Gallant feels as though R&B is in a good place, and rightfully so: his own art is proof. Frankly, it’s impossible not to watch him on stage. His ability to deliver pitch-perfect notes, while displaying charismatic, kinetic energy through movement and crowd interaction is unmatched and an experience every concert goer should enjoy.
I’ll never forget the first time I witnessed Gallant live in action. It was a chilly, rainy October day in 2019 at the AFROPUNK music festival in Atlanta. I had spent the entire day enjoying sets from the likes of SiR and Earthgang, battling other festival-goers for prime standing space. While in line for fried chicken wings and bottled water, a captivating, soul-stirring, warming high note echoed out from the main stage that eradicated the fact that I had spent the last few hours in brisk air wearing platform boots. I turned around and recognized Gallant who I had only heard of casually prior to the show. Since that moment, my casual listening transformed into devout fandom.
Born Christopher Joseph Gallant III, the vocalist released his first EP Zebra in 2014, but his major breakthrough came the next year when he dropped his single “Weight In Gold.” His 2016 major-label debut album, Ology, was followed by his 2019 LP, Sweet Insomnia.
In 2020, the R&B singer planned to embark on his Sweet Insomnia Tour, but it was postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Gallant’s latest EP release, Neptune, issued March 26, finds the artist at a new level of creativity. The eight-track project—featuring singing duo VanJess, Arin Ray, and industry veteran (and Gallant’s favorite artist) Brandy—is as powerful as the eigth planet in the solar system or the Roman sea god that shares its name.
Now, for Michelob ULTRA’s Pure Golden Hour Sessions, a virtual concert series inspired by nature, the hypnotic performer takes the stage for the first time since the coronavirus halted in-person live shows. Michelob Ultra gathered a small, private crowd to experience a ½ mile nature hike through an interactive trail, followed by a group sound bath. Held in Plano, Texas, the actual concert performed on Aug. 12 was presented via live stream on Aug. 26 for fans to view online as one of the concerts produced for the Michelob Pure Ultra Golden Hour series.
Although it was Gallant’s first time hitting the stage in over a year, Gallant’s soulful display kept the entire audience at the Amphitheater at Oak Point Park engaged and in tune with his enticing vocal performance. With a Michelob Gold in hand for part of the show, he welcomed the virtual audience and us grass-seated fans with a celebratory toast. As the Sun set in the sky, he sang a medley of songs from his entire discography.
Prior to his performance, I met with Gallant behind the scenes and discussed his 2021 release, working with Brandy and the definition of R&B.
This interview had been edited for length and clarity.
VIBE: They (event organizers) have us doing a hike prior to your performance. Are you inspired at all by nature?
Gallant: I was just looking at that path (points to a small trail beside us). It reminds me [of where] I’m from: Columbia, Maryland, the Howard County area. It’s just all basically, cul de sacs and stuff. I go on a walk, you know, maybe for like, an hour or two hours just through the woods every time I’m back [home]. I was just back when my EP was released. I was in Maryland, and I just was listening to it and walking through the woods. It re-centers me. I started making music when I was a kid, so anything that puts my head back in that childhood mindset, I feel like my feet are on the ground. I’m good. I’m centered.
So the EP is named Neptune. Can you explain how you came to that name? Are you into astrology or astronomy?
I mean, it was like, halfway through. I was writing just a bunch of different ideas after leaving the label I was with. I was kind of just like…I don’t want to force anything at the beginning. I was just kind of seeing what was materializing, and I was just writing a lot about, I guess, like universal type stuff. I don’t know if I believe in astrology or not, I don’t really know. I look at it, and I’m like, I’m a Scorpio and I do scorpionic things (we both laugh). So, I don’t know if I think it’s real or not, or if it’s just fun, but I just take inspiration, in the fact that something in the universe can have any kind of effect on the minerals and the atoms and the molecules that we’re made of. Whether they do or not, it’s just like, [a] poetic connection.
I just noticed I was like writing about a bunch of that stuff, like in the first few songs I was working on. You know when you’re working on a project or something [and] you take samples of things that you like? So, I was doing that for a bunch and a lot of the stuff was blue, a lot of the stuff was kind of watery, distant like photoshoots based on that. It just felt like it was kind of finding your way in a blue/ blank type of space and [I] had all these things in my head. I looked at this note that I wrote in 2015, where I was trying to find titles for my project, my first EP that I ever put out, and I saw like Neptune on there, and I was like, “Oh, that’s interesting,” but then I was like, “Maybe that’s not right.” It just kind of kept coming back each time. And then Brandy, that was the last song that I did for the project. When we’re working on that verse, when Neptune just fit in that verse, I was like…Neptune was the right way.
On the collab with Brandy, how was that for you to be able to work with somebody who has inspired you musically?
