Chilly Gonzales: A Deep Dive Into the Long Strange Trip of a Genius Provocateur

Photo: Alexandre Isard

BY Tom BeedhamPublished Oct 5, 2018

As a musical genius, myth builder, composer, educator, record breaker and vaudevillian performer, if there is one common element that pervades the music of Chilly Gonzales, it is the sheer tenacity with which he approaches it.
Born Jason Beck, at 46 years old and with countless records and collaborations in his wake, he still navigates music and performance like it's some poorly assembled toy provoking you to strip it down to its most basic elements, picking up the broken pieces with nimble precision and rearranging them into new forms that are either formally crude or sublime, increasingly looking for new ways to impart his methods to fellow listeners. Even when Gonzales is at his most cartoonishly zany, there's an unmistakable glimmer of humanity winking through the provocation.
1972 to 1994
Born into a family of Montreal-based Ashkenazi Jews who fled Hungary during World War II, Jason Beck's musical education begins at an early age. While his older brother and eventual prolific film composer Christophe begins taking piano lessons, at three years old, Beck's grandfather is sitting him at the family piano in an attempt to endear him to what Beck describes in a 2016 Red Bull Music Academy lecture as "some outdated ideas about European superiority," preaching composers like Mozart as gods that lord above low American culture.
To the repulsion of their grandfather, the broadcast premieres of MTV and subsequently MuchMusic in the '80s eventually awaken the Beck brothers to the incendiary appeal of pop music, and they synthesize their educations with a series of living room bands that subvert his dogmatic definition of music.
After Beck's family moves to Toronto, Jason and Christophe attend Crescent School, an independent elementary and secondary boys school, Beck describes in a 2015 CBC Music interview as having "a progressive music department."
"I began getting lessons from these guys about how music works, rather than how to play the piano," says Beck. "They were guitarists, drummers, saxophonists — not pianists. This was very mind-opening, as it got me thinking outside of the instrument."
As he recounts in a 2011 interview with The Word, around the same time, he became conscious "that I had no taste" and "I'd listen to a lot of musician-y music like classical and jazz, and analyse the structures, just like a toy. And I wasn't afraid to break the toy and go on to another one."
At 18 years old, he writes a letter to a friend outlining his musical aspirations: "I love music so much. I know I'm good at it, and I want to spend my life doing it. But I don't feel like people understand what I'm trying to do. Seems like a music career isn't only based on the content of the music, and I'm not sure I really know how to sell myself. The reason I keep trying is that every once in a while, I play something for someone and I see the look on their face and they recognize that I was born to do this. I feel like I'm chasing that connection every time I touch the piano. It's not like I think I deserve to have a number one album and play in stadiums, I just want the chance to play for people and exist for them through my music. That's all the encouragement I need."
Accepted into McGill University's music composition program, Beck makes a prodigal return to Montreal. Studying classical academics under Kenneth Woodman, "who recognized musical talent, but also realized I wouldn't make it as a straight classical pianist," he eventually switches his studies to jazz performance halfway through to study under André White, whom he "mostly rebelled against and sparred with." He begins his composing career and co-authors several musicals with his brother, and starts performing as a jazz virtuoso in piano bars. He moves back to Toronto, where he spent his teens.
He discovers rap music, and he understands something nothing in his formal education was able to impart: "it was around the time of Busta Rhymes, Wu-Tang Clan, that sort of golden late '90s, mid-'90s golden age, and they were people who didn't have to choose," Beck explains in his Red Bull Music Academy lecture. "I said, 'How is it possible that they can be playful and childlike and negative, actually petty.' They're not trying to put across some image of themselves as good people or correct people, they're fully realized, three-dimensional and also larger-than-life with these crazy names: Busta Rhymes, Method Man and all these… That was sort of the click. I was like, 'They don't have to choose.' I didn't even think about rapping or making a beat, I just thought, 'I'm going to take that approach and apply it to my music.' That was my first influence, was how to ignore that false choice."
