The latest Telekom Electronic Beats Podcast is a deep dive into the mind of Chilly Gonzales, famed for winning a Grammy with Daft Punk
Cai Trefor
18:20 30th August 2019

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Grammy-winning pianist, composer and all-around entertainer Chilly Gonzales (also known as Jason Beck offstage) is the latest guest on the Telekom Electronic Beats Podcast. As a guest on Electronic Beats’ excellent podcast, he follows in the footsteps of fellow Canadian and techno pioneer Richie Hawtin, whose episode was broadcast and featured on Gigwise in July.

With Gonzales not a club-goer himself, this new episode's focus is different from the one with Hawtin. But it still tenaciously goes on a career-spanning journey with Gonzales. The musician was brought up playing piano from the age of three and trained in McGill on classical piano. Feeling limited by the Canadian scene, he hit his stride the Berlin scene 20 years ago.

To name a few success’ since his move to Europe, the musician has the Guinness World Record for longest concert by a solo artist. He's also a Grammy for his work with Daft Punk, four Grammy nominations for being on the Feist album The Reminder. And, in 2017 made an LP with Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker.

His solo music is widely praised for blowing apart the perceived borders between classical, pop, techno and hip-hop. His latest in a string of solo albums is Solo Piano III. It is described by him as such: "This music of Solo Piano III is not an antidote for our times it is a reflection of all the beauty and ugliness around us."

Not only a gifted ivory tinkler, the musician's a way with words; making the podcast, which was recorded in Berlin (just four hours from his home in Cologne) and hosted by Gesine Kühne, truly compelling. His maverick thinking about the world and ability to flip questions on the head prove this man to be a beacon of light.

You can listen to the podcast, which covers Daft Punk, Berlin, Busta Rhymes, collaborating with Drake, creating his own music school, having a castle for a green room - and much more - in full here.

Below is just a few of the things we learned from tuning in. 

Home blindness can stunt your artistic potential

Gonzales is asked by Kühne how cities he’s lived in over the years changed him. He flips the question on its head and suggests he’s changed cities. It’s an interesting point, if we consider the following:

“I was in Berlin with a crew of musicians and we were able to bring this other way of looking at the scene. This was the case when I was living in Toronto. Foreigners would open up our minds. When you’re in a city and you’re there and it’s your home, you’re not aware of its strengths and weaknesses. You don’t have objectivity and you’re also very much aware of what everyone is thinking. So, it’s hard to be an original thinker when you’re stick in a place you’ve been for so long.”

You don't have to choose between being a deep artist and commercial success

Having moved to Berlin in 1999, the pianist spoke about the different mentality he noticed from obsessive artists there. He said they were detailed in their art because of the cheap rents at the time, but did not have the desire to make it commercially successful. Gonzales, having been brought up in Montreal, had a very different way of thinking:

“This became the fusion of the Canadian capitalist route, and the Berlin idea of resistance. I think that became something we could bring to the Berlin scene. A lot of the artists were impressed the Canadians could do something fearless. Yet we saw them as fearless for going so deep. The fearlessness of looking for your audience and fearlessness of going deep in your art complement each other really well.”

If you’re on stage, try trolling your audience

Seriously, if you’ve got a band and aren’t already doing this, try it.

“I want people to forget they are there and come into an intimate zone with me. Everything I wear and how I approach being on stage. Even having a certain lighting plan is there to create intimacy. Even the moments where I troll the audience creates intimacy. It means I’m willing to risk something. In a relationship with someone it can’t always just be happy and good, and when you feel close to people it’s because they’re honest and not always trying to present their best face. I’m happy to show, or exaggerate, some of my bad qualities. My sense of entitlement to my success, for example, is part of who I am."

Busta Rhymes is an inspirational trailblazer

Chilly Gonzales got inspired for his larger than life style of Busta Rhymes' performance. And, explanations of why Busta Rhymes is a legend don’t come much better than this:

“Everyone knows Busta Rhymes is an artist, everyone knows he was pushing things forward with his flow and choice of beats. Yet he didn’t seem to need to prove to anyone that he’s an artist. In the world I was in, the indie rock world, everyone would always need to say, 'I’m an artist'. But Busta Rhymes, who is clearly more of an artist than any of you, he’s not even saying it. He’s saying he’s an entertainer. What he’s interested in is bringing his modern up-to-date style of music to as big of an audience as possible, and that’s what makes him an entertainer. He was focused on his audience but not in a cynical way.

"Part of it was wanting to be successful and wanting money. But, just by listening, you know they challenge their audience. They weren’t going to take it easy and do what everyone else was doing. The idea of being original and also wanting money wasn’t complicated for Busta Rhymes. Along with the musical playfulness he had. This changed me. He was a person who tuned himself into a superhero. I remember thinking this is what I need to do. I need to create my own fantasy character that will be authentic in the themes, but also be larger than life because that will get people’s attention."

He started the Gonzervatory, which sounds awesome

A belief that building your audience gig by gig is the most surefire way to build a career in music spurred Gonzales to start the 10-day residential (and all expenses paid) music school called the Gonzervatory, this year taking place in Cologne. Much like his music, he's finding a new, fresh approach to teaching. Allow him to explain: 

"Who is talking about how to frame your performance? Who is talking about that every detail from the moment that people turn up to your concert, to the time they leave is an opportunity to make it more powerful?

"How to construct a setlist; how to surprise an audience; how to earn their trust. All these kinds of subjects are things I think about lot and I know my musical heroes think about a lot."

The school has had the likes Daft Punk, Jarvis Cocker, and Peaches turn up to talk about what it means to perform and what it means to present yourself. Sounds good to us.
If you missed the link above, tune into the deep dive with Chilly Gonzales here. 

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Photo: Press