Chad VanGaalen Is Growing a Bounty of Unharvested Music

"Look at those fucking Brussels sprouts, man, they look like triffids"
Chad VanGaalen Is Growing a Bounty of Unharvested Music
Photo: Sebastian Buzzalino
For Chad VanGaalen, gardening is about the process rather than the end result. He starts his seeds under grow lamps in the basement, moves them up to the greenhouse, and then finally plants them in the garden once the long Calgary winter has passed. All summer, they grow under cages he builds to keep the animals out. Then, after all that, he doesn't bother harvesting his own crop.

"I'm so bad at harvesting because I just like the way it looks when it's all jacked up and ready to pick," he admits during a phone call with Exclaim! "I don't pick it. I'm just like, 'Look at those fucking Brussels sprouts, man, they look like triffids.'" So the garden goes to seed and the carrots become inedible, their enormous greens blowing in the breeze like "those shaggy Muppets with the feather hair."

Vegetables aren't the only thing he's bad at harvesting. He finished his new album, World's Most Stressed Out Gardener, several years ago, around the same time he released 2017's Light Information. But, much like his garden, he was all buildup and no followthrough, and the album has been sitting around uselessly ever since.

In the intervening years, VanGaalen turned his attention to scoring the Adult Swim show Dream Corp LLC and has been "living that sweet composer life of being in my garage and playing clarinet." He released a few collections of outtakes on Bandcamp, created animated music videos for bands like Wolf Parade and Corridor, and, during coronavirus lockdowns, turned the lower level of his garage into a full-time gymnasium for his daughters.

When he finally returned to the album, he curated the tracklist be more appropriate for a pandemic, which meant stripping out "stress-inducing, paranoid, fake-hardship bullshit." What remained was an eclectic art-rock album that "ended up being more of a mixtape of sorts. There's not much of a common thread other than my voice."

Much like VanGaalen's beloved early albums, World's Most Stressed Out Gardener jumps unpredictably between styles, its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink arrangements the product of DIY experimentation in his home studio. "Plant Music" and "Earth from a Distance" are new age instrumentals, "Nightwaves" and "Nightmare Scenario" dabble in atmospheric garage rock, and standout cuts "Starlight" and "Inner Fire" are driven by ominous krautrock grooves.

And then there's "Samurai Sword," a wonky folk ditty featuring a beat banged out on some discarded copper pipes. "I was mortified because they had pressed the record, and I was like, 'Oh, fuck, I wrote a children's song and then put it on a rock [album],'" he says of the track. "It's pretty out of place in the mix — it seems like it should be on like Sesame Street."

He recommends listening to the song alongside its animated video: "Thankfully I finished the video, and it should sort of explain itself that way. Whereas if it was just the song you'd be like, 'What the fuck? What's going on?'"

With World's Most Stressed Out Gardener finally coming out, VanGaalen is aiming to harvest more of his long-neglected music. He's planning to drop another album of "folk-y rock songs" in June, and he's hoping to release some of his old B-sides compilations digitally. And, of course, with spring right around the corner, he has his garden to think about.

"I have to cage everything off because the squirrels go for the beet greens," he complains. "They go for all the stuff that's coming up. I'll spend like a month getting sprouts and planting, and then I'll come out the next morning and all the tops are gone and all my lettuces are dead. I'm looking at these sparrows like, 'You motherfuckers!'"

With a mixture of irritation and affection, he adds, "I'm not going to do anything about it. I'm still gonna love those guys, but I'll be grumpy about it."