He’s better known as a collaborator with Feist, Drake, Peaches and Tiga, but Chilly Gonzales is an accomplished performer in his own right.
Chilly Gonzales’s background is classical but he considers himself pop. “I want to be a man of my time,” he says.
By: Nick Krewen Special to the Star, Published on Wed Nov 07 2012
Chilly Gonzales is so prolific, it’s a surprise he’s not more of a household name.
For example, the man born Jason Beck in Montreal, where he also attended McGill University to study classical piano, had three albums under his belt as the leader of alt-rock trio Son before he absconded to Berlin in 1999, and reinvented himself into Gonzales, hipster “man of my times,” as he fondly refers to himself over the course of a 30-minute interview over Skype.
He’s been a crucial — and continual — collaborator to projects by Peaches, 11-time Juno Award winner Feist, Tiga and, most recently, Drake’s Take Care, as composer and arranger.
When it comes to his own work, the 40-year-old has varied his solo projects in scope, from the electronica-driven Ivory Tower (also the score to an indie film he made in Toronto with Tiga, Feist and Peaches) to the “orchestral rap” of The Unspeakable Chilly Gonzales and his singing showcase Soft Power, to the solo instrumental nature of his 2004 bestselling work Solo Piano and this year’s sequel, Solo Piano II, the impetus for his Thursday appearance at the Winter Garden.
He’s even a Guinness World Record holder, having endured 27 hours, 3 minutes and 44 seconds and over 300 songs to snag the longest solo-artist performance over May 17 and 18, 2009 at a Paris Theatre . . . although he admits it was his perceived failure of another work that prompted him to rise up to the challenge.
“That was a very positive, traumatic event in my life, where I needed to change the subject from having jumped the shark a little bit on Soft Power, an album on which I strayed a bit too far from what really makes me possibly interesting to my audience,” Gonzales surmises from his Cologne digs. “I went too far away from competition and extreme spectacle, and too far into a territory which is something that I really don’t fundamentally believe in, which is singing.”
And like his pal Feist and her irresistibly charming “1234,” Gonzales has also benefited from Apple exposure: his three-note ostinato “Never Stop” helped introduce the iPad to the television masses.
“Some Chilly Gonzales fans got very sick of the song and now have to fast forward it when they listen to Ivory Tower,” he chuckles about the career impact of that little ditty.
“This is one result, but the other result is that it’s given me a great stage routine. I can talk about the counterintuitive way in which success has come my way when it comes. The song they chose is by no means a hit single. It’s a six-minute endlessly repetitive minimalist electronic song. The part they used is literally three notes repeated over and over again with finger snaps. If I tried to go out of my way to write something for Apple, I don’t think that’s what I’d come up with.
“If those counterintuitive moments have taught me one thing, it’s that it’s been the piano that has brought me everywhere.”
It’s the 88-keyed instrument on which he’s focused attention for Solo Piano II, a 14-song collection of compositions between 2½ to three minutes that display Gonzales’s knack for ear-friendly melodies on a classical spine. He spent a week holed up in a Paris studio to record this, and views it and its predecessor, Solo Piano, as a summary of his living experience in the city.
“One of the last times I spent a regular amount of time in Paris was to record this record, and then I got pretty much the hell out of there,” says Gonzales. “So, these two solo piano records kind of bookend the whole Paris experience. And in reality, I’m more or less fully international in much more of a pop lifestyle — 150 shows a year, collaborations of musicians of my time, of my generation. I think that’s reflected in the album, I hope it is.”
With his instrumentals, Gonzales leaves nothing to chance.
“They’re very carefully written over months, and in some cases years,” he explains. “When I go into the studio, everything is written to a musical millimeter.
“Real classical musicians, whether it’s Artur Rubinstein playing Chopin, or (Glenn) Gould playing Bach, they won’t change a note, but will change the feeling of it every time. That’s more how I approach it. But when I’m writing the pieces, in the end I’m a pop musician. I grew up thinking Michael Jackson was God, more so than Richard Wagner. My skill set is very old-fashioned. My attitude is now. I want to be a man of my time.”
Defining himself as a “harmony specialist,” Gonzales says his Winter Garden appearance will be different than his recent Glenn Gould set with a string quartet . . . with a few potential surprises.
“This is a solo piano show as well as in ‘Pianovision,’ an installation that has a camera on my fingers which creates a whole other universe and an opportunity for spectacle,” explains Gonzales.
“I’ll be doing stuff from my entire catalogue, and it being Toronto, there is a chance there will be some A-listers dropping by. I never know that until a little bit closer to the performance, but there’s a chance some of my more frequent collaborators will be in the house.”