At Coachella, the R&B Singer Gallant Breaks Out

“I’m just a nobody artist,” said 24-year-old rising singer-songwriter Christopher Gallant, known simply as Gallant. “I don’t even know how I would possibly come close.”

It was late Friday morning – day one of the second weekend of Coachella, where Gallant, R&B’s favorite newcomer, was making his debut and would later perform at the Mojave Tent. It was also the day following Prince’s passing, and the “Weight In Gold” singer, donning a white version of his tour merchandise T-shirt, ripped jeans and cargo jacket, was reacting to the messages he was receiving from fans inquiring about a possible Prince tribute.

“There is absolutely nothing that an amateur like me could EVER do that would even come close to tribute enough,” he had replied to a tweet. Musical comparisons are inevitable, and Gallant, with his piercing falsetto, has been compared to the legend since Zebra, the highly-praised EP he self-released in 2014.

So it came as a surprise when Gallant took the stage to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” intro – "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life" – and performed not one but two tributes, first with recent collaborator Jhené Aiko, who he brought out to cover Prince’s "Diamonds and Pearls" (as well as their duet “Skipping Stones”) and later with Sufjan Stevens, who he joined at the Outdoor Theater stage for “Purple Rain.”

But before all of that, Gallant was another inconspicuous face, as he sipped coffee, awaiting his lunch – salmon and risotto – inside the Grove Artisan Kitchen at Miramonte Resort & Spa in Indian Wells, CA, about nine miles from festival grounds.

“It wasn’t really a musical household,” he said of his childhood in Columbia, Maryland. “None of my parents are in music, but they did have '90s R&B around, the cliché Motown stuff.”

A quiet kid, Gallant began writing in middle school. “I don’t really put myself out there or talk about my feelings. I write alone, and I make music with usually one or maybe two people that I genuinely have a connection with, that are genuinely my homies.”

He moved to New York City to study music anthropology and sociology at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where he graduated at 20 – but the city wasn’t for him, and he soon relocated to Los Angeles.

“New York City is basically an ant farm, and you’re an ant. It’s fun, but it didn’t feel like I had any control. The second I landed in LA I thought, ‘wow, this feels like cheating in life.’ I didn’t know you could live somewhere that actually feeds your mental health and gives you the tools to be who you are. I’m living in a way that’s closer to my default.”

While Zebra was mostly recorded in NYC, his official debut which released earlier this month, Ology, is an LA record through and through.

“I did a lot of it either in a studio in Culver City or in my bedroom, using the same mics that I did on the EP,” he said. “I think the only difference was the approach. I really wanted to go even further with the writing. I stopped hiding behind all this reverb and went more to the forefront. I was kind of a meta symbol of what I was exploring lyrically, to just be as vulnerable as possible.”

Following its release, Gallant has continued to garner notable fans, including Seal. After meeting through a mutual friend and connecting, the two recorded a cover of “Weight In Gold” and performed the song together during Gallant’s first weekend set, where Seal made a surprise appearance.

“It was surreal,” he said, reflecting on the experience. “Seal is one of my heroes. It’s just crazy to me that he even cares. It definitely doesn’t seem like it’s connected to reality.”

After Coachella, Gallant will be embarking on a North American tour, opening for ZHU, who, like him, is signed to the Mind of a Genius label. The tour kicks off today in Oakland, CA.

“I want to evolve,” he said of his future goals. “I want to learn more about myself, open up more to other people. It motivates me to dig deep and write things that make me uncomfortable and share it, put it all on the table and be as open as possible.”

He paused.

“Honestly, it’s all surreal. Even right now, I’m barely here. I’m excited, I’m humbled.”