1995 to 1998
In the mid-'90s alternative rock boom, Beck's songwriting aspirations are graced with industry validation and promptly squashed. Forming Son with Dave Szigeti, Anthony Mitchell and Simon Craig, Beck records and self-produces a debut called Thriller. Like the bastard love child of Faith No More and Ben Folds Five, it's a funk-inflected burst of alternative soft rock, and it thrusts the group into a major label buying race for post-grunge profitability.
Scanning the consignment walls at HMV and Sam the Record Man on a weekly pilgrimage to the late record store strip on Toronto's Yonge Street, Steve Jordan, a budding Warner Music Canada A&R exec fresh out of Kingston, stumbles upon the record, and after consulting the label, makes his first signing. After cutting Son a three-album deal, the label reissues Thriller, and the record finds moderate success with "Pick Up the Phone," a single that generates some heavy radio airplay and a series of opening gigs for the Barenaked Ladies.
At an informal, weed-fuelled basement jam session with Dominic Salole and Spin the Susan's Rebecca Gould, Beck meets Merrill Nisker, a performer who recently released an album called Fancypants Hoodlum.
"I said to [Gould], 'Let's start an all-girl band,' and she said to me, 'Well, my next-door neighbour is really talented and he's got rehearsal space in his basement and I have a crush on this guy, and I'd like to invite him also, just come and jam with us.' Like 'we can all get together.' I was really angry about it because I wanted an all-girl band. So I walked in the room and I didn't even — I don't even think I said hi," Nisker tells Red Bull Music Academy in a 2016 instalment of animated series The Junction. "We just started to yell things and sing things at each other that were obviously coming from our musical frustration, our sexual frustration."
The dynamic sticks, and the group forms the Shit — a sexed-up no-wave quartet that provokes most of its members to adopt pseudonyms: Beck becomes Chilly Gonzales, Gould becomes Sticky Henderson, Nisker becomes Peaches and Salole becomes Mocky, although Gonzales continues to perform as Son Beck with Son.
After Craig and Mitchell depart Son, Gonzales and Szigeti set about recording a new Son album in a fully equipped L.A. recording studio with Christophe Beck. A gloomy, downtempo concept record titled Wolfstein, it's a stylistic about-face that tells the story of a man who begins transforming into a wolf after hitting one with his car. Coloured with colder synth atmospherics and guest appearances from the rest of the Shit, it's far from the cash harbinger Warner saw in Thriller, and receives negligible promotional support upon its 1997 release.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, Sticky and Gonzales start dating; they split up, and so do the Shit, but Peaches and Gonzales continue to work together in another short-lived group with guitarist David Szigeti (later Taylor Savvy) called Feedom. Around this time, Gonzales meets Leslie Feist through Dan Kurtz of Noah's Arkweld and connects her with Peaches, her future collaborator and roommate above a sex shop on Toronto's Queen West strip.
After Warner reluctantly releases Wolfstein, Beck and Peaches tour Europe for two months. In Stuart Berman's This Book Is Broken, Feist explains, "they literally backpacked through Europe. But in their backpack, Gonzo had a CDJ [turntable-styled CD player] and a couple of CD folders with Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach, Kraftwerk — all this amazing, different stuff — and Peaches had the MC505 Groovebox, and I don't think at that point she had made a beat yet. They'd arrive in a city, look for some hipsters, and say, 'Hey, what's a really cool bar you guys hang out at?' They'd go there and play in the corner — these three-hour noise sculptures, free-form stuff. It had nothing to do with what either of them would go on to do, but when they played in Berlin, they played the Kitty-Yo bar — they didn't know Kitty-Yo was also a label. This guy Raik Hölzel basically signs Gonzo on the spot."
Upon returning to Canada, Son make demos for a third album, but it is never released and Warner unceremoniously drops the band. In 2013, Gonzales tells the Globe and Mail the experience left him "traumatized."
