INTERVIEW: Chad VanGaalen

By day, Chad VanGaalen is your everyday, quasi-experimental songwriter with two presitgious Polaris Prize nominations under his belt and a rapidly expanding cult fanbase. By night, he dons a cape, a drum machine, and then becomes the infamous ... Black Mold!!!

Well, not really, but VanGaalen -- following his critically acclaimed third album Soft Airplane (2008, Flemish Eye) -- has decided to open his world to include a side-project called Black Mold, a largely experimental affair that includes everything from faux-classical compositions to drum-n-bass electronic numbers, as well as everything inbetween. It's a remarkable change of pace for the prolific songwriter and animator, but for those who had been listening all the way back to his first album Infiniheart, you got the sense that something like Black Mold was coming, and Mold's debut album (Snow Blindness is Crystal Antz) has songs that were culled from over 50 mini-albums that VanGaalen has been working on from time to time. Sitting down with Evcat, VanGaalen reveals that he's amazed he got away with the fidelity of recording his first album, is now gearing himself up to submit pieces to film festivals, and in the biggest shocker of them all, reveals that -- in fact -- he's not that big a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan ...


Well first off we wanted to congratulate you on scoring your second Polaris Prize nomination.

Right on, thanks.

You’ve done two records prior to this, but it appears that Soft Airplane just brought you up to a whole new level of notoriety. Has the response to this record surprised you at all?

Um … a little bit, yeah. I’d say so. This is the first record I put out that I really 100% behind. It’s a record that I would probably listen to if I were … forced to listen to it. The other two were just OK, but this one -- yeah, it definitely had a good response.

I actually first heard about you during one of those Laundromat sessions where you play “Molten Light”, and then an ambulance goes by and adds to the ambience of that. Of course, we’re here talking about the Black Mold project, and the first question that comes to mind is simple: why isn’t this a Chad VanGaalen record?

There’s no vocals on it for one thing. The second thing is, well, well see what happens with it but I don’t really have any drive to play any of these songs and recreate them. I guess there’s also having the [chance] to experiment and to put out whatever I want on a Black Mold record -- it doesn’t have to have any rhyme or reason. I mean, Skelliconnection and Infiniheart [both] have Black Mold-ish types of songs, instrumentals or dance music -- [they] didn’t really do much for the record, so they always felt sort of out of place, but with the Black Mold stuff I can just do whatever I want and just kind of have an outlet to put it out to the world. Those songs just never really had a place.

So you did write stuff specifically for this project then, so it’s not just a series of instrumental oddities that were just lying around.

No, I mean yeah: this stuff was strictly meant to come out on a Black Mold record.

Obviously, the Black Mold stuff is kind of all over the place, ranging from dance music to stuff more jazzy in nature, but I would argue “Metal Spider Webs” was the most idiosyncratic song you’ve done, as it loops a simple, solemn cello line over and over again. It’s almost as if you’re exploring darker musical territory than what we’ve seen previously in a Chad VanGaalen record. Can we expect some sort of thematic arc to Black Mold?

As I was explaining before, with the Black Mold stuff, those songs are taken from about 50 or so different records. “Metal Spider Webs” and “Barn Swallow” were taken from a record of sort of more classically bent instrumental pieces that were maybe a little bit more orchestrated, and then “Dr. Snouth” was taken from a series of songs that I wrote for the original Solaris Tarkovsky Russian sci-fi film. The first Black Mold record is maybe an introduction to a whole bunch of other records.

When you say “first Black Mold record”, are you implying that you’ll use this as an outlet later on?

When this record comes out, anyone who buys this will get a download code for a hundred bonus songs that’ll be grouped into sort of little mini-records that will maybe get people like “Oh OK, I get it!”

Jumping back on a point you said just a bit ago about your albums having instrumentals on there -- as well as your work on that Tchaikovsky piece -- well, have you considered scoring movies or things of that nature?

Yeah, I mean just as far as people asking me to do it and having the time to do it. Black Mold is going to come out with three animated pieces that will accompany it, and this one track called “Bald Static” that’s 17 minutes long that didn’t make the record (just ‘cos it’s too long) that’ll have an animate short along with it, so there’ll be 25 minutes worth of animation that comes with the Black Mold record.

So in terms of outside film work, you’re just waiting for that phone call?

Yeah, and also just [having] the time to do it. It hangs on what I’m working on at the moment too, ‘cos I’m trying to prepare more animated shorts that I can enter into film festivals -- and that takes up a lot of time, right?

Just a bit yeah -- now you’ll be Chad VanGaalen, King of All Media!


Just a few quick questions here. First off: when was the last time you listened to Infiniheart?

Oh … I don’t know. A long time ago? Years probably?

I always am curious because as one changes and evolves as an artist, it’s always interesting to go back and here where your mindset was at the beginning. What came to mind when you last heard your debut?

Just fidelity. I can’t believe that the fidelity of that record is pretty insane. I know I got pinned as “lo-fi” but I’m very much trying to get past that. When I hear to that record, I think “man I can’t believe I got away with recording that.” An entire drum kit with one mic that I got for free or from a pawn shop -- which can be quirky, but at the same time I wasn’t really … I was trying to work in stereo, and I hadn’t had a lot of success working in stereo, but I’ve learned a few tricks since then …

Who is your favorite Ninja Turtle and why?

Oh man! I’m not quite the huge Ninja Turtle fan -- I never really was. I’d have to say … whoever the dude with the nunchaku was. I’m pretty sure it was Michelangelo.

Well we got one last question for ya: so far in your career, what’s been your biggest regret, and -- conversely -- what’s been your proudest accomplishment?

My biggest regret … my ability to focus on one thing. As far as touring and presenting myself, it’s a little bit underdeveloped. My skills as a live musician were always sort of lacking and I never really thought it was a necessary thing, ‘cos I was always coming at it from a music-lovers point of view: I just listened to records. Now I’m beginning to appreciate [how to] rock out. My regret is that I didn’t put as much into that career-wise.

My proudest moment? I don’t even know. I don’t have much to pride myself with. I don’t know, maybe just the people that you meet along the way. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I’ve never really had a “weird moment” as far as being in the entertainment industry. I think it’s a pretty weird industry: a lot of horror stories, and I’m proud of the fact that I’ve never really had to deal with weirdos or people trying to fuck me over or anything like that. For the most part, it’s just been good people that have gravitated towards [my work]. People like Ian at Flemish Eye and Sub Pop -- it just came around at a great time and both labels have treated me awesome and I’ve never had any problems. I mean you hear nightmare stories of “Oh they gave me a $50,000 advance and now we gotta tour ‘til 2030 …” [Laughs.]


Visit Black Mold's MySpace here.
Visit Chad VanGaalen's MySpace here.