At first glance, Chris Garneau’s latest album Yours seems to be romantic and heartbreaking and deeply personal in nature. It’s not to say that it isn’t personal. Garneau’s golden threads of sound siren into the personal as a more vast concept: his environment, in travel, whether literally or in memory. The world at large is intensely intimate for Garneau, whose unique capacity to process the bittersweet to the utterly tragic is awe inspiring.
“I’m better when I’m hiding in the quiet background.”
The artist’s fourth full length after a moderate hiatus, Yours sweeps and swells in the narrow and wide of interconnected personal and political. Shifting in epic altitudes of emotions, it is at times a searching nightmare and others a tender-hearted transcendence. Above the lushness of the orchestration, the pangs of loss and echoes of retrospection are pristinely and painfully present. But upon closer listen, there is a perplexing dissonance with the subjects at hand… a future past looms through. And in a way these songs are the process of leaning towards our fate.
His hither and thither musical journey has brought a Parisian education in baroque, Boston-born blues, further propelled by Absolutely Kosher per label mates Xiu Xiu’s suggestion, extensive tours through Asia, the quietness of farm life. Returning to recording, and with astute collaborations like the paramount “Torpedo” with Shannon Funchess of Light Asylum, Chris Garneau talks to WUSSY of returning to recording, the state of humanity, asylum from the daily grind and existential consciousness.
The orchestration on this album is more full and lush than previous releases. At what level was your involvement with the arrangement and collaborations for this particular set of recordings?
We are three producers on this album and we all had equal ground in the studio production process. I wrote all the initial songs and words, but of course once you start tracking in the studio, certain instrumentation can really begin to rewrite songs. We made the record in four waves over a year. There was a two week period of pre-production spent in the countryside north of Lyon (where we made the record), and it was here that we began to string tracks together, decide the general tone and timbres, and create a sonic palette we would use to develop the material once in the studio.
All three of us are coming from different worlds musically speaking. Maxime Vavasseur’s solo project Witxes is an almost entirely instrumental, experimental and immersive soundscape. I totally fell in love with it several years ago and it is what led me to initially work with him (mostly for live performance) starting in 2013. Benoit Bel (who owns and operates Mikrokosm Studio) had trained at Greenhouse Studios in Reykjavik and engineered sessions for Bjork, Bonnie Prince Billy, and the like before opening his studio in Lyon in 2010. Ben has a really beautiful ability of capturing and organizing live and recorded sound (and the live room at Mikro is incredibly peaceful, so much that I was able to finish some writing in there).
The three of us coming from different corners of the world is really what made this album so exciting for me. For sure there were challenging days - it’s hard to get three people to fully agree on every aspect of every track - but at the end of the day, we got there and ultimately I think everyone is truly happy with the fully realized project.
We are curious about the narrative and story behind “Yours”.
First and foremost, this song offers a dying world to a former lover. It’s also a song about the end of love. All of the spoken word is very literal narrative describing the last year with my first lover; there are no embellishments here. The chorus, which borrows words from Autobiography of Red from Anne Carson (with her permission), is the offering. I feel like there are two worlds you can live in here. Some are better at the public place where people can see you. I’m better when I’m hiding in the quiet background.
What inspired you to return to music after a few years break?
I started to faze out of music by the end of 2014 after touring my last record Winter Games for a good year. I was getting really paranoid about traveling all the time. I had moved out of Brooklyn to Upstate New York in 2011 and was feeling less and less like being part of the industry. The sociopolitical climate was starting to get really weird everywhere and obsessing over climate change/disaster kept me home.
I started living on a farm and spending most of my days outside. I still worked on music a bit but that was really for myself. I was making was mostly instrumental pieces, some of which became scores for dance works, but other than that I really didn’t write much for a couple years. After a while I guess I wanted to jump back in, I don’t know exactly why. I started to feel a bit cornered in daily routine, so I started writing the new album, then we all agreed to start making it in October 2016.
I went to France for some pre-production work and we made some demos. Then I moved to Los Angeles. Then trump was elected. Like many of us I was obviously very angry, scared, sad about what was happening. But the truth is I had already felt such deep despair for so long that this didn’t really change my frame of mind but more the urgency with which I needed to confront it. I guess I wanted to speak up and not just hide away in my little bubble in the forest.
