He’s a teacher, record holder, producer of the best Feist and Peaches albums, he has collaborated with Drake and Daft Punk, but in Bozar Chilly Gonzales gets behind the piano to shake up the rules of classical music. As always, it’s magical.
In a departure from the rap and electro eccentricities of his past, the Canadian multi-instrumentalist Chilly Gonzales declares his love for classical music in instrumental compositions that can be described as somewhere between the work of Chopin and Erik Satie. The third and final chapter of a series that was started in 2004, the album Solo Piano III employs silences and conveys melancholy with unsettling ease.
You just released part three of the Solo Piano series. How did that come about?
Chilly Gonzales: Part one was an accident. I recorded it to give myself some release during quite a frustrating period. I needed to be alone, to regain control over my music. At the time, I found myself in a studio with a piano in it. I began to play it. But I didn’t realise I was starting a series.
Every time I start a new project, it’s an unknown, a great mystery. I always act unconsciously, trying to lose myself, to be surprised by my own choices. That’s how my decisions are made, through a sequence of accidents. You might think that everything is planned, but it’s really quite the opposite.
Your image is that of a public entertainer. Are you comfortable in that role when playing classical piano?
Chilly Gonzales: Completely. It’s my way of differentiating myself from the conventions that are fashionable in the world of classical music. That said, in the studio, I’m studious. I decipher sheet music, I learn to do new things. In those moments, I am serious.
Onstage, it’s different. It’s as if I’m transformed. Like a guy who has to give a speech at a wedding in front of a hundred or so people: he has to show himself in a new light. In 2017, I took a sabbatical year. No concerts, no tweets. For a year, I did my research, read, and composed Solo Piano III. I also came up with the Gonzervatory, my pop-up school. All that helped me to understand who I was. Alone, I am an artist. In front of people, I become a public entertainer.
What is the Gonzervatory?
Chilly Gonzales: A pop-up conservatory for artists who want to perform onstage. The programme is based on performance, audience psychology, and letting go. Many people are aware of the importance of letting go. But I look for reliable methods, tools that will work for any musician.
That’s something that isn’t really taught. There are a lot of music businesses, traditional conservatory, but no schools that teach how to create authentic moments with an audience.
Who can enrol in the Gonzervatory?
Chilly Gonzales: Anyone. They just need to send me a three-minute video. Some people do very artistic stuff, others are more pragmatic. It’s not the quality of the video that matters. The idea is to show me how they relate onstage, their vulnerability in front of an audience.
In 2018, I chose seven candidates from among the 8,000 videos I received. In 2019, there will definitely be a lot more students. The Gonzervatory takes place in my place in Cologne.
Last year, you released Other People’s Pieces, a covers album that includes piano versions of Daft Punk, Lana Del Rey, and Beach House.
Chilly Gonzales: Those covers were originally intended for a radio show in which I took a look at pop culture anthems. Between the commentary, I let people know what was coming up by playing short interludes. That’s how the project came about. If none of that had happened, I never would have recorded a covers album. Once again, it wasn’t planned.
Despite the absence of a plan, you did beat the world record for the longest concert in May 2009. You did intend to break that record (27 hours, 3 minutes, and 44 seconds), didn’t you?
Chilly Gonzales: I decided to do that on an impulse. I was working at Ciné 13, a small theatre in Paris, where I was programmed to play every Sunday for ten weeks. Three weeks before the end, I started wanting to do something a bit mad for the final performance.
Was that a challenging exercise, physically?
Chilly Gonzales: I was having a lot of stomach pains and palpitations. But I held on thanks to the adrenaline. The real challenge wasn’t to finish the concert but to maintain the quality throughout. It needed to still be good music, the people had to enjoy it until the end. That was the most important thing.
You have collaborated on Drake and Daft Punk albums. Did they seek you out?
Chilly Gonzales: Not at all. They were both accidents. My collaboration with the robots on the album Random Access Memories came about because I missed a plane. I had to wait for two days in Los Angeles for another flight. I was stuck. Then, I remembered that Thomas (Bangalter, nal) had told me that Daft Punk would be in California at that time. I sent a mail and, by a stroke of luck, they were there. They invited me to the studio.
If I had boarded my plane, I never would have played piano with Daft Punk. It was the same with Drake. I had accompanied him on the piano at the Junos, an awards ceremony for the best Canadian artists. After the show, he invited me to join him in the studio, where he played me the demo for the song “Marvins Room”. It was moving. Straight after, Drake asked me to play piano on that track. I ended up playing on the album Take Care by chance.
It just goes to show, you have to stay on your toes. Because, in life, you never know what’s going to happen. I can’t stand people who want to plan everything. They drive me crazy. Trying to anticipate everything, to control everything, is the surest way to miss out on life. You have to lose yourself to experience things and find new paths.
Is there an artist whom you dream of working with?
Chilly Gonzales: That’s a dangerous fantasy. For example, for a long time, I dreamed of working with Françoise Hardy. Then, one happy day, we had the opportunity to collaborate on a track with Jane Birkin. It was catastrophic. There was absolutely no chemistry between Françoise Hardy and me. We didn’t understand each other.
There are still people I dream of collaborating with. Kate Bush, for example. But what would I have to offer her? In this job, it’s best to let meetings happen by chance. I am living proof that that works.
> Chilly Gonzales
5/3, 20.15, Bozar