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Chad VanGaalen on “Light Information”

Dark Data and Rhubarb Pie

Sep 07, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

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Chad VanGaalen speaks with me from his home in Calgary, Alberta on a landline. He doesn’t own a cellphone. “I don’t even like people phoning me on my landline, it just seems so overwhelming to me,” VanGaalen admits. In a world overrun by technology, not having a cellphone seems like a radical choice. Yet, it also offers an enviable level of freedom.

On his sixth record Light Information, VanGaalen is looking for a release from technology’s chokehold. So learning that VanGaalen is cellphone-less only strengthens the technological anxieties he expresses on the record. “The broken neon lights that flicker in your eyes make it seem like you’re not function right,” he sings on the crunchy “Faces Lit.”

“We’re in that stage where we’re overdosing on [technology] right now because it’s there all the time and it hasn’t been there all the time,” he says. “I’m noticing that with my kids. I’m trying to raise my kids selfishly, like with what I was exposed to. But that’s somewhat selfish for me to feel like that’s necessarily better.”

Light Information was recorded and produced by VanGaalen in his home studio. Most of the songs have been floating around for a number of years, some predating VanGaalen’s 2014 record Shrink Dust. “At a certain point I was trying to record a record with my current band and none of that ended up sticking so I went back to the core group of old songs,” he says.

It’s a glitchy album, reminiscent of the sound of dial-up Internet connecting. Like his previous releases, VanGaalen draws on his love of sci-fi to hypothesize alternate realities and the future. “Science Fiction is such a wild abstract version of what has been and what will be,” VanGaalen says. “I fell in love with it as a kid and I haven’t lost my love for it either.”

Sci-fi has also influenced his work as a visual artist and animator. For VanGaalen, the luster of making music has faded a bit in the 13 years since he released his debut Infiniheart and admits, “just hearing my own voice is getting a little bit hard for me at this point.” But his love of animation is steadfast: “I’ll never get sick of sitting down and drawing. It’s ridiculously fun and I feel spoiled that I get to do it.”

VanGaalen has created a number of otherworldly music videos for his music as well as others’ and designed the robot T.E.R.R.Y. for the Adult Swim series Dream Corp, LLC. which was built by the Jim Henson Company. VanGaalen is a huge fan of Jim Hensonhe names The Dark Crystal as a formative influenceand he recently went to the Jim Henson studios in Los Angeles to collaborate with puppet builders on a new creature for the series which was a dream come true. “It was fucking insane,” he gushes. “I started gently weeping and getting all fucked up as I was trying to talk to these people.”

Nestled within the cold metallic of Light Information, as with most great sci-fi, there’s a humanistic side as VanGaalen reflects on interpersonal connection, aging, and his parents’ mortality. “My dad’s got pretty bad cancer right now so I’m ruminating on that,” he says. “I was definitely trying to be as real as I could for as much as I thought was appropriate without making people feel totally left out. It’s hard because when you are making that stuff and in those moments when I am getting that personal, as narcissistic as it sounds, I listen back to it and kind of get therapy out of it. You’re catching yourself being honest about some things.”

During our conversation I get a sense of how important self-reflexive therapy is for VanGaalen. On a press release for Light Information, VanGaalen is quoted in saying that the album is about “not feeling comfortable with really anything.” When I ask him to clarify this he says he finds “there’s just too much stuff.” Adding, “I find it really hard to keep up with anything anymore. I feel like I need to slow down a little bit and breathe.”

VanGaalen names gardening as an outlet that helps him find his composure again. We talk at length about the copious amount of fruits and vegetables he’s growing in his backyard this year (“Treats from the earth, man!”) and the importance of bees. “I feel like my next record is going to be about gardening,” he laughs.

He’s also thankful for the reality check his kids provide when the world becomes overwhelming. “They’re like, ‘Oh my god, let’s learn how to make a rhubarb pie!’ And I’m like, ‘Fuck yes! Let’s totally learn to make a rhubarb pie!’ It just takes that much to snap me out of it.” On the record’s final track “Static Shape,” VanGaalen’s two daughters provide backing vocals and it’s only here that he is able to temporarily shake off his melancholy and resigns to “see that love when it’s coming in.” It’s one of the most joyful songs VanGaalen has ever released.

So when life becomes too loud and screens become too bright, perhaps it’s best to return to life’s simple pleasures.

“Fuck the fidget spinners, fuck this stupid app that says it’s going to do something that it doesn’t do, fuck the Apple Pencil,” concurs VanGaalen. “Let’s make rhubarb pie.”

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