Do you have any concerns regarding music in the modern era of streaming?
Most artists make such a small amount of money these days, and record sales will never come close to what they were in before the digital retail and streaming age. It’s just not ever going to be the same again and it’s unrealistic to think that it would ever change. Unfortunately, the only way for artists to make an income now is from licensing to television and film— and because of this dire scenario, the focus for so many of us is just waiting for those commercials. It’s sad. We don’t even really make money touring either unless it’s higher paying festivals. The reality of trying to be a full time recording artist right now is grim to say the least.
Every three months I have to check in and ask myself if I can really do this, it’s a constant struggle. Everyone who works in the industry seems to make money except the artists. I don’t know how it will improve or if it ever will. It’s not just about the era of streaming - it’s the entire system around how people put music out into the world. You have to either be fully immersed in the industry with all its bullshit or do something else entirely. The middle place, a place I’ve tried to exist for a while, is imbalanced, unstable, and not even close to financial reward based on the time I work. Who knows what will happen but I don’t see it ending well.
“Anything that’s blatantly straight or heteronormative is a directly sickening turn off for me..”
How do you feel you connect or disassociate to indie queer currents in music? Do you feel that you are part of a musical queer community?
Anything that’s blatantly straight or heteronormative is a directly sickening turn off for me, in music, film, art, television, food, objects, towns, jobs… like literally anything. I think that as people are getting more and more in touch with their true selves and shedding old skin, old ways of thinking and feeling - I’ve had to do some work too, we don’t always just wake up with it - it’s creating a new social climate within music, art, etc. It’s kind of like you just get it or you don’t.
And the “community” (whatever or wherever that is) for me, it feels global. It’s more of an evolution of mind and soul. I really believe the idea that the newest form of evolution is a social one. There has been really strong queer community in a very local and tangible sense around me where I have lived on both coasts. Sometimes it’s less apparent in places in Europe and Asia but it’s still there, just harder to break into sometimes. But community has always been a funny word to me. I’ve never felt a part of something. A lot of people seem to. I don’t think I ever really will, even if I have a lot of friends and people I can trust in places all over the world. The only thing I really feel a part of is the water and trees.
You've mentioned the dark and apocalyptic nature of humanity's abuse of our world on this album. How have you struggled and even attempted to accept and move forward in our current political and environmental climate?
I had a difficult time rejecting or avoiding the realities of climate change and environmental destruction since over a decade ago. In 2011, I left New York City and moved to a farm upstate. I learned basic animal husbandry and to grow food, acclimated and quickly fell in love with the rural and mountainous region where I still live now. To a certain degree these practices and this lifestyle has allowed me to feel slight relief in terms of my general anxiety. But my personal safety and ability to potentially rely on less comes with great privilege, and it does little to nothing for the greater good — about as much as most wealthy white people around me think they’re saving the world by recycling, turning out a light, or eating a really wonderfully cared for chicken.
That being said, I don’t really know how else to escape or alleviate any of the persistent paranoia and struggle facing these realities. Where I live there is strong sense of community, food and farm organizations, more thought and physical energy being put into teaching and demonstrating useful tools and practices for dealing with the inevitable.
As far as acceptance: I spend as much time as possible outside. I’m sure this sounds like a lot of hippy dippy shit to some people but I’m honestly the happiest when I’m swimming under waterfalls, hiking and cycling through the river valley where I live in the fresh air, and keeping my eyes focused on the beauty of nature that surrounds us. I have totally given myself over; I don’t know what else to do or how to fight this. The last song on my album is called “No Universe”. It’s basically about the inevitable doom that’s coming at us. I’m okay with there being no humans left here. I think the pain and suffering on this planet outweighs the good. The planet will survive and beauty will return with or without humans. This track is nine minutes long and despite the lyrical narrative here, the rest of the track goes into a sonic vastness which I wrote and recorded to truly celebrate Earth. It might be a dirge for humanity but it’s an honoring of our planet and solar system.
Sunni Johnson is a writer, zinester, and musician based in Atlanta, GA.