In terms of popular success, Chad VanGaalen pretty much won the lottery when the ramshackle brilliance of his third full-length, Soft Airplane, brought him a Polaris Music Prize nomination and a slot at Barcelona’s prestigious Primavera Sound festival. But if he ever comes into the really big bucks, he knows what he’d do: put music aside for a while and return to his first love, animation.
And he might just do that anyway.
“My goal,” he says on the line from his Calgary home, “is to have a feature-length sci-fi animated film finished in the next five years—but it’s a lot of work, doing it as one person.”
It would be helpful, he adds, to be able to hire a team to bring his vision to life—a vision that includes a machine that can turn dreams into reality. “This guy’s trying to find out if the machine is really true or not,” he says of the plot. “And it ends up changing a lot of stuff, obviously, in the real world.”
VanGaalen’s been doing a fairly good job of making his own dreams come true. After a decade of lo-fi basement experimentation, he decided to apply a bit more polish to Soft Airplane, and the result made 2008 top-10 lists across Canada, including my own. Rather than try to replicate that success, however, VanGaalen almost seems bent on subverting it, having followed that record with an album of quirky-but-murky electronic instrumentals, Snow Blindness Is Crystal Antz, issued under the alias Black Mold.
His plan for that disc, he explains, was to see what could be done with a handful of secondhand keyboards and a soldering gun. “I really like to set myself up with certain instruments and then try to break them apart and find the different sounds inside of them,” he says. “Right now, I’m working with MIDI-controlled drum machines with these EPROM [Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory] chips that have a lot of sounds locked inside of them. If you break those out, you can really start mixing stuff up—and since they’re MIDI-controlled, you can daisy-chain them and get them all to talk. I’m sort of hobo sequencing, in a way.”
VanGaalen’s also released an Internet-only cache of Soft Airplane outtakes (downloadable for free at www.flemisheye.com/) that give a hint of where he might go next. Guitar-driven tracks like “Pyramids Float” and “Did You Find Peace?” could well have been lifted from some Nuggets-style compilation of ’60s gems, so it’s not surprising that the Summer of Love is going to be even more of an influence on VanGaalen’s next release—or releases—than the sound of circuit-bent Casios.
“The music that I’m listening to is kind of old, ’60s psychedelic music, all the time,” he reveals. “I guess that’s what I’m focusing on right now. Actually, I’m going in two directions at once: I’m trying to record a psychedelic folk record and a psychedelic rock record. I don’t know if the two are going to mesh together or if they’ll stay separate, but I’m pretty excited about them.”
Chad VanGaalen plays the Rio Theatre tonight (October 15).