1999 to 2004
With the Kitty-Yo connection established and fluent in the industry's taste for press (but no German), Beck adopts his stage name from the Shit full time and moves to Berlin as Chilly Gonzales.
In a 2011 interview with The Word, he says he committed to the name because "One of the biggest problems was that I felt I had to suppress a lot of real character traits, like my egomania, the part of me that could seem arrogant but is really just a precise confidence in one certain thing I can do. My wanting to use humour didn't really work out, so I ended up acting like all the other indie rockers, for lack of a better plan, and I hated myself for doing so. Saying whatever everyone else says like 'you know, I do what I do for myself and if everyone likes it, it's a bonus,' which is stuff I don't believe now and didn't believe back then. So I just picked a name that was a bit far away from me.
"A Hungarian Jew with a Cuban name is impossible in a way but I like the impossibility of it. There are a lot of musical geniuses called Gonzales too, so it seemed like a good pedigree. Another thing was that people warned me about being too all over the place musically and that it could work against me. I was really not intent on repeating the same thing over and over so I decided to make the personality so intense that it could link it all together and people would understand how I can rap and play the piano."
Shortly after she creates a six-track EP called Lovertits, Peaches joins Gonzo in Berlin, and after landing a one-night gig, gets signed to Kitty-Yo in advance of its release. Gonzales enlists Peaches to help him record a single, and promptly releases "Let's Groove Again," a nocturnal dance floor track that shuffles between dark, distorted bass and narcotic drifts, later appearing on his O.P. Original Prankster EP that year and then his full-length debut Gonzales Über Alles in 2000.
In the wake of the latter, Elastica's Justine Frischmann personally invites Gonzales and Peaches to open for Elastica's North American tour. They oblige, and at one particularly legendary Toronto afterparty, M.I.A. gives her debut mic performance.
In 2001, Gonzales joins the rapping puppet crew Puppetmastaz, and after two years residing in the city and a string of releases on Kitty-Yo — the "Let's Groove Again" single, O.P. Original Prankster EP 1999, Gonzales Über Alles (2000), The Entertainist (2000), and his Red Leather collaborative EP with Peaches — Gonzales stages a press conference announcing his plan to "relinquish [his] Canadianess" and campaign for President of the Berlin Underground, simultaneously challenging Berlin techno figure Alec Empire to run in his opposition at government press headquarters the Bundespresshaus.
Flanked by a team of supporters, over the course of the conference, an audience of press and the general public witness Gonzales beatboxing through his opposition's rebuttal, hear a testimonial from Gonzales's Puppetmastaz bandmate and puppet Mr. Maloke, endure an English-to-(terrible)-Franco-Denglisch translation of Gonzales's question period responses from "campaign manager" Mocky, and follow Gonzales out to a manic piano solo in the building's atrium while the press walk out.
Shortly thereafter, Gonzales departs the Puppetmastaz, explaining in a 2011 interview with The Word that "I'm not a great puppeteer and I love to be able to see an audience and react to them, so it was a little bit like torture performing with no idea of what the audience was like." He campaigns harder on 2002's Presidential Suite while declaring "I wanna be loved and hated in equal amounts."
That same year, Pulp invite Chilly Gonzales to play with them at the Eden Project in Cornwall and Gonzo meets Jarvis Cocker backstage. In a 2015 interview with Independent, Gonzales reflects on the encounter with some mild trepidation: "Once in a while I go insane on stage — and that night I pulled one of those tantrums, screaming and complaining and having a meltdown, partly for the enjoyment of the audience. I also had a bunch of rappers from east London hanging out with me; after I left, they stayed on in my backstage area and trashed it completely, before trashing Pulp's tour van. And this was the first time he was getting to know me!
"For the next few months I ended up chasing Jarvis around, trying to apologize. The next time we met was at the Primavera Festival in Barcelona, where we were both playing. I apologized profusely for what had happened, and asked how to get to the soundcheck — and in that dull sonic tone of a Sheffield accent he replied, 'Put one foot in front of the other.'"
