Chilly Gonzales interview: “London has to step up.”

The Canadian pianist and rapper on his Guinness world record, piano battles and jealousy.

Chilly Gonzales is a pianist and rapper who was instrumental in the Electroclash wars of 2001 and in recent years returned to his cabaret piano syle. His notable achievements include:

  • Beating the world record for continual solo perfomance, with a time of 27 hours, 3 minutes and 44 seconds.
  • Collaborating with Jane Birkin, Peaches and Feist.
  • A successful move from Canada (playing mainly alt-rock) to Berlin (playing mainly electro-rap in the cabaret style) in the early years of the decade.
  • Managing to make people who normally like loud electro music love piano recitals, such as a the series that took place at London’s La Pigale club in 2009.
  • Producing an album as moving as ‘Solo Piano’, as well as boasting about his “extra testicle” on Take Me To Braodway
  • Being genuinely funny, genuinely interesting and genuinely ‘good to listen to’ for nearly 15 years.
  • Describing himself as a “Toilet with no seat, flushing down tradition” on his new record, ‘I Am Europe’, out on Boys Noize records on the 2 August 2010.

Here is an interview he gave us a few weeks ago.

Why did you retire in 2004?

It was a fun part to play – the retiring entertainer. I imagined I’d been doing it for 40 years, not 4. In Berlin we have this ritual where you roast someone. When you retire all your friends get together and make really mean speeches, lots of gentle insults. I set up a roast. I brought Peaches, Mocky, Feist – my crew from that time. There was a massive picture of me. We all sat around the table and they gave me a roasting. I then fled and moved to Paris. A new place to take advantage of – a clean break! Oh and I’m still retired.

You’re playing Field Day. What can we expect?

Maybe ask yourself this – can you all handle the Gonze?

Have you got anyone playing with you?

Yes! An army of drummers! Well, two actually.

Has anyone broken your Guinness World Record yet (for the longest, constant piano recital in 2009)?

People have played longer than me but no one broke the record. Two have played longer than 27 hours but they didn’t respect the specific guidelines that Guinness set! You basically have to jump through hoops. It’s a serious thing and it’s expensive. Beyond just playing there’s a whole other rigmarole. People write to me and they’re like ‘Oh Gonzales, I live in Minneapolis and this guy just played for 46 hours in a shopping mall’. He might have the record for playing 46 hours but I have the Guinness world record! Until someone gets the Guinness World record, I consider my record unbroken. I got the Guinness. I have a plaque and I’m in the book. Go to a bookstore, pick up the book – I’m in it!

You can’t put a price on that.

Well you can actually – about €6,000, to bring over the judge from London. First class on the Eurostar!

How do you prepare for such an event?

I did so much promo beforehand and the media reaction was so positive that I just spent all the time basking in the glow.

We saw you recently at your run of ‘Gonzo’s Piano Talk Shows’ at The Pigalle Club. How did you choose your guests, like Jarvis Cocker, cocknbullkid?

How do I decide whom to let into the ‘Gonzales Cool Club’? I have to be jealous of them. That’s the key. The only reason. They have something that I wish I had and know I can’t have The only way I can get close to it is to work with them. Jarvis Cocker, to see how he comes up with the lyrics, it drives me insane with jealousy but in a really positive way. I want to be close to it but I realise I can’t do it – that’s true jealousy. Another piano player – not jealous. We do the same thing. Jarvis Cocker – lyrical genius.

You challenged Jools Holland during your Pigalle run to a piano-off. Did he ever get back to you?

No response. You can’t force someone to pay attention to you. I’ll just wait for an opportunity. Like being a roadie on his show…

After challenging (and beating) Andrew WK to a piano-off last year – who do you want to take on next?

I’m battling an amazing guy called Helge Schneider. He’s this 50-year-old German underground legend. He’s a fantastic musician and entertainer. Normally when I battle, my opponent is one or the other. My first battle was against a French composer who wasn’t much of a showman. Advantage to Gonzales. [Andrew] WK, love him, but musically he’s a little less proficient at piano playing but am amazing entertainer. That’s why I’ve won both my battles.

Why did you decide to work with Boys Noize who’s known for his noisy electro / techno when the last thing you put out was a solo piano piece?

Because…I’m…j-j-j-e-a-l-o-u-s!

What’s your new album like? How is it different from your previous two?

One’s an album with only piano – ‘Solo Piano’. The second is an album with lots of singing and acoustic arrangement, reminiscent of old timey times, of yesteryear. The new one, someone else has decided all the superficial stylistic information: what goes into an album. What I’m not good at. I have less patience for worrying about what style of music is perceived as cool or sincere. I’ve had problems in the past. When I’ve tried to do something that has more of the real me in it, people think I’m joking – more than usual. When I do something like ‘Solo Piano’, which for me was kind of a joke, people are all like [adopts French twang] ‘Ah, he’s showing us his true essence’. I grew up listening to ‘80s radio pop songs, the Bee Gees – that’s my real musical DNA. Later on I got into classical music. The idea of ‘Solo Piano’ was, ‘I’m in Paris, I should really write a romantic piano album’, hahahaha. That was the joke. ‘Soft Power’ was meant to be sincere, which people took as a joke. I’m so confused. The new album – Boys Noize has made the decisions. He knows the codes. He knows why it offended people that I put a sax solo in a song. Everyone loves Boys Noize because he puts all this BRRRRBBBRRR in his music. I’ll write the music but he made the decisions. He’s a genius.

Are you one of the hardest working men in music?

There are people that hustle harder than me and there are Jews that work harder than me.

We hear you’ve currently moved to our lovely shores. What made you take the leap from Berlin to London?

You guys are on probation. I’m testing you out. London has to step up.

Has anyone beaten you at on-line chess yet?

I don’t know yet. I delegate a lot of responsibilities at Gonzo Inc so I’m not sure.

Chilly will play FIeld Day on the 31 July, in Victoria Park, London. BNR will release I Am Europe on the 2 August 2010.

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