Chilly Gonzales is a Man of His Time

The pianist who has collaborated with Daft Punk and Drake tells us about the importance of classical training and that he loves Vado.

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Apr 21 2014, 6:35pm

You may have heard of Chilly Gonzales, whose piano has graced Drake’s "From Time" and Daft Punk’s "Give Life Back to Music". With the magical Grammy touch at the tip of his fingertips, Gonzales now wants to sprinkle some stardust on your dusty old keyboard. Designed for lapsed pianists, his new book Re-Introduction Etudes will get you back into the habit of annoying your neighbors. On May 14, his new book offers 24 tracks to get you playing again, and who knows? You might start a band. The book is set up like a private lessons with Gonzales, as the CD offers tracks – each of which are dedicated to different people, from Steve Jobs to Mozart – with plentiful commentary, including long lost piano secrets (some of which include the divine importance of harmony). Gonzales loves the piano – he believes in learning the rules and then bending them like salt water taffy. He chats to us from Cologne about Domo Genesis and why the piano is a life saver (he also called me ‘dad’).


Chilly Gonzales concert privé 10 septembre 2012 by franceculture

Noisey: At what point did you realize the importance of the piano in your life?
Chilly Gonzales: My grandfather was an old-school Eurosnob and thought I should meet the piano around age 3. It wasn't a conscious feeling yet, but I sensed that this was a nice buffer against the world, while still letting me find my (detached) place in it. Also, when I saw Billy Joel I realized I could impress people and get girls with my piano skills.

The Re-Introduction Etudes is one of the most generous gestures I’ve seen in awhile –why do you want to resurrect piano players? What is the biggest thing lapsed piano players must overcome?
Over the years, it became clear that I would always find time to answer the email of a music nerd asking about a specific chord or musical gesture. There are sincerely curious people out there who want to know more about the science of music, and it turns out, I have a sincere wish to show that the piano can be an actual life-saver, as it was in my case. It began with my slightly surreal onstage piano lessons and has now brought me here to an intimate window into my vision of music.The hardest thing to overcome is usually some personal issue with "rules." Some people follow them blindly, others refuse to obey, probably the most productive attitude is "learn, then bend."

For the master class, how will you choose the four students for on-stage with you?
I look for a sweet spot between musical seriousness and potential for comedy. And hot girls always have a head start.

Are there a lot of delusions about making your living as a musician?
Delusion is probably the necessary ingredient to BEGIN a musical career. For it to evolve, though - that's the harder part that requires the stripping away of delusion. I feel like longevity requires the cold embrace of reality, and familiarity with failure.

Why is harmony so underrated?
Because it's the hardest part of music to deploy on instinct alone. Rhythm and melody can be aced by someone with a knack for it. Harmony requires the knack but also the science. In a lot of modern music the "sound" has taken on the role of "harmony" in establishing a complex satisfying sonic mood.Before recording, finding new colors of combined acoustic instruments was the way for a composer to find his sound. Now it's easier, so the harmonic knowledge doesn't seem as essential.

What was the best part about being featured on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories? (Aside from the obvious, of course).
The bragging rights, the generous treatment from Daft Punk themselves, the Grammy, the feeling of musical respect from some game-changing musical icons. Or was that the obvious?

What are you currently working on with Boys Noize? Domo Genesis?
Boys Noize and I are cooking up a new project together. He produced my Ivory Tower album and we've been working on new stuff on and off for the past couple of years. The material will probably see the light of day before the end of the year. I've got other back burner collabos going on with Domo Genesis and a few other producers.

How do you feel about rap music today? Is it still the intimacy of ideas?
I like Vado.

What will you talk about at your upcoming lectures at the Royal Conservatory and Center Phi in May?
The master classes are all about giving people actual usable tools to have fun with music. From my Ableton-using 12-year old nephew to gray-haired hippies it seems people are all fascinated with musical power. There are levels to this shit as Meek would say and I want to unify all of humanity in reverence of MUSIC -this science that produces the heaviest feelings.

You’ve achieved considerable success, from Daft Punk to Peaches and Feist, what has been your biggest challenge?
Thanks Dad - "considerable" will keep me working until you say "UNIMPEACHABLE." My biggest challenge has been avoiding a more predictable fate as a hotel bar pianist, session musician or college professor. I want to be a man of my time and will die trying.

What else do you have upcoming this year?
Grinding like a pepper mill.

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