By: Susan Frances
The latest album by Canadian composer/pianist Gonzales entitled Solo Piano is a bare look at the emotions behind the man. His piano compositions exude warm jazz expressions and bluesy strides. He proudly dispenses, “I have played over 200 Solo Piano shows since it was released in September 2004.” His tour has taken him around the globe and opened his horizons as a composer. From his debut solo album Gonzales Uber Alles to his follow up albums The Entertainist and Presidential Suite, Gonzales has explored the world of music to its fullest, finding inspiration from classic composers such as Maurice Ravel. Prior to recording solo albums, Gonzales has worked with his brother on film scores and collaborated with Leslie Feist and Jamie Lidell. Audiences have been drawn to his musicianship and it has been his compositions which have given him a reason to be here.
Spacelab: What was the impetus for Solo Piano?
Gonzales: Music doesn’t express anything except the musicians personality. In that sense, Solo Piano was about wearing a different mask. Everybody has many sides to their personality so I see each album as a chance to show another side. The lack of vocals and accompaniment seemed to be the right thing to do given the density of both vocals and arrangement on my other albums.
Spacelab: What was the songwriting process like?
Gonzales: I began with melodies that had existed for a while that had never been made into ‘full’ songs, and then the dam burst and I wrote a couple of tunes a week until I had thirty or so. Then it was just a matter of choosing. There is no frame of mind for me that is special to music. The idea is to pimp your state of mind to the song and take advantage of human being’s ever-changing moods.
Spacelab: You have a reputation as a trip-hop composer. How did you make the transition from an electronic artist to a jazz-pianist?
Gonzales: What a terrible reputation to have. I thought my reputation was that of a ladies man or a pranksta or general asshole. I have so many reputations I can’t keep count but again, these are all aspects of one personality so to me, it seems completely natural.
Spacelab: Were there any piano players that you looked to for influence when you were writing Solo Piano?
Gonzales: Nina Simone, Richard Clayderman, but mostly composers not players (like) Maurice Ravel and Duke Ellington in particular.
Spacelab: When did you start playing the piano?
Gonzales: I started when I was six but mainly played drums until I was thirteen. Then I began getting serious about harmony and melody. My family seemed to treat me better after I demonstrated some musical talent so that definitely played a role.
Spacelab: Was anyone in your family an artist or involved in the Arts?
Gonzales: My grandfather was a decent musician. My older brother and I grew up playing music together. Basically my family was into it despite being scared for a while that we would lead frustrated bohemian lives.
Spacelab: Did you take music lessons?
Gonzales: I took a lot of music lessons and I have a university degree in composition. It just wouldn’t sound the same if I didn’t.
Spacelab: Was it easy for you to believe in your talent?
Gonzales: I knew I was a musical genius early on, but I realized I shouldn’t broadcast this belief because it made people think I was arrogant. The truth is, it’s the only thing that proves my existence to the world.
Spacelab: When did you know you wanted to be a professional musician?
Gonzales: It as evident from the beginning that I wanted to do this as much as possible, and that I would compromise just enough to be able to. It was the people who discouraged me that deserve the credit for my success, because they made me want it more.
Spacelab: Having traveled around the world, what was it like and which is your favorite country?
Gonzales: Canada is my favorite nation. It is simply who I am, for better or worse. Being in the EU is like being on safari with French animals, German animals, etc.
Spacelab: What was it like writing songs for soundtracks?
Gonzales: That’s not quite true. I helped my brother write for some soundtracks and played along with silent movies a couple of times. That was more to make money than anything else. I generally prefer to be the focus of attention as opposed to supporting some movie.
Spacelab: Do you remember your first live show?
Gonzales: I can’t remember the exact concert. I remember needing to joke around because I found the idea of being an ‘artist’ pretentious. I still do.
Spacelab: Who are some musicians that you have collaborated with?
Gonzales: Playing piano with Charles Aznavour was like reading a megalomaniac’s autobiography up close, and of course, Feist, Mocky, Jamie Lidell and Jane Birkin.
Spacelab: What was it like writing songs with Peaches? How did you take the press dubbing you the “Bonnie and Clyde of prankster rap”?
Gonzales: I didn’t write songs with Peaches. Why can’t journalists simply read the credits?!! The press should do more research and less ‘dubbing’ as you call it. Besides, I thought I was a trip-hop composer.
Spacelab: What inspired your first album Gonzales Uber Alles?
Gonzales: The title came from having recently moved to Germany. “Deutschland Uber Alles” is the banned German national anthem and because it rhymes. The songs were mostly finished in Canada before the move and comprised of three years worth of material. I had been a solo artist already in Canada having made two albums under a different name for a major label. I was already solo and collaborating at the same time since the days with my older brother.
Spacelab: What was your inspiration for The Entertainist?
Gonzales: I just wanted to try rapping as it seemed a great way to build a character. Rap is more like talking than singing is, so it seems more like the truth. This is great for self-mythologizing.
Spacelab: How did you progress as a songwriter on your album Presidential Suite?
Gonzales: It was a combination of the self-mythologizing of The Entertainist with more deliberate composition. It introduced Feist and the pink suit to France.
Spacelab: Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring musicians?
Gonzales: Don’t be afraid of mastering the scientific craft of music. It won’t ruin your natural instincts, it will hone them. Criticism is the gasoline for the car that is ambition. As your ridiculous president would say, ‘Bring It On.’