Interview: Chilly Gonzales Details His Work On Drake’s ‘From Time’ (Feat. Jhene Aiko)

Musician Chilly Gonzales is no stranger to the OVO crew. His piano keys have been heard on Drake’s “Marvin’s Room” and “Good Ones Go,” and more recently “From Time.” The Jhene Aiko-assisted track is set to be included on Drizzy’s forthcoming third studio album, Nothing Was The Same. While on the phone from his home in Germany, Chilly spoke to VIBE about what it was like working with the almighty OVO sound.

You’ve worked with Drake before but how did the initial idea for “From Time” start?
The song started at my home in Toronto, well, the piano part did. I had a couple sessions with 40 and Drake. One of them was last fall, one of them was a few years ago, which led to me writing on Take Care – “Marvin’s Room” and co-writing “Good Ones Go”. So when I was back in Canada last fall I went by the studio––it’s hard to say how far along Drake was on the album. From the stuff I heard, I don’t think much of it had made it to the album. There was a weird up-tempo version of “No New Friends,” which eventually became a Khaled’s song anyway.

Last September, so we did a very long, epic session, which basically involves… 40 is basically making beats live and sort of keeping his eye on the keyboard sounds that I’m playing. He’s kind of in charge of feeling whether Drake is comfortable in what we’re doing or if we need to keep searching until we find something. No one really says anything actually. It’s all very instinctive and it really lasts hours. You just have to read people’s facial expressions and read the vibes. Once in a while, 40 just changes the tempo or changes the synthesizer sound and it’s like alright “blank slate,” so let’s keep searching. Then I hear back in drips and drafts about the song from Drake’s team.

It sounds like an OVO jam session.
Well, yeah and Drake has a microphone but he’s kinda just singing softly into it. I think the idea is that–eventually they’ll go back and listen and he’ll remember like ‘Hey, I think I came up with a hook for this part.’ It is very much of a jam session, as much as I hate the term “jam session” – that probably does capture what is actually happening.

So Drake is just harmonizing and crooning melodies?
Well yeah, especially for what I do. I speak through the keyboard and the main contribution I can bring to someone like Drake is harmony. He’s very sensitive to the kind of chords that bring out those classic sounding Drake melodies. After a couple sessions, I realized that is has to do with a lot of ‘80s harmonies. I guess that’s not surprising because he grew up late ‘80s.

Yeah, he was born in ’86.
I think it’s some kind of combination of ‘90s R&B and ‘80s pop. In my mind, that’s what I aim for. If it sounds too European, if it sounds too much like classical stuff, that won’t really work. That may work for some New York rappers from the ‘90s, who are more into that sound. I’m not really going to introduce darker repetitive harmonies–like there are on southern hip hop beats. I really do idolize the world of rap music in general; I think it’s the most exciting music that’s made in our day. It’s the only modern music that I listen to and truly respect. From what I understand 5 or 6 of my contributions were tested out for Drake’s album. I guess that means unfinished songs, half a beat here, half a beat there .

Did you actually know Jhene was going to be on “From Time” or did that come later?
That came way later––everything is pretty mysterious. I don’t have an expectation that they’re going to keep me abreast on every single detail. The information comes in small doses, and I’ve gotten used to that––just knowing that their process is long and can change at any moment. I only really knew that something had made it on the album––when I started to see some paper work and that was about a month ago.

It sounds like 40 probably has a lot more of your work on his hard drive. Do you know when we’re going to hear more Chilly, Drake records?
One can dream. I did some work with Majid Jordan, actually, when 40 first started to work with him. It turns out they’re gigantic fans of my Ivory Tower album.

How many people actually make up Majid Jordan?
2, if I’m not mistaken. There’s a guy called Majid and a guy called Jordan. They’re extremely young and extremely enthusiastic. For me, as a seasoned veteran to see that energy, even compared to Drake and 40, they seemed like just young whippersnappers. They have great energy. We did some separate sessions from the Drake ones. There were sessions with just me and the two of them, with 40 kind of like the benevolent uncle.

Do you have any more solo stuff coming out this year?
This yea–– no. I had my Solo Piano II, which came out last August and I just kinda wrapped up the year of touring for that. It was a fantastic run and we pushed about 100,000 instrumental piano albums which must make me a platinum pianist [Laughs].

I’m also working on a book of easier to play piano pieces for the frustrated people who took a couple years of piano lessons but dropped it. So many of them come up to me after shows or write to me and say they would love to reconnect with that part of music, so I’m doing a project specifically for those lapse musicians. And, I’m starting to work with Domo Genesis. He tweeted he was rolling up a huge joint and it was on the Piano II. So I reached out to him and was like by the way I’m also a huge fan of yours