Chad VanGaalen Takes Country to the Borderlands
Shrink Dust reveals a mellower side with all the weirdness still intact.
Alberta’s own Renaissance man has done it again. Shrink Dust marks Chad VanGaalen’s fifth recording and one he calls a country record. Such a description shrouds the complexity and multitude of the trails Shrink Dust travels. If this is a country album it is one that lives in the borderlands.
It all began with a pedal steel found on the Internet. A tiny bluegrass shop in Texas had one for sale and prompted by a rare and reasonable price VanGaalen put in his order. It arrived in the mail and true to form the first he thing he did was “jam a bunch drum sticks in between the strings and just start smashing on it with a mallet.” Step aside classic country riffs. “And then I started hammering on it with the weighed slide and that made interesting almost seagull sounds.” VangGaalen explains he was just as interested in the pedal steel as an experimental instrument as he was with using it to channel the Flying Burrito Brothers’ Sneaky Pete. Plus he says, “It took me months to even to learn how to tune it.”
But now listening back to the album what VanGaalen hears is a “sci-fi country record.” And that expanded genre could only truly be expressed by an artist equally at home gathering field recordings of trains passing through Calgary as with crafting an animated sci-fi epic about the benign evil of human beings. The first thing I did was jam a bunch of drum sticks in between the strings and just start smashing on it..." on his first forays into playing the pedal steel. VanGaalen got his start in multi-track editing wandering through his days in search of sound. He admits that he still indulges in the field recordings of Smithsonian folkways and that “the sound of someone crunching paper over and over again can get me off for hours at a time.” As for the benign evil he has spent the last year slaving over his soon to be released animated universe and some of the songs on Shrink Dust appear in the upcoming film.
To the amazed outsider the world of VanGaalen seems to revolve around flashes of genius and hours of dedicated work. But when asked about how he manages so many avenues of creative work he hesitates then admits, “My own mind as I get older seems more convoluted and there are less good ideas.” Stunned silence followed by disagreement I say, “Are you sure they aren’t just different ideas, not less or worse ideas?
Don't eat the yellow snow, advises Chad VanGaalen” VanGaalen consents to explain further saying he becomes his own worst enemy by taking on too many projects (see: the sci-fi movie, other bands he’s a part of, recordings records for musicians, making celebrated animated music videos, most recently Timbre Timber). Add that to being the father of two and you end up with VanGaalen making plans to trim the fat on his project schedule admitting that these days he’s “pretty stressed out most of the time.”
But don’t despair! Because VanGaalen isn’t. This darker mood is quickly shifted when questioned about another recent undertaking: The Piss Pictures. He’s working on a zine that will document his urine and snow canvases. He chuckles explaining that he likes it because it’s lowbrow and makes people laugh instantly. In addition to laughter there is burgeoning respect amongst his friends since VanGaalen managed to pull off a 1980s snowboarder doing a trick in one go. The friend, mind blown, declared, “Oh my God, that’s pretty good man.” The zine will be called Territorial Pissings after the Nirvana song.
Shrink Dust and all its surrounding glory and frustrations reveal Alberta’s Renaissance man in the dressings of a mellower country age, with a few spastic electronic explosions tossed in for good measure. But whatever trail you travel with him you find an artist who, without a doubt, still has it.