Gallant Left The Major Label System — Now He’s As Creatively Free As He’s Ever Been

Robyn Mowatt Robyn Mowatt is a Staff Writer at Okayplayer where she…
Gallant
Photo Credit: Sasha Samsonova

In an exclusive interview, singer-songwriter Gallant details the steps he’s taken to create music that feels good, what it was like working with Brandy, and more.

Gallant has been on a mission to be the truest version of himself ever since he stepped away from the major label system. 

Before going indie, the LA-based singer was signed to Warner Records. The same year his deal became official (2016), he released his debut album Ology. The well-received project featured earnest, probing songwriting paired with memorable production. But it wasn’t just the songwriting and production that stood out on this album; it was also Gallant’s elusive vocals that made it a standout. The album went on to be nominated for Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 2017 Grammys.

Despite the success, Gallant said over a Zoom call from his Los Angeles home that he found his record deal difficult to cope with. 

“I still was able to do what I really wanted to do, but there was a lot more pressure to take the edges off and that was a little bit tough,” he said, adding: “It kind of seemed like they would just assume that I was going to do this very specific genre of music that was going to be watered down.”

Rather than sit in a deal that he felt wasn’t serving him, Gallant eventually walked away. He revealed he had plans to release three albums that sounded aesthetically different from one another. He also shared that the label was accommodating in every way when he decided it was time for their relationship to end. 

Over the past two years, the singer-songwriter has been actively taking steps to make it clear he doesn’t need the backing of a record label to create impactful music. His latest release, the music video for the Brandy-featuring single “Dynamite,” is a testament to that. 

Released last week, the music video for “Dynamite” centers around what it would be like if the entire world was coming to an end. In it, Gallant and Brandy take center stage and are seen sharing their last thoughts for a beau before the world becomes covered in lava from an erupting volcano. The track, which appeared on Gallant’s latest EP Neptune, was a full-circle moment for the singer, who has looked up to Brandy for years. 

“It was a childhood goal to work with Brandy,” he said. “She’s one of the most underrated and one of the most important figures in R&B, especially to me.” 

In addition to appearing in the visual, Gallant played a major role in the creative process leading up to its execution, even writing three different treatments for it. This was a monumental step for him as he’s been gradually building his artistry into something he is proud to stand behind. 

In a lengthy conversation, we spoke with Gallant about working on Neptune, his single “Dynamite” with Brandy, and how he landed upon his memorable sound. 

Gallant

Photo Credit: Sasha Samsonova

How did you accomplish recording Neptune during the whirlwind year we all experienced amid the COVID pandemic?

I think, being in such a specific headspace and being in isolation for a while, it gave me a creative motivation that I feel like I didn’t really have outside of just being free from a label. It made me feel like I wanted this project to sound like something from the early ‘00s, and I [wanted] to take these influences from the ’90s R&B that I had. It grounded me and [allowed me to] focus on [putting] something together that was a lot more specific than anything that I’ve ever done. At the time, I thought [it] was really authentic compared to what I had been doing before.

Neptune was a re-introduction of sorts and I feel like you just gave me an elevator pitch for it. What do you think makes this album stand out?

I didn’t want to make something that felt too derivative. I’m not even trying to knock the major label system, but it’s just — for me, my personal experience being in that system and weathering so many changes with personnel and just giving up a little bit of my urgency, it really made me appreciate the hunger and the freedom to just have your own space to put something together that you feel like is an introduction.

What was it like working with Brandy on “Dynamite?” I’m mainly asking because she also happens to be someone you look up to. 

It was crazy. It has been a childhood goal basically to work with Brandy. I think she’s one of the most underrated and one of the most important figures in R&B. I feel like she boldly went in a very unconventional route with her vocals and her arrangement. It’s so stylistically thought out and that just spoke to me so much.

Did she write all of her verses in the song?

Well, I think for this one she really wanted me to give her a lot of direction, which also took me by surprise, too. But I think it made sense at the time because it was kind of the last piece in the project. I think she just really wanted everything to feel consistent and feel like it flowed. I did have a demo version that I did where I was kind of putting some of the lyrics that she’s saying in the final, and then kind of doing some melodies.

