If you’re looking for a quick answer, don’t ask Chad VanGaalen what’s on his mind. Whether it’s remnants of a dream from the night before, or an image of “a speck of dust floating through a sunbeam,” VanGaalen’s vivid imagination is constantly running wild. The creative artist has built quite a name for himself in the Calgary music scene and beyond with his original animated videos and experimental music. I recently got the chance to chat with VanGaalen about his latest album, Diaper Island.
Like all of VanGaalen’s records, Diaper Island doesn’t sound like any of his others and shows that his musical style is constantly evolving. More guitar-based and described as the closest of his projects to a rock record, VanGaalen explains that the recording process was a major influence in producing this kind of sound.
“I think that the space I recorded it in was completely different so it kinda ended up being more spacious of a record, as cheesy as that sounds. Soft Airplane [Vangaalen’s 2008 release] was recorded in a really small bedroom… so it was pretty cramped, like I’d have to take apart the drums and pack them away and then bring out all the guitar amps and mic them up. But with this record, I could just leave all the amps and the drums and everything set up because it was a bigger space so it was a lot easier to move around and get my ideas out quicker.”
As for the name of the album, many people have related it to VanGaalen’s role as a relatively new parent, but he clarifies that false assumption.
“Well, it could have just as easily been [called] Garbage Island. I was just imagining all of the waste that everybody throws away over their lifetimes and the physical manifestation of all of that waste per individual. It actually doesn’t have anything to do with [being a parent]. I was just trying to think of the most disgusting plastic waste.”
Regardless, as the father of a one and three-year-old, diapers aren’t unfamiliar to VanGaalen, and he admits that parenthood has had an influence on his work.
“Being a parent has changed my life in many ways. It’s definitely compressed time in a strange way. My time is way more compartmentalized so I really have to focus on what I’m doing in that moment. I feel like I’m more productive now in a weird way. Just because of a) wanting to spend more time with my kids and less time in the studio and then b) when I’m in the studio, I know that my time is limited so it’s a little bit more precious. It’s made me quicker at getting ideas out.”
Like any parent, VanGaalen doesn’t want to miss out on any of the major moments in his kids’ lives and acknowledges that being a touring musician can often present challenges.
“The touring side of things is becoming a little bit more difficult because I miss my family. I’m totally spoiled as far as being able to work from home and my wife works from home as well so we’re around our kids a lot. That might make it more painful. You miss a month’s worth of their life at this age and it’s like leaps and bounds. When you come back, they’re suddenly talking and they got a cellphone and they can poop by themselves and stuff.”
Back when VanGaalen himself was a kid, he became fairly certain of his chosen career path thanks to numerous weekend trips to the comic book and record store.
“I planned on being an artist pretty early on. I was really into drawing and comic books. Then as soon as I heard the music that I thought was inspiring, I made a promise to myself to learn how to teach myself how to do that properly, which is still yet to be verified as legitimate.”
While in the eyes of most, VanGaalen has little left to prove to justify his success, you can see for yourself on his upcoming fall tour in Canada. Vangaalen plays the Myer Horowitz Theatre in Edmonton on November 4, and the Central United Church in Calgary on November 5.
YT: How do you picture the Earth in 50 years at the rate we are going right now?
CV: I feel like the Earth is this super dense sort of heavy thing that will just swallow us up and that’s totally cool. I’m totally fine with that. I feel comfortable with the fact that we’re pretty inconsequential as far as the whole scheme is concerned, which is good.
YT: What are the top 5 artists/bands you listen to on your iPod?
CV: There’s an awesome collection, I think it’s a BBC collection, of Daphne Oram. I listen to a lot of old synth stuff… Bogner... another kind of goofball, synth lady. Bruce Hack is actually an Albertan synth pioneer. I’ve been listening to. Ivo Malec… he’s kind of an avant-garde classical composer. I really like Velvet Underground. I like Bob Dylan. I like the Sonics. Just like rock and roll. The Rolling Stones. I really like the Rolling Stones. Stuff that everybody likes. I really Black Dice. I really like that Repo record. I’ve been getting into that.
YT: When you aren’t recording, what are other pastimes that you enjoy?
CV: I like Frisbee. It’s probably my favorite thing to do in the entire world. I like skateboarding. I’m definitely a casual skateboarder although I have a half pipe in my basement. I like riding bikes and stuff. I really like floating in the river, but just straight up floating with your body. I’ve been pretty into collecting into rocks. I like working with wood. I’m really getting into building structures like… I kinda have this addiction where I dumpster dive and I find houses that are building and I dive into the dumpsters and I pick up mass amounts of garbage and try to cobble it into… this giant hobo pagoda in my backyard right now out of garbage. I’m pretty stoked about that. Gardening. I’m going to try and build… some sort of sustainable system so we can eat vegetables in the wintertime, but indoors like a weird little sun hut. I think that’s going to be my winter project even if it’s just like lettuce and chives and maybe a few herbs, but something fresh, some zone that we could be getting fresh vegetables from all year round. That would be pretty deluxe.