Prelude with Chilly Gonzales

In the world of Chilly Gonzales, there is no room for solemnity and bliss. In Chilly Gonzales’s universe, there are pink mane unicorns on a blue background that he wears on his t-shirt.

Composer of “Within” (Daft Punk), he holds the record for the longest concert in history since 2009. Critics often compare him to Erik Satie, I don’t compare him to anyone.

Chilly Gonzales shows intelligence with eccentricity: a way to get closer to his audience when he comes on stage with his dressing gown and slippers on, to let them come into their privacy. His compositions are played on the piano with happiness and humor; they are universal although difficult.

What relationship do you have with the piano? When did you first meet him and how has that relationship evolved? Has he become a friend, sometimes an enemy? Do you argue with him?

I met the piano when I was very young, thanks to my Hungarian grandfather. The latter had an extremely respectful attitude towards the instrument. So I was a mimic at the start. Then one day, I realized that in order to incorporate a creative dimension into this relationship, I needed to disrespect it every now and then and the object descended from its pedestal where my Grandfather had placed it. Idolizing an artist, where the relationship becomes almost religious, in my opinion, prevents you from finding your own voice; I don’t believe there are living gods of music. I accept that an artist whose music I enjoy can compose a song that I don’t like.
It’s a bit the same with the piano: I accept that there are days when things go wrong with him. I obviously prefer it when it goes well but I won’t say that something sacred is going on. Rather, my relationship is defined in the following terms: I get up in the morning and exercise my routine. Morning mood will have an impact on the instrument as I play every morning.
For the past three years or so, I have always started out with an hour of reading new music to improve my reading ability. And then, if I’m not on tour, I’m going to continue composing for an hour or two or rehearsing songs. At times like this, I don’t expect anything magical, nor do I expect to be inspired every time. You have to have a long-term vision: by playing each morning, it is only in retrospect that you realize which idea was the right one.

Are you and the piano inseparable then?

Yes, I play every day. When I am on tour, I try to play at least an hour to an hour and a half with the concert hall instrument. But sometimes I can’t do it. This morning, for example, I woke up in Lucerne, I jumped on the train to come here and I have to leave for Paris afterward. So today is a day when I haven’t had a chance to touch a piano and I can feel it. I’m more irritable … And despite the fatigue, I think I would feel better if I had had the opportunity to do so. 

This instrument, which he knows by heart and with which he has an open relationship, is, contrary to what we (his audience) might think, a Bechstein upright piano. Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner were loyal to the Bechstein grand piano, as well as Claude Debussy. But Chilly preferred an upright piano to him because he does not consider himself a concertist. He sees himself as an “underdog” he tells me. Getting an orchestral sound with an upright piano is no easy task: he admits to enjoying the challenge since he has played more than 27 hours in concert among others.

The pressure I am under when I leave at a disadvantage allows me to push myself, learn, and find intuitive solutions. Often the competitive side is denied by musicians. For me, it is an integral part of my approach.

On October 25, you will be at Victoria Hall in Geneva for the second time, but this time with the Kaiser Quartett. How would you introduce Chambers to someone who doesn’t listen to classical music, whose chamber music means nothing and who listens to Busta Rhymes most often?

Chambers is pop music composed with a string quartet and a piano. This instrumental music is a translation of my tastes in modern music – rap, electro, pop – in another form of older music, dear to Brahms. It is an invitation to take part in an experiment, a little conceptual, and to believe that the music can be translated. Some will see it as pop, others who have classical training there will see a kind of miniature from the Romantic era. These miniatures are often snubbed by the great masters of classical music: too light, they prefer monumental works like symphonies, operas, or concertos. , they are important: I am thinking of the lyrics without the words of Mendelssohn on the piano, and the cello duets of Offenbach, which can be considered as furniture music. But I believe in this kind of music, just as I believe in passive listening and active. Sometimes I have passive listening when doing the dishes, and it seems legitimate to me to enjoy good furniture music. My albums and included “Chambers” are made for both types of listening.
That’s my pitch. 


And what a pitch! However, there is still a riddle about Chilly Gonzales that I am unable to unravel. He is in the hands of Gainsbourg in a Heroic Life (and what hands !!!), he plays on web series, he is also an actor.
But why not a soundtrack signed by the maestro?

… When I tried to do it… In fact, signing a soundtrack doesn’t quite fit the way I work. You see, as soon as an idea strikes me as right, I get involved. And I do not let go. Soundtrack is an extremely collaborative work, too collaborative. I can’t adapt to new ideas, to the changes that take place in the film when I started to put myself into a process from the beginning. It is too dangerous and the risk of rejection is too great. When I write my own albums, no one has the power to tell me that the idea I got into has to change. An idea is like a child.
There is one exception: I composed the soundtrack of “The Piano Room” by Igor Ivanov Izi. I described precisely to the director how I wanted to work, I took a risk by trusting him because many directors agree with my way of working and then I realize that in fact, this is not the case. My approach is certainly too one-sided for this kind of project.

As Rick Ross would say: “I am the boss”. 

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