Published Apr 29, 2014Canadian singer-songwriter Chad VanGaalen is a true Renaissance man. Not only is he a critically-acclaimed solo musician and accomplished visual artist who has created music videos and album covers for the likes of Love as Laughter, Timber Timbre and Shout Out Out Out Out, but he's also an aspiring filmmaker who is currently at work on an animated sci-fi adventure almost three years in the making known as Tarboz. During that time, he also recorded his follow-up to 2011's Diaper Island, a sci-fi tinged country album known as Shrink Dust that sounds like a mix between the soundtrack to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the Flying Burrito Brothers. "It sort of kind of crossed," VanGaalen says about the album and animated feature's co-creation. "I was getting inspiration from both directions."
While Shrink Dust is set to arrive April 29 in Canada through Flemish Eye (Sub Pop in the U.S.), Tarboz remains unfinished. "It became a lot harder and crazier than I ever imagined," he says. "I've realized how bad I am at voice acting… so I need to work that out for sure." While on break from completing his long-awaited feature (as well as an indoor jungle gym for his two children), VanGaalen talks about jiving with Jodorowsky, his early days as a hip-hop head and why his wife kind of reminds him of the X-Men.
What are you up to?
Well, today I'm trying to figure out a jungle gym in the basement of my garage, which is long overdue. It's hilarious that I'm starting work on it today and it's like the first real sort of spring day. It's been cold as fuck here all winter. I had a lot of video work over the winter, so I didn't get around to building this jungle gym, which would have been amazing all winter. I have two kids and they start to go crazy. It takes, like, an hour and 20 minutes to get out the door with kids.
Is that just going to be housed in your garage, or are you going to bring it outside once it's warmer?
No, it's permanent. I'm just going to put it against the back wall. I'm building this sort of ultimate action sports centre with a half-pipe and then there's just going to be this crazy jungle gym web behind it, just so they can get some exercise in winter and not go insane.
What are your current fixations?
I've been geeking out over pens for my whole life. I'm definitely obsessed with searching for pens online. Now you just have such awesome access to whatever you want. I've been really fixated on this sable hair brush pen and it's totally amazing. It shouldn't make any sense, but it actually exists in the world now. It's made with real sable hair and you can load it up with any ink you want, which is crazy because I'm used to bringing my sort of Waterman little India ink container — like a brush — around, which totally sucks. It's really impractical to whip out your brush pen on an airplane. It's like, "Alright!" But I feel like James Bond when it's in my pocket, because I just feel so ridiculous.
Why do you live where you do?
I live where I do just because my family's here. I was born and raised here. I love the Rocky Mountains, but I don't know. Half my family, well, my mum and my dad live out on the coast. My dad lives in Victoria and my mum lives in Salt Springs. I really love the coast. I am getting kind of sick of the Alberta winter. But I live here just because my wife's got a job here. I don't really need to be anywhere; I could be anywhere. So that has a lot to do with it. I'm not allowed to leave.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
Well, I was really influenced by a lot of Japanese print makers, like Hokusai, obviously; Hiroshige Utagawa. I don't know if I could pick one thing. I really love the The Incal by [Alejandro] Jodorowsky and Moebius. I love anything that Moebius has made. Mind-altering though? I mean, obviously The Holy Mountain [by Jodorowsky] is ridiculous in terms of a piece of cinema. But I don't know, man.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
Maybe the second time I played Sappyfest [in 2008] was really special. Honestly, every Sappyfest I've played has been so memorable, but as far as playing, probably the second Sappyfest.
Why is that?
Honestly, just the people. When that festival started it was just people who agreed to do it as a kind of giant family party, and then it sort of maintained that. But the second one I think I had a proper band at that point, I wasn't playing one-man-band. It was just less stressful and I feel like they had worked the kinks out from the first year. I think the year before they were just flying by the seat of their pants, obviously, and then by the second year they had worked some of the kinks out and had more people behind it. I think the town [Sackville, NB] had given them access to the main street as well, so it didn't have to be contained. It was just a lot more sprawling.
