Chad VanGaalen makes himself at home

“I have two kids, and we have dance parties in the studio. It’s a wicked place to hang out,’’ says indie rocker Chad VanGaalen. “I have two kids, and we have dance parties in the studio. It’s a wicked place to hang out,’’ says indie rocker Chad VanGaalen. (Jared Sych)
By James Reed
Globe Staff / June 19, 2011

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Chad VanGaalen’s music often gives the impression that he makes it holed up at home, toying with ideas he doesn’t have the heart to abandon. That’s essentially what happens, but there’s a big difference between being a homebody and a hermit. The Canadian indie-rock musician savors his life off the grid but clarifies that he’s not quite a recluse, either.

“It’s not that I’m not social. I don’t have, like, cobwebs on my arms and a silver wizard beard or anything like that,’’ VanGaalen says recently from his home in Calgary, Alberta. “I just have everything I need here. I’ve got a garden and a studio, and my kids are here. My wife works from home, and we got a wicked view of the mountains, and the river is right beside us.’’

That sounds like an idyllic setting for his artistic endeavors, which also include illustration, animation, and painting. Since 2004, VanGaalen, who comes to T.T. the Bear’s on Wednesday, has been releasing underrated guitar-driven rock records that feel both insular and universal. Recording for an indie label in Calgary, VanGaalen got broader exposure when Seattle’s Sub Pop rereleased his debut, “Infiniheart,’’ in 2005.

By his own estimation, VanGaalen started to take music seriously at 18, which he considers late. Before that he had been hooked on drawing, bolstered by a childhood love of comic books. Taking a cue from his father, a landscape painter, VanGaalen picked up a brush soon after that.

He comes across as modest about his different talents, but VanGaalen has nonetheless become known for all of them. His albums feature his psychedelic artwork, and he’s perhaps the only indie artist associated with a hand-drawn font of his own design. (Unfailingly, his name appears in the same block letters on every album cover.)

“It’s important for me to be me,’’ he says. “I also find that there are a few things about my art that are consistent. They might be pretty subtle, so it’s nice to have one thing that unifies it. The font is definitely one thing that I’ve always stuck with.’’

VanGaalen also recently animated the trippy video for “Peace on the Rise,’’ a standout track from his latest album, “Diaper Island.’’ He frets that the video’s subplot about the “gay space Vikings’’ isn’t more apparent.

Visuals aside, his new album is his most cohesive and approachable work yet. After something of a detour with 2008’s more low-key, acoustic “Soft Airplane,’’ VanGaalen is back to his lo-fi rock roots on “Diaper Island.’’ The title is meant to both gross you out and make you reflect on the enormous amount of waste we produce every year. “It’s a little bit angsty as far as taking for granted the environment,’’ VanGaalen says of the album’s central theme.

From song to song, there’s a consistency that’s surprising once you consider the album’s long road to completion. VanGaalen says he initially struggled with its direction, unsure if he wanted it to be electronic, folky, or exceedingly lo-fi. He finally finished it when he could no longer live with it.

“I was sick of people being like, ‘This is bad,’ ’’ he says. “I’m a pretty bad judge of songs, which are abstract in my mind to begin with. Once they’re finished, I’m like, ‘Yeah, this is a song, right?’ And other people are like, ‘That is definitely not a song.’ Most of the time, I’m making 20-minute-long drones, so making songs is pretty strange.’’

He recorded “Diaper Island’’ in a studio attached to his new house, but the distinction between his home and work lives is pretty blurry.

“I have two kids, and we have dance parties in the studio. It’s a wicked place to hang out,’’ he says. “We’ll just go in there and draw and I don’t care about spilling paint on the floor.’’

With such an active home life, it’s no wonder he doesn’t go on the road more often.

“I tour when people get angry at me for not touring,’’ VanGaalen says. “Once I get out there, I’m OK. But I actually have an insane amount of anxiety about crossing the Canadian-American border. I’ve had a lot of bad experiences with border guards.’’

He’s grateful that he doesn’t have to rely on just one way to express himself. Although he has never felt the need to choose between his different artistic outlets, that’s starting to shift.

“I feel like I’m slowly working myself into that zone a little bit more, with animating being the perfect in-between for me,’’ VanGaalen says. “Eventually scoring movies might be more appropriate for me since 80 percent of the audio stuff I do is not songs. It’s hilarious that people think I’m a songwriter. Now I actually have to do it.’’

James Reed can be reached at


With Nat Baldwin and Gem Club

At: T.T. the Bear’s, Wednesday, 8:55 p.m. Tickets: $12. 617-492-2327,