Dirtbag Journalism

Chris Garneau : In Loving Memory Of Elenor, The Cat and The Kids

In Uncategorized on November 5, 2009 at 8:51 PM

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Chris Garneau has definitely had an interesting career thus far. From playing small venues to meeting Jamie Stewart and eventually being signed to Absolutely Kosher; Chris has kept his dreams close and approached all opportunities positively. His debut album, Music For Tourist, garnered the young musician some mainstream success on Grey’s Anatomy. The record got some very mixed reviews, but also drew a lot of different people to his music. Chris dropped the follow-up to Music For Tourist, El Radio in the summer and has been touring all over Europe since even before the release. Chris chatted with us back in September about the new album and lampshades (my favorite new obsession).

1. For anyone who’s not familiar, who is Chris Garneau?

Chris: A man of the universe.

2. When did you start playing piano? What other instruments do you play?

C: I started studying piano when I was about five years old.  I haven’t gotten past playing keyboard based instruments live, for the most part, harmonium, melodicas, wurlitzer, rhodes, accordion.  I have learned some of my songs on guitar but have been too self-conscious to try them at shows so far, but hoping to break this barrier this fall while in Europe.

3. Being that you started at a very young age, do you think anything you learned along the way has changed your ideas or beliefs of what makes a good pianist?

C: When listening or watching other pianists I don’t really consider their technique or skill.  When I was about fifteen I stopped studying piano classically and I found myself quickly looking to learn and practice simplicity.  I am generally more interested in artists or bands who find intelligent ways to use the piano, or who simply write a very perfect piano song. I am much less interested in what realm of piano chops they live in.

4. Would you say you’re a perfectionist?

C: No, not necessarily.  The two records I have made have been generally straightforward, formulaic, and organic in their nature.  This doesn’t leave much room for messing around.  But at the same time a lot of the recordings, particularly on Music for Tourists, exist as one-take performances; at least when it came to the piano and vocals.  There were of course certain moments here and there that weren’t my favorites, but I had to look at the tracks on a whole and accept what they were and move forward.  I look at a recording as something which captures a song only in the moment in time when you recorded it.  Something that is perfect, or at least acceptable enough to move on from there, may not retain that status six months or one year later.  But that’s the trouble with recording and ultimately that’s where perfectionism might trouble you.

5. How did you meet Jamie Stewart? Can you remember the first gig you ever played with Xiu Xiu?

C: At a vegan food conference in Tacoma, Washington.  The first show we played with Xiu Xiu was a festival in Ottawa.  People were surprisingly nice about me playing and people came up to me and said they would usually hate the kind of music I was playing but that they really liked it.  It was a good thing because I was really nervous to play.

6. How long you were writing songs for “Music for Tourist” before you started recording?

C: I moved to New York when I was nineteen; we started recording Music for Tourists when I was twenty one.  I had about half of the songs written once we started.  They all came out pretty quickly over a period of about a year.  The rest of the songs I wrote while we were in the process of recording, which ended up being about a two year process.

7. Did you enjoy the recording process of this record?

C: Not really.  There was a lot of down time; it was really difficult to accomplish anything efficiently.  And most of the time I felt like I was trying to make something by myself.  I ended up having to take on most of the responsibility of making my first record; I often felt I was doing it alone.  Actually, a lot of the time I was alone….in the studio, for the last three weeks, completely alone I was trying to record and edit my own arrangements, etc.  This resulted in making decisions based on levels of mediocre satisfaction at best, and I ended up with what I felt to be a messy record that I wasn’t very confident about. 

8. A lot of the reception for “Music for Tourist” was very mixed.  Some critics had gone as far as calling the lyrics atrocious.  Does it ever hurt your feelings when someone talks negatively of your work? 

C: Sometimes it’s shitty and weird.  I didn’t feel terribly proud of this record when it was complete and I should have maybe held off and done it differently despite my eagerness to release something.  In the end, I just felt I wanted to start something going and Absolutely Kosher wanted to release it right away. So when we did it; many of the critics who have complained of the atrocities of this record, which are usually men; seem to have a generally homophobic and alpha male mentality about the way they comprehend anything.  Other critiques I have found helpful in the past, even while remaining negative in their nature, have been ones I’ve been able to appreciate and take to heart.  Pitchfork has seemed to have a personal agenda to fuck me over without writing much of a review of music, but a review or judgement of character.  And they have both often misquoted or listed highly incorrect “facts” and information.

9. How did it feel to know your song was on Greys Anatomy?

C: I didn’t really care, I mean, frankly the only thing that was exciting about the job was getting paid.

10. Was the second album originally called Eleanor, The Cats and The Kids? What made you change it to “El Radio”?

C: Originally I was going to name it just Eleanor. Eleanor was my grandmother who passed away while we were waiting to release Music for Tourists.  Her life and subsequently her death became the energy that propelled the songs that make up El Radio.  I eventually used her nickname El and added Radio for the purpose of wanting this record to be, in a broader sense, a broadcast to the world, a record for the universe. 

 11. Tell me about the recording process for “El Radio” Why did you decide to go to New Hampshire to record?

C: Yes, so just a while after my grandmother passed away I started writing quite a bit, and we weren’t really touring yet.  It was summertime and really hot in New York so we packed all our instruments and gear in a van and went to New Hampshire for a few months to begin making this record. 

The process ended up being sort of perfect.  As opposed to Music for Tourists, this was recorded close enough to the Holland Tunnel that you can actually hear the traffic in New Hampshire. We were surrounded by lake and mountains, trees and animals, without cell phones or internet.  There were few distractions. 

12. Were you confident with the finished product?

C: Yes.  As with anything, time passes and I wish to have done little things differently here and there.  I was eager to put out a new record after we had a bit of a rough time with Music for Tourists.  I feel more proud to release something that I really challenged myself to make. 

13. Do you have any favorites on the record or any that you really enjoyed writing?

C: I was writing a lot of the songs with the intent of eventually incorporating percussion.  It’s hard to really enjoy writing though.  Any writing that I end up keeping, recording and sharing is something that I appreciate, but not that I necessarily enjoyed at the time.  I will say though that No More Pirates was actually fun to write.

14. You’re currently heading to France and you’ll be touring a bit of Europe for this record. Any North American dates planned?

C: We’ll be playing a few shows on the West Coast this month, and then we’ll be playing little legs here and there in the US and Canada over the next six months. 

15. I’ve heard you keep a pretty lamp on your piano during shows. What’s the story behind that?  You showed a lamp you got for your birthday from Sandy Duncan on You Tube. What makes a really awesome lampshade in your opinion?

C: The thing about Sandy Duncan is that it was a lie.  But anyway I just have a thing about liking lampshades and hoarding them.  The best lampshade would have genderless Victorian characters in weird places or scenes, usually next to an important animal, like a lion.

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