A few years ago, singer Chris Garneau abandoned city life for the rural world of upsate New York. Even though he grew up as a city boy, he quickly settled into life as a caretaker of a farm. It's a far cry from what many fans would think of as a musician's lifestyle but for Garneau it has served has an inspiration for his new album, Winter Games, which blends together classical, folk and pop sounds. While on tour in support of his new release, which includes a stop at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City, the singer answered the Popnog 10. He reveals how winter served as an inspiration for the LP and why he relates with goats.
1. You mentioned that your friends and family's childhood memories of winter served as the inspiration for the album. Was there one in particular that stood out to you the most?
Chris Garneau: My mother wrote to me about her memory of going to the outdoor skating rink with her friend Rita when they were young girls. They used to change into their ice skates and leave their shoes on the side of the rink and she told about a day when some boys stole their shoes while they were skating. But the ice pond was up the hill from her house, and the whole street and sidewalk was frozen, so they just skated home. This was a favorite.
2. What's your fondest memory of winter?
Playing with my brother and sister and our dog in the backyard. We had a big hill and lots of forest around us growing up. Also, laying with my mother by the fire listening to Francoise Hardy.
3. It's Saturday morning, you've just woken up, there's fresh snow on the ground outside and you have the afternoon free. How do you spend your day?
I will put on the boots and exit the home. Walk to the barn and say "Hi chickens!" on the way down and feed them chicken scraps and grain. Let the goats out and say "Good morning I love you goats!" and give them a flake of hay. I will greet all the animals and make sure they all have water that's not frozen and hay. I will like to go to the tipi and make a fire inside. I lay down on wool rugs and sometimes the goats are allowed in the tipi with me. I will spend some hours there and maybe shut the eyes for a bit since it's early morning. By late morning I will go back in and make breakfast. Then smoke a fatty and walk around the property with the goats following behind. I like to take them through the forest so they can browse and eat pine, bark, and thorny bushes. I like to take them to Chive Corner where wild onion grass grows all winter long.
4. Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge gave us a taste of what it was like raising goats on The Fabulous Beekman Boys. What was the biggest challenge you encountered when you took over as a caretaker of your farm?
There were a lot of challenging days, but one of the hardest things on the farm was keeping the goats inside their field when I wasn't home as goats are incredible escape artists. On more than one occasion, they would go over to a nearby property that had fig trees and I guess they ate all the fruit off the trees and also went up onto the porch of the home and I hear they left some poop behind. One morning this man drove up to my house (broke through the entry gate and no trespassing signs) and was screaming at me at my door and demanding money for his fig trees. When I refused, he called me a son of a bitch and ripped the door off my porch and sped away in his red pickup truck. Sometimes I'd get a little nervous about the local folk since I'm just a little homo on the farm by myself. My boyfriend happened to be there that morning and he said I gave the man some bad attitude but I don't recall this.
5. You used to take care of over 40 animals. If you had to choose one as your spirit animal, which one would it be and why?
Well, all animals are sacred. Even shrimps. But I believe the goat to be my spirit animal for sure. I feel the most profound sense of serenity when I am with them. We sleep together, we spend entire days and nights together. They take just as much care of me as I do of them. They are wonderful friends also protectors. I keep them in the field with all the chickens and ducks because they are amazing guards and keep away predators like the fox and the hawk.
6. What is one perk of rural life that us city folk are missing out on?
I always felt really horrible, in my whole adult life, about throwing food away into the garbage. I always had secret composting dreams. I love compost. I love gardening and growing food. Of course you can compost and grow food in urban areas but many people feel it's not possible or worth it. But goddam I love compost.
7. You listed Kanye West as an artist you would like to collaborate with. What would that record sound like?
Oh my God, I don't even know. Hella auto-tuning and lots of talk of smokin' weed. I'd like to explore the world of sampling. And a lot of bass. I need more bass in my life.
8. It's safe to say your sound is not for the clubs. What do you listen to to get energized?
M.I.A.'s Vicki Leekx mixtape; I have some type of problem with over-liking Rihanna, and also Fleetwood Mac very often.
9. How do you push yourself to grow as a musician?
One way that I have learned to push myself more recently, when it comes to this record, was by doing things in the studio that I would never actually be able or know how to re-create live. Now a newer bandmate of mine named Maxime is helping me bring this record to life. I'm pushing myself to learn a lot about the more technical parts of playing music. Otherwise, just writing some complicated pieces or piano or guitar parts that might not come so easily at first -- the ones where you have to practice and practice just to even play properly even once. This also is pushing myself. Lastly, recording alone and doing some really crazy vocal things that you would never have done in studio with other people around, this brings out things inside that get you to experiment and ultimately to a stronger place sonically.
10. You've said that this record is "you." What do you hope listeners learn about you on this album?
Well this record can be read or interpreted as quite bleak. But what I find most compelling about winter is despite the fact that it's a time of suffering, darkness, and cold, it's also a time where you learn to struggle, learn to live. Food is scarce, fire and heat is needed and required. Everything dies in winter. Lots of people and animals also perish. But without the darkness there is no light. I have found great peace through the struggle in my life and have watched close friends and family around me do the same. My friends and family are my heroes. I hope listeners know and understand this.
Garneau can be seen live at Le Poisson Rouge on Friday, Nov. 22 at 6:30 p.m.. Tickets are $15. Winter Games is out now.