What have been your career highs and lows?
Man, to tell you the truth, it's all been pretty high. Well, the first tour I ever want on was pretty low. It just got low emotionally. I wasn't really prepared, I hadn't toured before, and I didn't want to tour. We were touring through the states — me and my friends Eric and Adam. Then my girlfriend went with me for the first half and then I met a bunch of people up in New York. Then it just started to break down. The two guys I had been touring with were my best friends for years and years and years — since junior high school — and then it just all fell apart. My friend Adam got, like, malaria. He had just got back from South America and then flew into New York, so he didn't know he had malaria, and then the malaria hit in Salt Lake City. Then me and my friend Eric were having, like, full emotional breakdowns. We were going to beat the shit out of each other. Like, I tried to kill him on the highway. I tried to kill all of us on the highway by slamming us into a median. That was pretty fucking low.
That was pretty low emotionally, but the actual lowest — the closest I've ever been to death, in fact — was the second tour I was on. My good friend Ian [Russell], who also runs Flemish Eye, was driving me, Brian Borcherdt (Holy Fuck), Graham Walsh (Holy Fuck) and Julie Fader in a Dodge Caravan. He got hit… what's the crazy Toronto freeway? Like, it's the most dangerous freeway in the world, or some shit — highway 401.
On that, like a crazy busy four lanes on each side, he gets hit by a crazy flu and is just quietly telling himself he's going to be okay, and we're just listening to music and doing whatever. Then he just blacked out behind the wheel going 120 and his foot just started pressing down on the gas harder and harder. Brian Borcherdt was literally punching him in the face at that point. Graham was sitting directly behind him, so he was able to reach around and grab the wheel. Brian unbuckled himself and kind of went down and grabbed Ian's feet off the pedals and slowly pushed down on the brake with his hands and steered us into the middle of the highway, and then Ian fell out of the car and just started vomiting and shitting on himself. It was fucking horrible. But that was also probably the highest point, because we had so long to contemplate our own death. I think, literally, that whole moment took about 20 seconds, but it felt like an eternity. It was crazy. And then afterwards we just got potato chips at the gas station and [started] crying and hugging. That was probably the highest point, too. Just whatever branch of life we decided to cut off from, we took the right branch at the right time. It was fucking insane.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
Man, I played a gig out in Halifax as Black Mold and it was a fairly bad show. I told a story about getting on an airplane. I'm like six-foot-six, so I don't fit in the seats anywhere. Anyways, I got jammed into the seats with a bunch of other massive people, and this lady took it the wrong way. I was literally just telling a story, it wasn't supposed to be a joke, and she took it the wrong way and was just really upset about it. But I couldn't have a conversation. She kind of refused to have a conversation about it with me afterwards so I just went home feeling really, really, really shitty. I also didn't feel the need to apologize, because the sentiment was supposed to be me just really feeling like a freak and she took it the wrong way. I may be overly sensitive in those moments as well, because all my other friends were like, "Where the fuck did you go? You just disappeared." I went back to my hotel room and called Sara [Bagg, his wife] and was like, "Am I just, like, a giant fucking asshole?"
What should everyone shut up about?
I don't know. Pass.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
[Loud exhaling.] I don't know, man. This is like a crazy job interview. Traits that I don't like about myself? I feel like I'm pretty unmotivated when it comes to cardiovascular activity.
Oh, but you're making a jungle gym now, so that's got to help.
Yeah, but I'm pretty physically lazy unless someone is throwing a Frisbee at me. The best trait about myself is that I'm pretty good at Frisbee. Like, better than I should be.
Ultimate Frisbee good, or trick good?
Never ultimate. Just straight up freestyle.
Can you hammer toss?
Can I what?
It's called a hammer toss. It's when you do a vertical throw and it goes flat…
I don't know. We just got our own names, but I can do lots of spin tricks and stuff like that. We spray our fingertips with Teflon and shit, you know what I'm saying? Spray the bottom of a Frisbee with a bit of Teflon and then spray your fingertips.
