Canadian singer/songwriter Chad VanGaalen recently released his latest album, Diaper Island (Sub Pop), after recording for the first time at a home studio. The results is an idiosyncratic, eclectic group of songs that represent VanGaalen’s total control of the album. VanGaalen plays all of the instruments on Diaper Island and has also been working to create artwork and animations associated with his songs. Glide spoke with VanGaalen about the inspiration for his album, his songwriting, and his upcoming international tour.
Where do you come up with the name for your Diaper Island?
It was always going to be called Garbage Island and I just decided to call it Diaper Island because it was a little bit more gross, a little bit more realistic.
Did you want to have a gross album title?
No- it was just kind of general- my feeling depressed about being wasteful in general. I’m sure there’s a real diaper island out there somewhere floating in the ocean.
What inspired your songwriting on Diaper Island?
Just sort of general frustration with interface and modern world. Lots of landscape- I was out in the Rocky Mountains. I get a lot of inspiration from wildlife and nature. My family life- I’ve got two kids… that definitely played into it as well.
Was there any difference in the way you approached this album and your previous work?
I recorded this band, Women, before and as I was recording this record.I also moved into a new studio so I kind of had a bunch of tricks up my sleeve after recording those guys and I pretty much focused on guitar, just because my studio was set up and sounding pretty good for a guitar-based record.
What instruments do you play in the studio?
I play all of the instruments.
On tour, do you play with other people?
It depends. Sometimes I play one man band where I play drums with my feet and guitar and sing...thats pretty sporadic now. Now I have a touring band with three guitars and a drummer. There’s not really a bass player.
Do you prefer to have total creative control in the studio rather than having other musicians play along with you?
It started out because I had no intention of ever playing live. I wasn’t really making songs, I was more just focusing on sound scapes and drones and experimental sort of music. As the records came out with songs on them, people expect me to play live, so I just started playing all the instruments and it was a ton of fun. I feel like it’s the most fun for me to record stuff. I’m way more of an engineer than I am a performer. I get a lot of pleasure out of playing drums specifically, and then everyone thing else is just way quicker to get an idea in my head and set up microphones than try to record other people.
When you perform live, do you play guitar?
Yeah I play guitar and sing.
Is there a reason why you don’t play drums?
Yeah, I guess I’m an OK drummer but I’m probably better at guitar. I’m just OK at everything- I’m not especially good at any one instrument. Maybe singing is the best thing. I guess I could play drums, but then there’d be nothing for my friend Erick to do.
What inspired your specific surf-rock-esque guitar sound?
I’m sort of releasing the more experimental stuff separately now. On the past records, just because I like a lot of different types of music, I try to jam a bunch of elements of that and I’ve been doing it now for the last three records. I guess the music that I listen to lately, and release lately, I realized, “Oh, I really like those records because they really sound like one thing and they’re not trying to be all this stuff mashed into one” so I decided to make a straight up rock record. I liked the idea of being able to strip something down. You should be able to pull stuff back and it should still be as strong. I just feel the weirdo elements kind of play itself out, not that I won’t ever go back to it, but for this record, it doesn’t need to be weird for the sake of being weird. I really love the sound of electric guitar and I had a good sound set up from recording the record before this one, so thats why.
What was different about the recording process of Diaper Island as compared to your previous albums?
The same sort of thing applies. I now have more space to have everything set up all the time and more space just equals more space really. When it came down to the record, I felt like I was working in a basement suite before so.I wasn’t able to get real sort of room sound going on. I would try and compensate by mashing in these other sounds to wash over top of everything to create the space. Now I had actual real space so I thought I’d take advantage of it and strip the record down to give people somewhat of a window into the space. It sounds like a room to me and maybe I was overdosing on that.
Do you think of the album as a cohesive unit or simply a collection of songs?
I think tracks one through five for me were always in that order in my mind. The rest of the record was based off those first five songs. There were two records recorded in between the last one I put out and this one, so there was like 80 songs that I was picking from. Washen I got the first five songs picked, that kind of determined that I was grabbing at rock songs and then after I figured out what the track order was going to be, or the sequencing, then I re-recorded the rest of those songs to sound like the first five sonically.
Why did you decide to play under a different monicker, Black Mold, for your album Snow Blindness is Crystal Antz?
For better or for worse,I wanted to separate the two. In the past, I’ve always tried to stick to instrumental noise or prepared songs with piano pieces on it or two instrumental beat tracks and I just felt like I never really gave them any attention live or outside of that. They just kind of existed on the record. Separating myself now, I can play a show with Black Mold and people won’t feel alienated. Its not like they’re coming out to a Chad Van Gaalen show where expecting something. They know its going to be a thirty-minute long drone piece or just random found sound. It gives me the freedom to weird people out and not really have to feel bad about it. I felt when I performed live and there would be a segue of noise for 15 minutes, I felt like it was more like jerking off in front of the audience and people were not really expecting it, so it gives me a bit of freedom to do whatever I want to do.
Do you believe that the visual art you create with your albums is a part of the whole artistic experience or is it more of a supplement to the music?
For this record, I’ve tried to tie it in thematically as much as I can. On the other records, I haven’t been as serious about trying to have a thread running through it, but with this one, I’m trying consciously. Right now I’m finishing up the animation for the second song on the record and I’m trying to incorporate themes from the record in the visual art.
Do you create your albums with the intention of modifying songs live or do you put most of your creative efforts into the album itself?
This record is the most accurately represented live, more than any of the other records,just because it is guitar and drums so its pretty simple. I also have the intention of bringing a lead guitarist along because I was jealous of all the doubling that you can do with two guitars tuned in weird tunings. That was the intention- to kind of create songs based on two guitars with the intention of playing it live.