Interview with Chilly Gonzales

September 27, 2010

Last week we stopped by Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO where our favorite epic pianist Chilly Gonzales was hosting a special screening of his new film Ivory Tower—not to be confused with his album of the same name, released just last month. The film stars Gonzales, along with fellow artistic entrepreneurs Peaches and Tiga. And with an original Chilly Gonzales score and a producer credit given to his pal, Boys Noize, this is collaborative authorship at its best. There's no set release date yet, but according to Gonzales it "came out" already. Read our chat with the piano man himself, and imagine how relaxed he looked sitting next to a picture of a sunset, wearing an immaculate bathrobe.

Tell us why you're here today.
Today I'm here making entertainment about art, so we chose an art space. I'm going to be doing the first-ever, kind-of hosted screening of my movie Ivory Tower, combined with a piano talk show, which is my standard solo show. I've never done it before, so to be completely honest, I'm not sure. I try to approach it in a certain way and see if it works because it's two different actions, you know? Watch a concert, watch a movie. And then afterward I might play for a very long time.

A very long time?
A very, very, very long time.

Will there be any special guests?
I'm not at liberty to discuss that. I signed an NDA. Do you know what an NDA is?

[Slow and unsure nod]
You don't—so how come you just nod? Aren't you curious about the strange terms I'm using?

Okay, what's an NDA?
An NDA is a non-disclosure agreement—like the kind I signed when I was mysteriously called to service. My song “Never Stop” was recruited, was embedded if you will, into a huge national campaign for the iPad commercial, but I didn't know what the commercial was or who it was. It was all very secretive, and I respected that. You know, I respected that they demand complete blindness on my part to participate in their project. So I'm kind of doing the same to you. I'm kind of leaving you in the dark as a sign of respect.

Well, I respect that you respect my blindness.
It's called mutually assured respect. MAR.

Did you just make that up?


So you were just in Los Angeles.
Yes, I was in LA playing at Largo, and Leslie Feist was in town, and she had played with Grizzly Bear the night before at the Hollywood Bowl. Have you heard of Grizzly Bear? They're kind of this indie rock band. And it was really funny because they made Feist sign an exclusivity agreement (EA), which forbade her from singing a week before and a week after the show. So she came out playing a recorder because she wasn't allowed to sing. But you always find a loophole. I could've been a Jewish lawyer, so I instinctively look for loopholes. And then this amazing thing happened—harnessing the power of the internet—and I convinced the crowd to start a Twitter campaign. You know Twitter? It's amazing because you can change things with it. And what happened was that Ed Droste from Grizzly Bear got Twitter-bombed #letfeistsing, and a telegram came for me in the middle of the show. It was this very old school thing—Ed Droste sending you a telegram that said, "The Twitter campaign worked. Let Feist sing." And then we sang a bunch of songs! We sang the new Alicia Keys single—Feist did an amazing version of it.

Did you have to sign any legal agreements?

That telegram, as far as I'm concerned, is legal tender. And I felt it tenderly. It was a very nice gesture. Largo is a seated theater with maybe 200 people, and the LA audiences are a little bit like North German audiences. I know they're liking it, but it's just strange because they're the first to stop applauding. Usually I have to stop people from jeering, applauding, doing what they do. So I was a bit like, I know they like it but maybe they just feel like they've seen everything—a sort of blasé insider showbiz thing. I don't know LA that well. And I just thought to myself as I was on stage, I want to cuddle with them, like spoon them somehow.

Like, physically?
Yeah, and so I did. I crowd-surfed at Largo, in this little theater, and they brought me all the way to the end and back, and I kind of whispered to Feist, “Hey, do you want to crowd surf?” And she was like, "I don't know, I've got a really short dress on." And I said, "Come on, it'll be fun, look at that theater—it’s ridiculous.” And she was like “Okay,” and then we both jumped in, we both crowd surfed, and that was the moment that LA was like, Hey this guy is working his ass off. I mean there was just no doubt about it. It kind of woke them up. I had to go in their face. And the whole time that I was crowd-surfing, I was like, Don't you see, don't you see, I'm willing to go farther? I think they go to too many screenings or something, and they forget that people are actually in front of them doing insane things.

What do you think the crowd's going to be like tonight?
Well, tonight, I don't know how the movie and the concert are going to go. That's why I said I might play a long time, because in a way, after the movie I have to start from scratch. I'm not sure if people are gonna be up for that, so this is really a huge experiment. I'm playing in Brooklyn, and usually I play in Manhattan at Joe's Pub. I'm a Manhattan snob, so I feel like I'm traveling second class today, to be honest.