How did the “Dynamite” video come together? 

I wrote maybe three different treatments for it. One was this idea of me basically trying to win back this jellyfish alien-looking girlfriend that I had been with for I don’t know how long. I couldn’t put together the effects to make it exactly the way that I saw it, so [I scrapped it]. Then I had an idea [featuring] a performance [within] a giant intergalactic canteen or something that was a collection of a bunch of different people. And me and Brandy were both abducted and we were forced to perform. And then I was like, “Nah, maybe that’s a little too violent for what’s going on.”

Then I [had] this other idea…a volcano is about to erupt and destroy the entire city and engulf everything in flames, and we just have to reconcile with the ending of that. That’s the idea that I ended up going with.

How are you feeling about your sound and how it’s evolved?

It feels like this project is the best version of myself. When I first started, I was a really angry person on the inside. There were a lot of just — I was not really met with a lot of support, so everything was such a challenge — and being in New York, too, near the tail end. It was really tough for me to be able to reconcile with just mental health and feeling like, if you were going through depression, but then at the same time you’re living in a very small space and you’re claustrophobic and you’re a little bit on your own. You don’t really have that much support, and you feel like you don’t really fit into a conventional music industry box. 

Gallant

Photo Credit: Sasha Samsonova

What year was that?

2012. [In] 2013 I started putting [music] out, and then when I got into album mode I basically wanted to channel a similar rawness, but I kind of took away all the ambient stuff and made it more in the background, and made my voice more front and center. [I] wanted to make it a really lyrical album. That was Ology. I was really focused on crafting the lyrics [and] really focused on painting the picture of feeling lost and not feeling like you had a direction — feeling a little bit aimless. 

I think in the major label system I still was able to do what I really wanted to do, but there was a lot more pressure to really just take the edges off and that was a little bit tough. I had three different albums that I wanted to make with three different kinds of concepts, and each time it would just get [jumbled] because there was a regime change every year and a half. It seemed like they would just assume that I was going to do this very clean-cut, very specific genre of music that was going to be very watered down, generic, and overly accessible to the point of not having any specificity in it at all, and obviously, that’s just not where I came from.

[Warner] couldn’t have been more accommodating with the mutual agreement, which I’m really thankful for because it would’ve been a nightmare if they forced me to stay under that umbrella indefinitely.

Anything that you’re making post-Warner all belongs to you, correct?

Everything I made pre-Warner — which is the crazy stuff from 2013 — and the stuff that I’m making now is all me.

Does that make you feel good that you’re back doing things on your own? I hope so.

Yeah, it really does, honestly. I just want to make music that feels good to me. Maybe I just assume that there are other kids like me that are going to respond well to it the same way that I responded well to track number seven on Ne-Yo’s second album or whatever when I was a kid. Or the band that uploaded their mixtape for free on DatPiff and then you get to download it and you feel like it’s yours. That, I think, is what makes it really special — that creator-to-fan relationship. Anytime I can close that gap, I’m definitely going to do it. Right now I just feel like I’m in that space where I get to really do that again. It’s a challenge of course, but it’s definitely a challenge that I can handle. I’m not afraid of that at all.

I feel like Neptune is you continuing to forge your own path and share art that you feel confident in and that you’re comfortable sharing with the world. Do you feel that way?

Yeah, on the surface, for sure. Then, sonically, it’s like — I want to really put together my specific influences and I want to make a gumbo every time. I don’t want to purchase a cake and then say, “Hey, here’s this cake that I got from [the grocery store] but enjoy.” I want to sit in my kitchen — I want to put some cilantro in there, get some tomatoes in there, put some pepper in there, you know? Maybe they shouldn’t go together but then I’ll figure out how to make it work. I want to make something that’s like a weird creation that you don’t really ever get to 100% define, but to me, it’s really special. Those are the ingredients that are in my kitchen at the same time. I’m looking into my head and I’m like, “These are the things that are keeping me up at night, or these are the things molecularly that I just feel like I need to get out of my system.” I just feel like the more I create from that place, the more value that the creation has to me. That’s where I started and I just can’t imagine making music outside of that mindset.

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