What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
Hanging out with my kids and my best friends and just having a picnic Frisbee jam.
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
Maybe just not to stress out about the future.
What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
I'm pretty cool with filth, but nothing scatological, know what I mean? As soon as there's faeces on your body, like, fuck you man, that's crazy. And that's for dogs too, man. Because my dog just rubbed himself in skunk shit yesterday. I love the smell of a stinky dog. I'm the guy who gets my face licked by stinky dogs, dogs lick my face even though I know they've licked their bums. But seriously man, once you got faecal matter on you, yeah, you're out.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
I think of the best of the best. I feel pretty lucky to be a Canadian. I'm not patriotic at all. I hate that shit. I wake up a lucky man. I honestly think about all the bullshit that other people have to go through. And I know Stephen Harper is mouth-fucking us all to death right now and this whole country, but we're still so lucky, man. It's crazy. Just driving across this country as many times as I have on tour and vacation, it's ridiculous man. Every single time I go anywhere it blows my mind.
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money?
Probably Beastie Boys' Check Your Head. The first tape that I actually got though was given to me by my sister and was George Michael's Faith. I thought that was pretty cool at the time. I wasn't really into music until I got into skateboarding in high school and everybody was into Beastie Boys, so I was like, "Oh, I should go and buy myself some Beastie Boys." Still to this day, love it.
What was your most memorable day job?
My most memorable day job was working as a lunch lady at Terrace Road Elementary School [in Calgary]. I got to skateboard to work, because I only lived three or four blocks away, show up at 11:30, throw out a bunch of Ritalin down the drain behind the teachers' backs and eat, like, half eaten pizza pops for breakfast and play the most intense floor hockey you've ever witnessed. Like, full bleeding. I had two child sticks duct taped together so it was big enough.
If I wasn't playing music I would be…
I'd probably an art teacher, I think. That's what I was kind of was going for before, like working with kids. Just probably doing music or art or something. Yeah, I don't know. Or carpentry. I get down with carpentry in a major way, so maybe that.
Do you think you'd ever do that at some point in your life?
I think so. I'm still trying to learn how to do things properly, carpentry wise. I was just kind of hobo doing it before, but now I'm getting into actual framing and how to build structures so they don't fall to pieces.
What do you fear most?
My kids dying before I die. It's a bit of a thing.
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
Like, headbands. Anytime Sara goes out and she's kind of dressed up like a superhero but doesn't really know it. I think women's fashion is being skewed into this zone where they all look like female X-Men, or some shit. Whenever that's going on, I'm just like, "Holy Christ! Like, you're very, very hot and you could kick my ass right now, like looking like a badass, like you're going to take me into the alley and kick my ass, then fuck the shit out of me, or something."
Are we talking sweat headbands, or headscarves, or those weird decorative ones?
Do you remember how only female X-Men wore those knee-high leather boots?
With the kind of knee protector that comes up over the front?
Yes, I do remember.
Well, that's like a normal thing now. Do you know what I mean?
I do know what you mean.
It's totally crazy. And then, like, underneath that they're wearing some sort of Lululemon stretch pants, and on top it's some sort of cyber, cross-country skiing gear. It's fucking crazy. They've got shocked out elbow pads and shit. They all looking like superheroes — it's crazy.
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
I did a "Stupid Human Trick" [on The Late Show with Dave Letterman] a long time ago and we got to see Cher practicing that "Do you believe…" song and it was just crazy. Like, guys running up to her with a half full juice box of apple juice and feeding it to her in between takes and stuff. It was pretty crazy seeing that level of celebrity. I put her up there with Michael Jackson, or somebody like that, where she's got pieces of her face chopped off and thrown away. It doesn't even look real anymore.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
All that Lord of the Rings shit is real, right? It would probably be Bilbo Baggins and I'd probably feed him Saruman's dead eyeball, cooked grey.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
Calling here more often.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
Maxi Priest's "Have Yourself a Very Rasta Christmas."
Is that a real song?
Yes, it is a real song. It's pretty ridiculous.