Chad Vangaalen

Chad VanGaalen is a Jack of all trades. Besides releasing a steady stream of eclectic indie folk/rock that he writes, performs and produces himself, he’s also an accomplished illustrator and animator. The notorious recluse gave us a peek into his home studio in Calgary, dubbed Yoko Eno, where he makes weird and wonderful dreams come true.

Skype interview by Carly Blair. 
Photos shot by Jeff Thorburn in Chad’s family home in Calgary.

Everyone says you hardly leave the house. What’s your creative space like?

It’s full of pretty cool stuff. This is my synth zone over here. Through that door you go downstairs and there’s a skateboard ramp. If I’m going crazy I go and skate for a while, then I come back up here.

Wow, if you put a jacuzzi in, you might never leave!

Jacuzzis are weird, though. It can get pretty weird once you start adding jacuzzis.

Cool place! Are your daughters allowed in there, too?

Yeah. My oldest daughter and I are in a band called Crocodile Teeth and the Snugglers, and then I’ve got a band with my two-year-old. It’s a techno band, and we’re called Banana Bread. Banana Bread’s pretty fucking crazy, actually.

You actually trained as a lithographer. That sounds so formal, and a bit old-fashioned.

Well, my grades weren’t high enough to get into the drawing programme at the college I was going to, so they stuck me in the printmaking programme, which was fucking horrible. Not that I hate printmaking, but it’s super process-oriented… I just wasn’t into it.

Your work is often described as ‘dream-like’, but you’re also a pothead. Is this stuff really inspired by your dreams, or is it coming from a different place?

I smoke a lot of pot when I’m working on animations, mostly because it’s monotonous work, so I’ll get really distracted while I’m doing it. allows me to zone out on it. But it’s easy to criticise yourself and fuck stuff up by over-analysing things. It’s not like you’re censoring yourself in your dreams. Obviously, subconscious ideas are less filtered. So maybe they’re a little bit more honest. is just an easy way to find that in my own mind. Usually if I’m coming up with stuff when I’m sober and awake, it’s pretty bad. It just seems contrived.

You’ve said at one point that your earlier animations were like a screensaver, and that you wanted to start incorporating more of a linear element into your animations.

There’s an animated short I finished last year that has more of a story, and I’m working on a full-length animation right now that actually has dialogue, and I’m writing a screenplay for it. The morphological stuff was awesome… but, you know, it was for me. It felt like I was alienating my audience. Now I’m trying to figure out what I like about storytelling. I want something that people come away from with a story in their head instead of just this psychedelic stoner art. Which is cool, but I think it’s being overdone, and it definitely doesn’t take much effort. That isn’t bad, it’s just, I want something different now.

You’re ready for a new challenge. Is it something you’ll share with your kids too?

Oh yeah, they have tons of input. After I finish rendering stuff, I’ll show my oldest daughter, ’cause she can give pretty honest feedback. We watch pretty heavy cartoons, so they’ve got a good sense of what’s entertaining.

There’s a long line of psychedelic animations that both children and adults can appreciate, like Yellow Submarine or something.

Yeah, totally, stuff like that, René Laloux, all the Moebius stuff. Everybody can enjoy it. I’m pretty stoked about it. I haven’t been this excited about something in a long time.

So, things are going well. You’re having a good time being a father. Your creative pursuits are all going well. You seem like a balanced person. What are your dreams for what happens next?

It’s kind of crazy actually. I feel pretty fucking lucky. And I feel like no one’s really noticed either how lucky I am. I’m pretty stoked to be a dad right now. So I just hope I get to keep on doing this. I get to work from home so I get to spend a lot of time with my kids, which is pretty lucky. And my wife works from home as well, so we’ve got it pretty sweet right now. I wanna do a bunch of camping this summer, I don’t think that’s too ambitious… .

Hey, you know, everything is relative!

I’m gonna camp. I wanna throw some rocks in the river and have some fires. Pretty excited about that.

Chad VanGaalen plays on 09 March at Trix, Antwerp and on 10 March at De Kreun, Kortrijk. The shows are free for Subbacultcha! members. Other live dates: 11/03 FabrIQ Festival, Den Bosch and 12/03 Les Ateliers Claus, Brussels