Chilly Gonzales is a man with a plan. Lots of plans, actually. This month the Canadian producer/composer/pianist/rapper/prankster will add a few more slashes to his ever-expanding list of careers when he releases Ivory Tower, a semi-autobiographical, existential chess comedy about two battling brothers. Besides producing, co-writing and staring in the film, Gonzales also recorded an album of the same name with German DJ and producer Boys Noize (aka Alexander Ridha). Actually, the film, which features Gonzales’ friends and musical cohorts Tiga, Peaches and Feist along with his own parents, came about because Gonzales had some extra time on his hands while Boys Noize was finishing the album. That type of spontaneity is indicative of Gonzales’ constantly evolving musical identity, which has included Grammy-nominated production work (for his work on Feist’s album The Reminder), a series of rap albums, a collection of solo piano compositions, a hilarious “Piano Talk Show” at Joe’s Pub in New York and a world record for longest ever solo concert after he succeeded in playing the piano for 27 hours, 3 minutes and 44 seconds.
Speaking to CMJ from a hotel in Munich, Gonzales (a.k.a. Jason Beck) sounded like the funniest college professor you never had as he dropped nuggets of insight regarding music, authenticity and the dangers of growing a beard.
On Making Movies
Making a movie is a series of compromises, but on the level we did it on, it’s even more… and I love that. I feel like there’s not enough compromises that I have to make in music. Music is an easy job compared to making movies.
I was very, very conscious about making this as personal as possible. So just by forcing myself to say those words and look that way and hear those things my mother has said to me in real life and hearing my real mother say them on the film set, well, that puts you somewhere. And that’s where I can be an OK actor. It’s not even method acting. It’s cheating, essentially.
On Growing A Beard For A Movie
I was living in New York City, doing the Joe’s Pub stuff, [for] the month before we shot anything. It was the first time I ever performed with a beard in New York City. It was terrible. I look like a fucking Brooklyn hipster. “I’m actually growing this for a movie.” Now I’m in New York, growing a beard? What am I becoming?
When I meet someone whose eccentricities are so clearly on display from the first meeting, and I leave that first meeting saying, “Are they serious?” Well, then at that point, I’m fascinated and possibly in love with that person. Not necessarily a romantic way. That’s what charisma is. It’s really wondering if you’re in a dream or not. When you meet Bill Clinton you think he really felt it was important to spend those 30 seconds with you. When he leaves you’re left wondering if that was real. “Did I really believe that?” Essentially, “Was he serious?” Was Hitler serious? All I’m saying is that charisma is asking that question all the time because it puts you in a dream state. Of course you resist, and you wonder, “Can that be true?”
I feel for those fakers out there because I was one. And that’s why I hope this movie can show someone who goes through the process and learn[s] that, in the end, you need a balance. If you’re too extreme in trying to be some sort of artist or an entertainer, you’re going to end up as either a soulless product that occasionally finds its way into the pop charts or you can become some sort of incredible hermit trying to have it both ways by trying to have a career. I think you have to be somewhere in between. Real people who live in ivory towers, who actually don’t give a shit what people think, [them] I respect. Those are artists. But we don’t know their names.
You know I come from a nice background. I didn’t have a tough life. I don’t really believe that an artist has to suffer, but I think an artist has to be under pressure to do well. I don’t think the pressure has to be, necessarily, a negative one. I look for positive pressure. Stuff like, “OK, I’m going to break a world record.” Not like, “I’m heartbroken, and I want to be heartbroken because that’s when I’m going to write a good song.”
The Feist album, believe it or not, was all a complete lark… A lot of these things start as a lark. Making a movie started pretty much as a lark, too. Being a rapper started as a lark. I think I have to use the word “lark” soon in a song or something.