VanGaalen has his eyes on the Prize

Sometimes, the qualities we dislike most about ourselves also happen to be the qualities that everyone else loves us for. This strange human phenomenon holds true for local musician and songwriter Chad VanGaalen, who has been recording his unique pop sounds in his bedroom for over a decade.

In 2005, VanGaalen was signed by Sub-Pop Records from the United States, which released his second album Skelliconnection. That album was recently nominated for the Polaris Music Prize–an award established in 2006 to honour the best full-length Canadian album based solely on creative quality­–and while VanGaalen is honoured, he is ironically fairly unimpressed with the album that attracted the prestigious nomination.

“Everyone works differently and I just kind of shot myself in the foot as far as how I work,” says VanGaalen. “I don’t necessary think Infiniheart is the best album in the world either, but what made it work and stand out was the fact that it was totally naïve and I wasn’t doing it for any other reason than to see if I could do it. Skelliconnection was more like, ‘I’m on Sub-Pop and they’re going to show this to the rest of the world now.’ I was just trying to get over feeling insane about having stuff criticized. Being an artist who is hyper-critical of other stuff, it was coming off of me onto the record in a bad way, so it was kind of like nervous energy but it wasn’t necessarily positive.”

While VanGaalen may have had higher expectations for his Sub-Pop debut, local fans obviously enjoy what Skelliconnection has to offer, as they flocked to VanGaalen’s Sled Island performance. VanGaalen says he enjoyed bringing his one-man band to Grace United Church, where the altar-turned-stage allowed him to create a storybook setting complete with a homemade elephant, as well as giant red and white cones spun by a couple of old record players. Overall, VanGaalen is impressed with the exposure Sled Island provided for Calgary’s up-and-coming artists, such as Jane Vain and the Dark Matter, who opened for Cat Power.

“Everyone gets down on Calgary, but when it comes down to it, it doesn’t really matter where you are and that festival kind of proved it,” says VanGaalen. “We are a city and we can do whatever we want. It’s just up to the people to embrace it instead of dissing it. But, everybody loves to hate it too–it’s like the evil step-dad or something. It’s a weird city, but every city is weird.”

Whether he is playing around with homemade synthesizers and drum machines, experimenting with orchestral music or working on a new psychedelic animation, VanGaalen seems quite content with his life in Calgary. Just a year after Skelliconnection was released he has already finished two new albums, but this time around, he is taking his time to perfect them before fans get to hear what has been going on inside his head. VanGaalen’s future discography will likely include more instrumental, symphonic pieces, as well as synthetic beats mastered by his homemade machines. He is also eagerly anticipating a new addition to his personal life, as his girlfriend is pregnant with a baby girl.

“The baby will give me an excuse to have somebody to show off to,” exclaims VanGaalen. “I just want her to take over the world with positive energy. I’ve been painting a lot of rainbows lately for her room. I just want to fill it up with colours so she can trip out all the time.”

Rainbows and newborns–these sound like the perfect ingredients to add to VanGaalen’s growing pastiche of imaginative noises and heartfelt lyrics that make his music a well-deserved Polaris Music Prize nominee.

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