasy's] Owen Pallette, [Grizzly Bear's] Ed Droste, Jamie Stewart,Patrick Wolf, there’s this kind of common group of five or ten. I have been a big Grizzly Bear fan for a long time since they were playing small shows in Brooklyn, they’ve been influential and inspiring to me. Owen Pallette is someone I kinda know but don’t know most of his music, and Jamie has been such a good friend and huge support. But I don’t like when you start constantly seeing the same faces grouped together, It weirds me out or makes me feel alienated. I don’t like feeling that way, or being grouped either,. It’s a weird thing in my mind, its starting to be a hard question for me to answer.
TNG: This might be an easier question about groupings then: You’re living solidly in the Brooklyn hipster scene. How do you feel about that? Is it something you struggle against?
CG:I live in the heart of hipster mecca in Williamsburg. It’s completely unavoidable, but I’ve been here since i moved to New York seven years ago. I love where I live, I love my neighborhood, but there is this hipster thing that is a little out of hand. It can go in so many directions of being extreme where you cant apologize for it anymore because it’s too stupid sometimes. But on a general mental basis when I leave my house and go out of my door and go to anything i don’t have to take the train or drive to, there really is this collective intelligence I feel there. You don’t have to explain anything ever. Your expectations are not usually let down and it really feels like a neighborhood, They agree to be really nice to each other and really smart about stuff and not act like an asshole in the lines to the grocery store. I stay here because there is this energy circulation and it’s not going away. I feel more and more at home here. I can’t say anything bad except that sometimes hipsters look really, really stupid. Other than that I like everyone surrounding me.
TNG: Finally, what are your summer tour plans?
CG: We’re kind of starting to play again this week, we’re playing our first show for the new record this week, and then from there we kind of are going to be playing little legs here and there over the summer. First West Coast and then we’re actually going to Asia a little bit, and then we come back and do East Coast stuff in July, and then in September we’ll do a more official tour. Then a more national and Canadian tour again. In the next 3-4 months we should be getting to most places that people live.TNG
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