Are you gonna take a car there?
Yes, a private moving vehicle—PMV.

I'm learning so many abbreviations right now.  Julianne wanted me to ask you, because she couldn't be here—
Is Julianne—she's really hot, right?

Yeah, she's pretty hot.
I've never seen her, but just from her writing, I can tell she's hot. Tell her I said that. I think you can tell a lot by someone's writing.  I think if you were to analyze the rap writings of Chilly Gonzales, for example, you would know what kind of guy I am, you would know exactly what kind of guy I am.  You would understand that I would show up with a bathrobe and an undershirt. Why? Because you know that I dress up for stage and dress down for interviews. Every wardrobe befits its station. EWVIS.

Have you ever heard of CRS disease?

What's that?

Can't Remember Shit.
I'm tempted to tell a childhood story, but it would be twisting that sentence ever so slightly. So I think I'll just take a pass on that.

Like a go pass or a stay pass?
Like for once in my life I'm gonna edit what I say because usually there's not much separating the interior monologue and the interview, but once in a while, I throw up a little wall.

Do you think that's kind of like how you play piano?
No, the way I play piano, to be completely honest, is so oriented around writing for my technique, which creates a false virtuosity actually. It's sort of the equivalent of an actor who's always writing his own parts in his movies, like a Woody Allen, for example. Is Woody Allen a good actor?

Well is he?

He's not really acting.
He's writing. And he's acting out his writing. And basically you get the same kind of feeling when you read someone's autobiography, like a Klaus Kinski autobiography or a Harpo Marx autobiography. PT Barnum has an amazing biography. These guys are projecting, obviously. It's not supposed to be true. It's kind of like a rap version of the truth, the same way a rapper basically exaggerates and talks about how he'd like to be. Rick Ross—what's great about Rick Ross is that he admits that he thinks he's Big Meech. He doesn't even say I feel like Big Meech, like rappers used to, or call me Big Meech. There's a thousand things rappers could say, but no, Rick Ross is proud of his delusion. Because he says I think I'm Big Meech, Larry Hoover, etc, etc. And this is where rap is heading, this is why the prison guard Rick Ross beat the bully 50 Cent. Because we've changed eras now. Everything's going more in this exaggerated, wonderful, living your autobiography way. It's a short stretch from Woody Allen to Rick Ross, in my opinion. And I think I really occupy that middle ground between those two figures. I've staked it out, that's my lane, it's where I'm staying. Catch me there, wearing a bathrobe.

Wow, I feel like I just sat through a college recitation.

Is that it?

Yeah, I think I'm done.
No no, you're not getting off that easy. Just a couple more questions—just the basics. Let me do what I came here to do, you know—plug my product, move some units, get that money and reinvest it in the next movie. Come on.

All right, tell me about your new album.
I'm really glad you asked me that. My new album is called Ivory Tower. It's produced by Boys Noize, who I think will be familiar to readers of The FADER as a hipster DJ/producer-par-excellence living in Berlin, my old hometown. The album is mostly instrumental and most of it is used in a feature-length movie also called Ivory Tower, which stars Peaches and Tiga and myself. And I wrote the movie. We took a lot of liberties. We don't really know how to make movies, so you have to be forgiving when you watch my movie, but when you listen to my album, you're hopefully consuming a solid product very professionally-made from two musicians at the top of their game in 2010: Chilly Gonzales and Boys Noize. Chocolate and peanut butter, like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. You really hear the Gonzales parts, you really hear the Boys Noize parts. It just tastes good together.

I really want to eat your film now.

When does it come out?
Well it's being shown here tonight. Does that count as coming out? What I want to know is, because I get asked this question a lot—people are coming here tonight, and they're going to pay money, and we're going to take that money. And in exchange for that money we're going to sit them in a room in which there is a movie projector behind them and it will project the movie Ivory Tower. They can't ask for their money back, so we've made that money for good, and they are free to say whether they like it or not. Now, does that count as the movie coming out?

No, I really don’t think so.
Jesus. You're a muckraker. You're like an uppity journalist. These are gotcha questions. This is like what they do to Sarah Palin. You know, they just they go in and they get her. This is media denigration and this is done. I'm sorry. The movie came out, ok?

[Chilly Gonzales leaves interview.]

Interview with Chilly Gonzales