Back in Toronto, Feist self-produces seven songs she dubs The Red Demos, and soon after departs to Paris to tour Europe with Chilly Gonzales. They begin recording new versions of her Red Demos at Studios Ferber in Paris, and Gonzales sets up home base in the city. At the same time, famed English actor and chanteuse Jane Birkin is recording a collection of French and English duets (eventually released as Rendez-Vous) in the facilities and the pair are absorbed into the process. Between providing session piano, drums, bass and guitar, Gonzales steps away from the crowd to meditate at a piano.
In 2003, Gonzales appears on Peaches' Fatherfucker and releases Z, a conceptual "best of" album featuring re-recordings of his own material with new vocals and music from guests like Feist, Peaches, Paul PM, Taylor Savvy and others. Meanwhile, archival recordings of Feedom feature on Peaches and Iggy Pop's joint "Motor Inn" after Iggy Pop hears some of the band's instrumentals.
Eventually, Gonzo and Feist complete re-recording her Red Demos, and in May 2004, they are released as Let It Die, earning three Juno award nominations in 2005 and another in 2006. Chilly Gonzales is credited for arranging the majority of the tracks, as well as co-writing "Gatekeeper," "One Evening" and "Leisure Suite,"  and co-producing the album alongside Renaud Létang. It also contains a cover of the Bee Gees' "Inside and Out," for which Gonzales claims some responsibility in a 2009 interview with Dose.
Meanwhile, director Nina Rhode (aka Ninja Pleasure) releases From Major To Minor, a double DVD documenting a surrealist "Master Class" that sees Gonzales teach music theory with help from friends like Jamie Lidell and Feist, as well as a rhythm lesson with Daft Punk's Thomas Bangalter.
The same year, recordings of Gonzo's instrumental piano sessions from Studios Ferber are released as Solo Piano under the moniker Gonzales, and its "16 piano themes for left hand accompaniment and right hand melody" receive much acclaim as well as comparisons to the works of Erik Satie. (It remains the best-selling work in his entire catalogue.)
Out of nowhere, Chilly Gonzales announces his retirement and embarks on a tour with Peaches, Feist, and Mocky to roast himself. In a 2010 interview with Dummy, Gonzo says "It was a fun part to play — the retiring entertainer. I imagined I'd been doing it for 40 years, not four. In Berlin, we have this ritual where you roast someone. When you retire, all your friends get together and make really mean speeches, lots of gentle insults. I set up a roast. I brought Peaches, Mocky, Feist — my crew from that time. There was a massive picture of me. We all sat around the table and they gave me a roasting. I then fled and moved to Paris. A new place to take advantage of — a clean break! Oh and I'm still retired."
2005 to 2007
Rumours of Chilly Gonzales's retirement are greatly exaggerated as he continues to work with peers while re-centring his musical priorities. In June 2005, he appears on Jamie Lidell's Multiply, produced by Mocky, and the next year he sets up more permanent residence in Paris and helps Feist produce 2007's The Reminder, alongside Mocky, Renaud Létang, and Ben Mink. It is nominated for four Grammy Awards and wins five Junos, while album single "1234" thrusts her into cultural ubiquity, appearing in iPod commercials and Saturday Night Live. Meanwhile, Gonzales's Solo Piano and Nina Rhode's From Major To Minor DVD are released in North America.
Jarvis Cocker, it turns out, is a neighbour, and after a chance encounter leads to an exchange of phone numbers in a subway station, the two start to meet up for coffees and talk about collaborating. In a 2015 interview with Independent, Gonzales recalls, "While Canadians look for social validation quickly, his British reserve meant it took a while for us to break through. I could sense, with Paris being a closed place and Jarvis being shy, that it wasn't easy for him. We'd meet for lunch at the one British bakery in Paris and kvetch about the unlikeablity of French culture."
