By Courtney Heffernan
VANCOUVER – Chad VanGaalen’s myriad artistic vision is manifested in his music and visual art. Residing in Calgary, Alberta, he is a multi-instrumentalist who plays and produces all the music he records. His recently released sixth album, Light Information, is an immersive musical experience.
His label Flemish Eye describes his music as “living maps in songs, drawings, modified instruments, animations and performances – shifting forms pointing to another world.” VanGaalen’s albums are universes unto themselves. He says, “My alternate worlds [are] just an expanded universe of the 1970s heavy metal science fiction culture. I’m trying the best I can to bring my childhood inspirations to life through my own animations.”
Since the release of his first album, Infiniheart, VanGaalen says, “My studio has changed, my mind has changed, my gear has changed.” Across his discography he says, “Each album will have a similarity because it’s my work but what I sing about will change.” Whether creating music or visual art VanGaalen says, “Everything connects because it’s created from my mind.” This is especially apparent in the animation he did for “Pine and Clover,” in which the two main characters transform together in a show intimacy or perhaps solidarity. Though the sounds and images initially seem as thought they are in stark contrast, the visual shifts are in keeping with the tonal variation within the song.
While his arts work in tandem, he says they all require different approaches. “[In] music it’s more difficult to convey the end product quickly because the nature of the medium needs to be assembled more delicately and takes much more time to achieve the end result. There are more moving parts to making a song [whereas] I can draw an image pretty much right away and you can see the end result much faster.” Moving parts is an apt description for VanGaalen’s song composition. How he begins his composition process “is different for every song,” though he admits his voice is the instrument with which he is most comfortable.
Throughout his six albums VanGaalen delves into themes of “feeling integrated with nature.” He asks, “What is natural? Why?” and explores these concepts on tracks like sunny, jangling “Golden Oceans.” On “Host Body,” he couples spaced out synth with a science fiction narrative. Lead single “Old Heads” is about technological obsolescence with an upbeat melody and reverberating vocals at odds with the disconcerting image of replacing old heads with new ones. As rich as the narratives and imagery on Light Information are, VanGaalen calls atmospheric instrumental “Pre-Piano / 770” his favourite track and style of song to create. Rather than create narrative through direct lyricism, he tells an evocative story through tolling bells and dissonant synthesizers.
VanGaalen is touring throughout Europe in October, with a Vancouver stop in November to open his North American tour. At this stage in his career he says, “Live shows are great. I feel totally comfortable and free on stage, finally.” Though he plays all the instruments on his albums, he plays live with a full band. He says of his band, “These are the same friends I have been playing with for over a decade, they tour with me and are some of the best people I know.” After more than a decade of touring, his live shows still engage his audiences. On his albums and in his live shows and visual art, the alternate universe VanGaalen creates continues to captivate.
Chad VanGaalen performs at the Biltmore Cabaret (Vancouver) on November 9.