April 5, 2016


Gallant's Pursuit of Optimism: Inside The Creation of 'Ology'

Getty Images
Getty Images

Gallant rarely makes it out to New York these days: The R&B singer, who graduated from NYU but relocated to Los Angeles soon after, has had his aversion to Manhattan well-documented by now. But Gallant has to be in town for a listening session in Chelsea to preview his debut LP, Ology, out on Apr. 6And while he's in town, he's revisiting the part of NYC that he misses: Dunkin' Donuts.

"When I was in New York, I used to eat Dunkin' Donuts literally every day," he says happily. "In L.A., they have that whole thing where they just didn't want Dunkin' Donuts. But now I think they got a couple."

After ordering a blueberry latte and a breakfast sandwich, the 24-year-old was ready to open up to Fuse about entering "a new headspace" while enjoying a beloved snack. Optimism permeates Ology, but Gallant hasn't sacrificed the vulnerability and rawness that his fans have grown accustomed to over the course of his career.

"I really hope that the honesty came through," he says. "I also really hope it didn't sound like there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen—the fact that I did most of [the album] alone or with friends."

Gallant studied music at NYU, but he couldn't commit to the concrete jungle after growing up in suburban Columbia, Maryland. He self-released a nine-track EP titled Zebra in 2014 and relocated to sunny L.A., steadily gaining followers via music blogs and Soundcloud. 

It wasn't until last June, when international radio host Zane Lowe premiered his single "Weight in Gold" as his debut Beats 1 "World Exclusive," that the performer started to garner worldwide attention. The Lowe co-sign and resulting feedback marked a turning point in Gallant's career, and the singer soon found himself on the bill of major festival lineups like SXSW, Coachella and Firefly.

Whereas Zebra was dark, heavily ambient and sonically hazy, Ology is colorful and adventurous, a mixed bag of emotions and musical styles. "Weight in Gold" is unrestrained and intimate, with booming falsettos coupled with brief bouts of listless silence. Soulful and intensely consuming, the account of a failing relationship was particularly difficult for the songwriter to pen. 

For Gallant, whose quietly poignant lyricism is often deemed vague and unobtrusive, letting go of the desire for encryption wasn't an easy task. But on "Weight in Gold," transparency was front and center, as he croons, "We dreamt like martyrs / I never thought I was bold enough / You pushed me further / And I take the blame for the both of us / I’m pulling my weight in gold / Call me anxious, call me broke / But I can’t lift this on my own."

"I developed a habit of saying what I was feeling, or painting the picture that was inspired by my emotions at that particular time," he explains. "But sometimes I can go deeper in terms of poetry or more metaphors. I feel like I really picked and chose my moments to do that on this project."

One of those moments was on "Episode," the first track written for Ology that more or less sets the tone for the album. The song shows Gallant laying "everything a little bit more on the line" with open, direct lyrics. Even its unexpectedly funky, groove-heavy sound displays his unabashed willingness to experiment sonically, all without losing his soulful edge.

Mind of a Genius
Mind of a Genius

"I'm definitely going through a wider range of influences and casting a wider net in experimenting with jumping over as many hurdles as I can," he says. "It's a little less brooding and a little bit more questioning."

This time around, Gallant's vision is clear. His now-signature "sad face" imagery, prominently featured on the cover of Ology, was intentionally painted in gold to represent the singer's headspace of glittery optimism, a constant pursuit of finding something better.

"I took a current photo of myself to symbolize moving forward and used the sad face," says Gallant, "but I made it gold to try to dig out more optimism, and set the tone for what I would be writing about, or what I wanted to challenge myself to explore more of."

For those who long for antiquated formats of music, Gallant plans to release the album on both vinyl and—wait for it—cassette tape. "That's the goal," he says. "I just want the old car market with cassette players."