2008 to 2013
In early 2008, Chilly Gonzales emerges from his retirement to announce he is going back to the studio and signed to Mercury Records. That spring, Soft Power is released under the moniker Gonzales, and it marks a return to the soft rock direction of Son's Thriller, this time without the alt-rock, all filtered through Bee Gees and Billy Joel, while a "megamix" of album track "Let's Ride" features Feist, Peaches, Mocky, Jamie Lidell and Jarvis Cocker, amongst others. It receives some positive reviews, but it is commercially rejected, and the timeline on Chilly Gonzales's official website dubs the work "The misunderstood masterpiece."
Despite the let down, in a 2011 interview with The Word, Gonzales says it "was a big failure but I learned so much… It put me on the right path, so I'm grateful," and that "After the Soft Power feeling of dilution, it was about re-establishing the two most important aspects of me: musical genius and crazy competitive guy."
Soft Power also marks the genesis of Gonzales's signature bathrobe and pyjamas regalia — "before that I had the rap costume, the pink suit, the safari suit," Gonzales tells The Word. "Like a lot of things I enjoy, it's a really convincing illusion of intimacy."
Gonzales's intimacy branding is in particularly good shape; around the same time, Gonzales appears on Jamie Lidell's Jim alongside Mocky and Peaches, and signs to Arts & Crafts, becoming labelmates with Feist.
Gonzo releases a statement declaring he will attempt to break the world record for the longest solo-artist performance, explaining, "I will do this to push my musical and physical stamina. I believe music is part art, part athletics and this 27-hour concert will demonstrate both aspects."
Between the hours of 11:30 p.m., on Saturday May 16 and 3 a.m. on Monday, May 18, Gonzales performs for a marathon 27 hours, three minutes, and 44 seconds at the Ciné 13 Théâtre in Paris, France, defeating the 2008 record set by Prasanna Gudi in India (26 hours and 12 minutes).
Documented and adjudicated by an Official Guinness Judge, over the course of this test of will and endurance, Gonzales performs some 300 songs, including originals, film scores, and covers of Britney Spears and the Bee Gees, allowed 30-second pauses between each song and a 15-minute break after each three-hour set. According to The Guardian, "Occasionally, Gonzales peppered things up — getting a shave, changing in and out of pyjamas, and eating a bowl of cereal while he played." At one point, blueberries were involved.
In a 2011 interview with The Word, Gonzales says "There were some hallucinations as of hour 24, forgetting where I was… this was during a three-year period where I had stopped smoking weed, by the way, because if I had, I surely couldn't have done it. I wanted to go one hour further than what I had announced. Because I thought that would be cool — that when I got to 27 and everyone was going crazy, I could still continue… I couldn't though. I did four minutes more and then my hands stopped playing by themselves."
Following the Guinness World Record win, Gonzales decamps to New York City to chase press, and ahead of a September 25 show at Joe's Pub, challenges Andrew W.K. to a piano battle. He shows up, and in a classic heel move, Gonzales throws a distracting chain necklace at his opponent and is declared the victor by judge Akira the Don.
Drake samples "The Tourist" from Gonzo's Solo Piano on "Outro" from his February mixtape So Far Gone, but Gonzo is unaware until he's asked about it in a November interview with Corduroy. "Really? Drake sampled me? I don't know how I feel about that," Gonzales tells the interviewer. "I mean, that Solo Piano album has reached across many genres — it's given me shout-outs from the hip-hop world all the way to the classical world. I'm pleasantly surprised whenever it makes its way to an unknown genre. Although, I must confess, I'm not a Drake fan. I guess Canadians should be proud that they finally have the closest thing they'll ever have to a credible hip-hop personality, but I'm sorry, I'm just not a fan."
Gonzales and Feist hole up in a residential recording studio in the north-west Parisian suburb of La Frette-sur-Seine to record the followup to Feist's The Reminder (Metals, released in 2012); the two appear on Jamie Lidell's Compass; and Gonzales and Jarvis Cocker collaborate on a track called "Fucking On Heroin" for the soundtrack to the Russell Brand vehicle Get Him to the Greek.
