As the cliché goes, music is the soundtrack of our lives. But how does that play out for musicians, who put everything they have into actually creating the music we all know and love? In this series, CBC Music speaks with influential musicians and asks them to pick just five songs they worked on that changed their lives completely. A soundtrack to their professional life, as written by them.
To kickstart this series, who better than the inimitable piano player, composer and pop impresario Chilly Gonzales? Born Jason Beck, the Canadian musician turned Grammy-nominated European expat started his music career in the ’90s and has written and collaborated with a wide range of musicians, such as Feist, Jamie Lidell, Peaches, Buck 65, Drake and Daft Punk, to name just a few. That’s on top of his solo career, which includes the critically acclaimed Solo Piano series (I and II) as well as his most recent chamber music album, Chambers.
Below, the composer shares with us five songs that changed his life, and because this is all part of a Chilly Gonzales takeover on CBC Music, he’s kept it Canadian.
‘From Time,’ Drake
I recorded the piano for this at home in Cologne, Germany. At the time I was sending dozens of ideas to the Drake camp, I would just record an idea when I had a few minutes and hope for the best when I emailed a bunch of chord progressions and riffs. If you listen in headphones you might hear my bath running in the background. A friend in the States wrote me out of the blue to say he had recognized my piano stylings before he could confirm it on the liner notes. This was a great moment for me, to think that I could be identified musically from only a handful of chords.
‘Limit to Your Love,’ Feist
This song was the result of forced improvising with Feist in Berlin in the winter of 2006. Feist had written the bulk of her Reminder album, but to look for late-breaking ideas, we just put ourselves at the piano and I would play a chord, and she would open up her diary/lyric book to a random page and we'd just play as if a song already existed. This kind of improvising game tends to bring out the essential and this song practically emerged in the form you hear it today over the course of a minute or two.
‘Love Don't Dance Here Anymore,’ Tiga
Tiga contacted me out of the blue in 2009 on a hunch. He told me later he just liked my attitude, and wanted to see how far he could push himself musically. In the world of dance music, there is little room for the kind of traditional musical development I learned in school. If there is too much "music," the crowd won't dance. So, a delicate balance had to be struck. On this song, Tiga allowed himself the space to croon a two-minute intro with no beats at all. A brave moment for a crowd-pleasing DJ. One of the most underrated vocalists in Canada.
‘Devils Eyes (piano version),’ Buck 65
Buck 65's Parisian phase included reaching out to another Canadian in his Parisian phase. Over a single day in the studio, I played drums, piano, vibraphone and clapped my hands on this album, A Secret House Against the World. The highlight is this multi-piano version of "Devil's Eyes." I feel like his pre-internet gem never really got the shine it deserved. In any case, Buck 65's work ethic and persona were an inspiration to all budding Canadian would-be rappers, myself included.
Socalled is a national treasure-in-waiting. I met him when he was a teenager, and we reconnected in Paris around 2004. He has shown me more actually usable harmonic tricks and piano gimmicks than anyone else I can remember. He has a relentless curiosity for all things creative: he can play, compose, draw, do magic tricks, and teach his dog to sing. This song was put together in such a haphazard way I wasn't even sure how he could put it all together, but he did. If music is organized sound, he may be the exception that proves the rule.
Follow Jesse Kinos-Goodin on Twitter: @JesseKG