Chris Garneau photographed by Josh K. in New York City. (Click to enlarge.)
Not long ago Josh and I sat down with
twenty-four-year-old singer and songwriter Chris Garneau to
talk about his debut album, Music for Tourists. The indie record, with
Garneau's softly sung vocals and heartrending lyrics, has garnered
praise from mainstream media including The Advocate and National Public Radio, with word also spreading like wildfire
throughout the blogosphere. Originally from Boston, and raised for a
few years in Paris during his childhood, Garneau has settled into the
Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, where he's at work on a
follow-up album and preparing for a nationwide tour that begins on May
How did your debut album, "Music For Tourists," come about?
Duncan Sheik produced it. I was in the first workshops of Spring Awakening [for which Duncan wrote the music] when it was being written. I was 16 when they first started it. I did numerous productions of it with the same team that is still working on it now. They were like, "Just sing this song, and that song, but don't say a word." I was so awkward and I hated acting. Anyway, that's how I met Duncan. I did these silly recordings in high school at a studio and I gave them to Duncan, and he said, "I'm going to produce your record some day." When I moved back to New York five years ago, we started working on it at his studio. It was a long process. He's a really busy guy, so there was a lot of down time. We started when I was about 21, three years ago.
Originally it was going to be really big and really produced, but the longer the process went on, the more eager I was to complete it, and we didn't really have any money going into it. We were recording everything on our own time, and he was engineering it at the studio in Tribeca. I had the studio to myself for a month, so I would just go in and set up, which I had no idea how to do. I was recording by myself. Four of the songs are just one take.
Do you read your reviews?
I do. I read all of them. I should probably stop. [laughter] It's really hard in the beginning to not do that. I don't know who would do that with their first album, to just be like, "I don't read them." I have to remember half the time that there are people writing to make a point, or to have people just read their reviews. There are writers who sometimes write really drastic reviews, really good or really bad, so it sticks out and people notice it. I understand that that's a factor. I also try and consider that there are writers who truly care about music and really know music, probably a lot more than I know, and there are things I can learn from some reviews. It's a first record, and I was young when I wrote the songs. I don't expect everyone to love it.
Absolutely Kosher [the record company] asked me "How do you want to deal with press and publicity for being gay? Do you want it to be not mentioned at all, do you want to be out if people ask, do you want to be really forthright?" At that point I wasn't exactly sure. My feeling then was that I didn't want to be the gay piano-playing "fagitor" from Williamsburg who has a new album, "Music for Tourists." If anybody asks, or if gay press wants to run this feature or that, I thought, "Let's do it." I don't feel terribly political. I'm making music and I happen to be gay, and that's what's happening. If you want to hear about it, fine, and if you don't, that's fine, too.
So everybody's going to want to know: Are you single?
Why does everybody ask me that? That's so weird. [laughing, looking embarrassed] My feeling would be like, if I saw someone cute in a magazine or wherever, I wouldn't even care if they were single or not. I'd just be like, "How can I interfere? Who are they in a relationship with, and how can I fuck it up?" [laughter, then a pause] I am dating someone right now. He's a photographer. He just gave me a Polaroid camera -- he mainly does Polaroids -- and he's teaching me how to use it. It has a real lens so you can focus. It's a for real camera, not just a twenty dollar one you can get at a pharmacy.
Tell us about the couple years you spent growing up just outside of Paris.
I was eight when we moved. It was great. I went to an international school, which was mainly in French. My brother went also, however he didn't speak any French, so his time was miserable. And he was kind of pubescent, twelve or thirteen, so it was just the worst timing ever. My sister was in high school and she said, "I'm not going." For a year she stayed in Massachusetts with friends. She did her senior year in France at an American school and had the best year of her life and wished she had come earlier. I had the most fun of anyone, I think, because I was eight and at that age nothing really matters.
Josh K: Oh, let's ask some of the Inside the Actor's Studio questions!
Josh H: [to JK] Really? Um, okay. [to Chris] What profession would you like to attempt other than your own?
I'd probably be working with animals, I think. If things really started to not work, or if I have more time, I'd definitely want to work with animals. They're the things that I love the most besides music.
What's your favorite word?
Uh . . . I've been saying "douche bag" a lot. [laughter all around]
What's a sound that you love?
Do you know when you're sitting -- this is stupid -- you know when you're sitting at a piano and you have your foot on the pedal and you hear the whoosh, the damper coming off the strings? It's beautiful. I love that. Fiona [Apple] always has that sound in her recordings. You can hear the pedal letting off, and [her producer] leaves it in. It's so cool. It sounds like you're doing something in backward motion. It's creepy and it's beautiful and it's a really nice sound.
What is a sound that you hate?
You know when you're on the subway and you get to the end of the line and 30 seconds later the train makes a noise because it's at the end of the line? It's always at the 8th Avenue on the L. It's this letting out of air and it's so awful. It makes me so mad. I always forget that it's going to happen and it's super loud. It hurts your eardrums. The 6 train at Union Square, for some reason, it's so bad.
What's your favorite curse word?
I use all of them so frequently. I really got a potty mouth. I don't really have a favorite one. I guess I say "motherfucker" a lot. Sometimes kind of slowly. [laughter] I don't have any weird ones. I wish I had a really quirky one.
What's a week like now in the life of Chris Garneau?
A few days I work with my bandmate, Saul, who's also my roommate, whether it's rehearsing or writing or recording. We're still working on the new record, and we have a lot of work to do. I talk to people that are helping me, publicists or bookers or the label. My manager and I have been working with each other since December, so we're trying to get things going. I'm trying to write a lot, too, right now. I've been writing a lot of songs in the last few months. I play with my cats a lot. They're really funny, cute and sweet. They're really distracting. And [I'm] usually hanging out with my boyfriend at night and watching movies, making dinner.
How's the second album coming?
It's pretty much all tracked. There are a lot of big vocals. There's a big choir on one song. There are a lot of big string arrangements, percussion, and horn arrangements. There are a lot of things taken from "Tourists" stylistically, but almost simplified in a way. It's just smarter. It's better. I'm older.
The Chris Garneau Video Gallery
Josh and I are hooked on Chris's song "We Don't Try."
Chris on shooting the video in Paris: "We were there maybe an hour and did five or six songs. They didn't inform the bar, but they had picked out the place and then told them right before I started playing. Everyone was pretty quiet for the first two takes, but then it was seven o'clock and it got busy, but we kept going. It was a little weird for me for sure -- I'd never done anything like that before. It ended up just being fun."
Chris on the making of his first official music video: "Everyone in it is an actor, with the exception of a few of the drag queens who are actually prostitutes from in a diner in the neighborhood. They brought me out to Los Angeles, I showed up the set, and they rented out the diner for 12 or 18 hours and had a whole crew. They had costume, makeup, set crew, film crew, everybody. It was the real thing. They spent about twenty grand on it, which is a small budget, but big for an indie video. They played the song over and over and over so I'm sure anybody on the set can't listen to the song anymore. We were there from 3 p.m. to 5 a.m., so we were really tired afterward, but it was a lot of fun."