Gonzales appears as a piano stand-in for Eric Elmosnino in the title role of Serge Gainsbourg biopic Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque), as well as in the lead role of Adam Traynor's Ivory Tower, a chess comedy about two brothers, arranged around Chilly Gonzales's album of the same name. Entirely produced by Boys Noize, album track "Never Stop" goes viral in its own Apple campaign advertising the iPad2 — Apple even makes an electric guitar version.
Still maintaining an address in Paris, Gonzo gets a flat in London for a few months in the summer. He tells Dummy it's because "It's nice to have a place I can come and indulge my verbal side — and speak English and speak capitalism. It's the two languages that I miss speaking the most in France."
Gonzales engages Drake regarding his use of "The Tourist," and the two strike up a correspondence, sending music back and forth before Gonzo gets a call to perform alongside Drake at the 2011 Junos, and the two open the gala's broadcast with a skit incorporating clips from Snow's "Informer" and Dolores Claman's Hockey Night in Canada theme while addressing audience members like Shania Twain and Classified through song. Ivory Tower is also up for nomination in the award's Best Electronic Album category.
Following the broadcast, Drake invites Gonzales to come by the studio and plays him early versions of material from an in-progress Take Care. Gonzo speaks extensively on this experience in his 2016 Red Bull Music Academy lecture: "He played me a sort of halfway-finished version of 'Marvin's Room.' Maybe you know that song.
"I was… I think I was very emotional, because I was kind of living my dream. I'm like, 'Oh my God, I'm in the studio with a rapper!' This is what I'd dreamed of for so long, so I was quite emotional when he played me the song and the lyrics and everything, and it really got to me. Honestly, my eyes became a little wet, just as I was hearing 'Marvin's Room.' It's a very emotional song. I'm sure you've all cried to 'Marvin's Room' at some point, right? Then he said, 'Hey, do you want to add some piano?' And I ended up playing an outro on a synth that was sitting there, like an [Korg] M1, like a really bad '90s synth, and I thought I was just showing, 'Well, it could be something like this,' and in my mind I'm like, 'Yeah, and then they're going to rent me a grand piano the next day and I'm going to do it for real,' right?
"I do the outro, no pedal. Those of you who play piano might know that without a pedal also to do something… I was kind of struggling, but afterwards, they're like, 'WOAH!' [laughs] They're like, 'That's it!' Obviously, and that was it. That's the 90 seconds that you hear at the end of 'Marvin's Room,' it's just me sort of like, unknowingly just transferring the wetness in my eyes to the keyboard and 'making the song cry,' as JAY-Z would say."
Gonzales unleashes The Unspeakable Chilly Gonzales, featuring arrangements by his brother Christophe; at the time, Gonzales claims it to be "the first-ever all-orchestral rap album," calling it his "'professional confessional,' revealing more of himself on these monologues than ever before."
Unspeakable leads to a rap-classical collaboration with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at London's Barbican.
After spending ten days alone in Paris's Studio Pigalle, Gonzales unveils Solo Piano II, a 14-track album consisting of songs that made a short list from approximately 100 melodies written in the eight years since 2004's Solo Piano. It is nominated for the 2013 Polaris Music Prize — an annual merit-based award for best Canadian album co-founded in 2006 by Steve Jordan (the former A&R executive who signed Son) — Feist's Metals ultimately takes home the prize.
Gonzales appears twice on Daft Punk's Random Access Memories, providing keyboards on "Give Life Back to Music" and piano on "Within," for which he also receives a writing credit, and subsequently, a 2014 Album of the Year Grammy Award.
Despite a growing catalogue of guest appearances, in an entry of Vice and Intel's Creators Project 2013 series on the collaborators involved in the album, Gonzales claims that, "To be honest, I don't really like collaborating, but you make exceptions for people who are in possession of some true key to the zeitgeist."
