Exclusive Interview - Singer Songwriter Chris Garneau

Two years ago, I sat next to an aspiring young musician on a flight into New York's LaGuardia Airport. The random stranger, Chris Garneau, was heading back from a performance at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. He seemed pretty quiet, pretty cool.

He said his music flowed in an Elliott Smith sort of vein, and I found, checking his website on my return, that it did. But it was something more, too; a distinctive post-emo indie sound that one could sip for hours in the bittersweet quiet of the wee hours of the morning. It was hard to forget. There was a strangely appealing aftertaste of folk in the stark whisper crooning, the plaintive piano.

Recently, I tossed a few questions to Chris, a singer-songwriter from Brooklyn whose recent debut release Music for Tourists has been said to "tiptoe into the room" and "whisper a disappointed love at no one in particular." He was kind enough to oblige...

Brad V: So, the last time I ran into you, you were heading back from SXSW. Does having an album under your belt change things as you return this year ?

Chris G: Yes, it makes the trip feel much more worthwhile. SXSW is not exactly a cheap undertaking. Going there now, with a record out and some people who might actually know who I am, is definitely more exciting. Two years ago was tricky, I still didn't know quite what I was doing. The record was in its very beginnings. Also I am playing a few different showcases this year, which will be good, I think.

Brad V: Are you going to be toting a toy gun or wearing a yellow poncho as you take the stage?

Chris G: I don't think so, no. But I might wear a big, long necklace with rosary beads.

Brad V: It seems safe to say that Elliott Smith helped pave the way for your music. What about Sufjan Stephens? Has his success on the national level given wing to your profile as a singer-songwriter?

Chris G: I am happy for Sufjan's success but it's not really something that's given wing to my profile, no. This record that's just come out, the songs are all between two and four years old. I've been motivated and anxious to put Tourists out for a while now. My profile as a singer-songwriter is given wing by my own determination, not anyone's success.

Brad V: What about other artists? To whom are you listening these days?

Chris G: While recently in Europe, I picked up Nina Nastasia's On Leaving, Gonzales' Solo Piano, and Sleeping States' Rivers EP. Also, just at home, I've been listening to the new Joanna Newsom quite a bit. As well as The Curtains, Josephine Foster, Danielson, Dirty Projectors, and Au Revoir Simone, to name a few.

Brad V: You say on your myspace profile that you "love small/large animals." If you could characterize Music for Tourists as a small/large animal, what would it be?

Chris G: I guess it's a pretty small animal. Like a small donkey. Or Thumbelina, the world's smallest horse. I think the new record will be bigger though. I mean, I'm sure it will be, it's louder for sure. It will hopefully be categorized as a large animal. An elephant maybe.

Brad V: My favorite song of yours is Baby's Romance - although the video for Relief is pretty sweet and currently tugging on my loyalties. What's your favorite song off the new album to perform live?

Chris G: Castle-Time and We Don't Try, which we do differently live than on the album.

Brad V: I know you've been playing live for some time now in New York. What's your favorite sort of venue to play?

Chris G: Well, the two bigger venues I've recently played were Tonic and Bowery Ballroom. Bowery Ballroom is perfect because it's just the right size. It's very aesthetically pleasing. The sound system is incredible. It gets very loud, which is a big plus for me. For anyone really, but especially for quiet old me.

Brad V: You're slated for a show in Chicago in May. Lovely Wisconsin isn't far away. Any chance of a side trip to Madison for a gig? The lakes here should have thawed out by then - and you could probably find some new lampshades for your collection somewhere on State Street.

Chris G: I don't think we are hitting Wisconsin on this spring's tour. But perhaps on the next tour we will make it to Madison or Milwaukee. I actually played a little show at a gallery in Milwaukee this past fall (Hotcakes), which was fun.

Brad V: The cover of the new album has a jet on it - any story behind that? Is it landing at LaGuardia?

Chris G: There's not really a story behind it. Besides that it's supposed to be crashing. Hence the sad birds. My friend Kirby Conn did the art for the record. He kept talking about planes. Which made the most sense to me given the record title.

Brad V: In your professional opinion as a pianist, black keys or white?

Chris G: Anything in the key of Db is usually really beautiful. So black, I guess. It's more fun to play songs in black keys. Eb minor is pretty, too. Relief was originally in E minor but I re-learned it in Eb minor because it was so much better in this key.