I’ve been listening to Brandy since like… I’m sure you’re probably a Brandy fan too.
Who isn’t a Brandy fan?
That’s what I’m saying… For like a Black person to be doing as much mainstream sh*t as she was doing, when I was a kid…I remember being at my babysitter’s house when I was like, you know, eight or nine or something, and she was just always on TV. She’s in the commercials. She’s doing some Barbie things. She would pop up on UPN when I’m watching something else, it’d be like, oh, a new episode of this. To me, that just felt like… I don’t want to sound kind of weird, but it didn’t feel like the world was white. It felt like everything was a little bit of this culture, a little bit of that culture and everybody could be mainstream together.
I think she’s appreciated enough but even if she is, I feel like I still want more and more recognition for how important the mainstream stuff that she did inside music and outside of music [was.] In R&B, I know I’m going off on a tangent, even like how ambient her vocals were, how different and how IDM inspired everything was with Darkchild…just some like you Euro-type sh*t sometimes with the beats and she’s doing layers and making things overlap. That just really inspired me because it felt like I didn’t have to just write to a formula, you know, like, put “sweet thang” in there somewhere in the lyrics, (laughter.) It felt like you can do what you want and it’s still R&B or it could be something else and you could have fun with it.
Never Say Never, [and] Full Moon just inspires me a lot, and I’ve never thought that I’d be able to actually do a song with her. It’s been something I’ve been talking about, like, just for the past five years, whenever I got a chance. It’s to the point where it’s like… I watch the video we did, and it’s like, I’m still like, that’s crazy. At some point, maybe I’ll snap fully into it. But I mean, she’s a beautiful person inside, and out. I’m honored that she heard the demo that I sent and saw or heard anything cool in anything special and wanted to bless it with her vocals.
When I listen to it, I get very much…it’s about finding peace through the chaos. Is that kind of the vibe you were going for?
I feel like it’s like half of that, and then half of like… you know, when you’re driving on the highway, and you’re like, Yo, I could just (laughs), I could just turn the steering wheel left, just go off the bridge, you know, just something crazy. It would take one little thing. I feel like usually, we feel that, and then we just say, Oh, I shouldn’t be thinking about that. I feel like in a relationship there’s so much volatility, obviously. It’s so tough to really know when you’re making the right choice. Whether you’re getting married or getting in a relationship, or breaking up. I feel like nobody really 100% knows unless there’s like some crazy nefarious sh*t going on inside the relationship, the perfect answer. I feel like I wanted to make something that could be either like, everything is crazy, but you and I are good like you said, or it’s like, everything is good, but would it be crazy if we pull the plug anyway? Moving on, like a weird, purgatory uncertainty type of thing.
Do you feel that you’re able to create more freely now without the label? Do you think that was holding you back at all, or do you think it’s just a thing now like, okay, now I’m on to the next?
I think it’s both. I feel like it’s been hard. It was hard for me in the label system because a lot of what I wanted to do didn’t fit neatly in a box, which I’m sure everybody says. I was kind of having fun operating within the box, but then I just kept feeling like the constraints. I kept feeling the pressure to like, do this for this strategic reason, or do this other thing for this other strategic reason. It just felt like it got to a point where I couldn’t tell what I wanted to do or not do anymore. So I’m glad that we could come with just a mutual understanding that it just wouldn’t work out. At least now, I don’t have those questions. Right? If I want to do it, then I can figure out how to do it. If I want to, like write it, I can just write it. And if I’m the only one that likes it, I can still put it out.
So you mentioned before on Twitter that you’re rooting for R&B and all of its forms. Are there artists you want to work with?
Yeah, definitely. There’s this girl named Erika de Casier, who is amazing. She does almost like Cassie vocals. But then if Cassie, instead of Ryan Leslie had like… how can I explain it? Her production is so specific, but it’s like if Cassie was like, “Yo, I need this person to produce my life project,” not the other way around. It’s almost like a [FKA] Twigs…but she’s dope. Cautious Clay is dope. I just like the fact the genre is so big so it doesn’t feel like everybody has to make the same type of song with the 808s and the same beat. People can do just, like, do whatever they want. I just think that’s inspiring. I feel like maybe we’ll probably have to talk at some point about what R&B means you know?
What does R&B mean?
I don’t know. To me… (laughs)… I don’t know. What does it mean to you?
I think R&B means peace and in different forms. You have the romantic, fall in love R&B, you have the more sensual, steamy, sexy R&B, you have the break-up R&B but even in that, there’s peace. Most songs always end with something peaceful, whether it’s a move on or I’m stuck here.
You’re right. Definitely. There’s like a calmness, an ease to everything. And see, I feel like you can interpret that and express that in so many different ways. Yeah, I don’t know. I feel like I just really were in a good place with it, you know?