On Drake's Nothing Was the Same, Chilly Gonzales returns to play piano on "From Time," but as he explains in his Red Bull Music Academy lecture, he didn't know it until the album came out — "I was credited, though, so that was a positive step."
2014 to 2018
The next three years come bearing a series of engrossing collaborations – the 2014 self-titled debut of his collaboration with Boys Noize, Octave Minds; Chambers, an album of piano and chamber work recorded with Hamburg's Kaiser Quartett in 2015; and in 2017, Room 29, an album-length collaborative "song cycle" with Jarvis Cocker about occurrences in Room 29 of the Château Marmont hotel in Hollywood.
Gonzales receives several opportunities to explore music outside the routine of album releases, studio collaborations and press stunts. In 2014 he releases Re-Introduction Etudes — an instructional collection of 24 songs for lapsed piano students. Together with radio station WDR 1Live, he begins a series of YouTube videos exploring the music theory underlying the success of contemporary pop hits under the title Pop Music Masterclass.
In 2015, he anchors documentaries on "Classical Connections" (BBC) and "The History of Music" (Arte), and in the midst of a 2016 performing sabbatical, he launches a radio essay show called Music's Cool on Apple Music Beats 1 and uses the platform as an opportunity to go deep on the careers of pop stars and past collaborators.
Gonzales sets to work developing what might be his most ambitious project yet, and on Sept. 26, 2017 (a day early, thanks to Stereogum) Gonzales announces the Gonzervatory — an all-expenses-paid eight-day residential performance workshop combining the one-on-one learning dynamics of Franz Liszt's master classes with the broadcast lecture/conference models of TED Talks and the Red Bull Music Academy's lecture, all in the service of "musical humanism": exploring the commonalities that connect musicians across cultural boundaries.
On Dec. 2, Gonzervatory applications are declared closed, and in the time leading up to the first day of class, Gentle Threat releases Live at Massey Hall and Other People's Pieces, a pair of self-explanatory releases.
On April 26, 2018, the Gonzervatory opens to welcome the seven chosen "Gonzervatorians" at Le Trianon in Paris, and over the next eight days, they spend their days working with Gonzo, guest coaches like Peaches, Socalled, Fred Wesley/Illyria, Jarvis Cocker and Lisa Kainde Diaz (Ibeyi) in daily workshops focusing on performance elements like collaboration, improvisation and dialogue, culminating in a "graduation concert" where they present the product of their work, broadcast in its near entirety via Gonzales's social media and Arte Concerts.
On June 1, 2018, Gonzales announces the final instalment in his Solo Piano trilogy, Solo Piano III will arrive September 7 via Gentle Threat. In a press release, Gonzales writes that the album arrives at "a more problematic inflection point," describing the conclusion as "a mostly happy ending in C major, but there is more dissonance, tension and ambiguity along the way... The musical purity of Solo Piano III is not an antidote for our times, it is a reflection of all the beauty and ugliness around us."
Essential Gonzales
Presidential Suite (Kitty-Yo, 2002)
In peak vaudevillian electro-rap Berlin hipster villain mode, on Presidential Suite Gonzales is self-assured enough to boast he's swagged-out with an extra testicle while drawing a line in the sand between his new life and the compromises he made in the early days as Son: "I'm gonna persecute all musical prostitutes / I know a ton of 'em / Plus I used to be one of 'em / So now I make fun of 'em."
Solo Piano (No Format!, 2004)
Many credit Solo Piano for revealing the musician behind the madness, but these instrumentals didn't just lift the curtain on the soft touch guiding a heavy-handed pop performer — it smuggled pop music into the conservatory.
Ivory Tower (Arts & Crafts, 2010)
The album that steered the action of a semi-biographical feature-length chess comedy that preceded it, Ivory Tower is as much a defensive opening and an artful checkmate that sets up its subjects' defenses and exposes their weaknesses with carefully balanced technical precision and absurdist lyrical expressionism.

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