Paris-based Canadian Chilly Gonzales made his name as a velour tracksuit-clad comedy rapper; nowadays he’s viewed as a thoroughly postmodern, all-round entertainer. Following the release of his second album of delicate and accomplished piano compositions, Solo Piano II, we found out more.
He owes everything to the piano. ‘The piano is the reason I can rap, it’s the reason I can be a happy amateur at so many things, such as filmmaking. All of my confidence comes from it. There is this purity at the core and that comes from the piano. It’s the emotional authority that allows me to clown around and not take away from what I do.’
He holds a Guinness World Record. ‘It was in 2009 and it was for the longest concert by a solo artist [27 hours, three minutes and 44 seconds]. It was a bit of a statement against the album and in favour of performance. There’s a certain athletic, competitive element [to music] that’s been lost. Did you know the Olympics used to give medals for music? I’ve had a piano battle with Andrew WK, but very few people want to do them. Jools Holland refused. At some point, you have to battle with yourself and that’s what a Guinness World Record is – trying to have the best brought out of you by extreme circumstances.’
His favourite city is Montreal. ‘It’s where I was born and it’s where I studied music, so it’s where Chilly Gonzales was born, in the sense that it’s where I decided to master the science of music and try to do it my own way. It’s the perfect mix of Europe (art) and America (entertainment), and I see myself as embodying that mix. A lot of people have a romantic vision of Paris, but having lived there for nine years, I can safely say there’s a lot missing from the picture. It’s a bit of a museum.’
He soundtracked the first iPad ad. ‘As far as advertisements go, you can’t get much more of-the-time than an Apple product. So as a musician who, back in 2004, was wondering if I could be a man of my time while playing the piano, to have those three notes [from “Never Stop”] coming out of the TV billions of times during the opening of the iPad campaign was incredibly encouraging. Maybe the only other moment like that was when I played piano with Drake.’
He views bathrobes as a class symbol. ‘I wear them frequently. I’m lucky enough to work at home and the first couple of hours of my day are usually taken up with piano practice, and I can do that in my bathrobe. More importantly, I want to bring that with me on stage, because I’m trying to be different from the way people think a piano player should be. It helps me to contrast with those highfalutin, condescending [musicians] who come from the classical world, by wearing a bathrobe and having a ridiculous name.’ www.chillygonzales.com Interview: Sharon O’Connell