Since his first album in 2000, Chilly Gonzales has been busy taking the rap genre to places it never previously thought to travel. He doesn’t look like a conventional rapper. He doesn’t sound like a conventional rapper. He doesn’t even rap like a conventional rapper. He also happens to be one of the world’s best piano players. And he can spin a good yarn when he puts his mind to it as well.
In 2004 he released ‘Solo Piano’, an album of original compositions, which brought his virtuoso piano skills to the fore. So much so that his more recent works have also featured plenty of awesome piano moves, in amongst the beats, raps and occasional singing. However, later this month he returns to instrumental work with the follow-up to ‘Solo Piano’, the aptly-titled ‘Solo Piano II’, via Gentle threat on 27 Aug.
With so much going on – not to mention the chess-themed movie he made with Tiga and Peaches to complement his 2010 record ‘Ivory Tower’ – you can probably imagine that you get something rather special when all of this is transformed into a live show. At this year’s Edinburgh Fringe he’ll do just that, twice, promising a mix of chat and music with his ‘piano talk show’. And you can catch him at The Barbican in London on 20 Oct, where, accompanied by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, he’ll be performing music from his ‘The Unspeakable Chilly Gonzales’ and ‘Solo Piano II’ albums, plus the world premiere of his Piano Concerto.
A head of all of that, CMU’s Chris Cooke caught up with him in Edinburgh to find out more.
CC: Welcome to Edinburgh! These are your first shows as part of the Edinburgh Fringe, what have you got planned?
CG: I don’t know yet! But I will take advantage of the Anglophone audience to speak freely and quickly. And as a virtuoso who happens to entertain, I hope to strike a contrast with the various fire-eating outcasts that will be lurking at every corner.
CC: The Edinburgh shows precede the UK release of ‘Solo Piano II’. Eight years after the first piano album, why have you decided to do a second edition now?
CG: I felt I had something to say that was best said on just the piano. I like the 18th Century German idea that musical emotions are best expressed without words, and so facing down the piano was a nice change from the very word-heavy rap album that preceded it [last year's 'The Unspeakable Chilly Gonzales'].
CC: How does creating a ‘Solo Piano’ record compare to making a record like ‘Ivory Tower’ or ‘The Unspeakable’?
CG: Those other albums are constructed in pieces, on different days, and with other people – Boys Noize’s production in the case of ‘Ivory Tower’, and my brother’s orchestrations in the case of ‘The Unspeakable’ A piano album is done alone and, most importantly, each song happened in the time it took you to listen to it, no more, no less. So it’s a one-shot one-time event when a song is “got” or “gotten” for good.
CC: The piano was much more obvious on your recent rap releases than on your earlier albums. Did ‘Solo Piano’ help you bring that part of your music forward?
CG: Yes definitely! ‘Solo Piano 1′ allowed me to dare to dream that I could be a man of my time and put the piano front and centre. Those subsequent albums were exactly me trying to do that…and when Drake sampled a piece of ‘Solo Piano 1′ [on the 'So Far Gone' mixtape] I knew it was slowly starting to take.
CC: Do you ever think of a really good rap while writing a ‘Solo Piano’ piece?
CG: These days, not so much. I suppose I got that out of my system on the last album. For now.
CC: For the totally uninitiated… tell us what you can expect from a Chilly Gonzales show.
CG: Don’t make me do that! Isn’t that the journalist’s job anyway? Here I’ll give you the first two words “entertainment indeed…”
CC: It’s your first time at the Fringe. Have you any plans to see other shows while you are in town?
CG: Hmmmmmmmmm you’re assuming I plan ahead at all.
CC: ‘Ivory Tower’ was a great film. Have you any ambitions to make another, or have you satisfied your desire to act?
CG: Thank you! I have a few ideas kicking around, but that was a character I absolutely had to play – me as a purist, as the pure enemy of Chilly Gonzales – but in the new movie, I got to have him see the light and compromise, so to speak.
CC: Before seeing the film, I never quite realised what a comedy genius Tiga is. Can’t someone in the world of TV get round to creating a sitcom around him?
CG: Please make that happen, if you have any juice at all! The world will be grateful.
CMU: Talking of collaborators, you’ve worked with lots of people over the years, both on your own records and as a producer for other people’s projects. Are there any artists you’d like to work with in the future?
CG: I’ve been lucky to have most of my close collaborations develop pretty naturally, from Peaches to Feist, and Tiga to Boys Noize. With friends like these, who needs clients? The truth is I’m not much of a producer – better to call me in for some piano magic and call it a day. Like Drake did.
CC: Finally, which artist would you most like to play chess with?
CG: I’m so bad it! I would have been happy to beat Tiga once! He’s actually pretty good at it.