Last Thursday night Drake sent out a tweet about a favorite new song of his off his upcoming album, Nothing Was The Same, and in the tweet he listed off his collaborates on the track, including frequent producer Noah “40″ Shebib, R&B singer Jhené Aiko and a third, curious name: Chilly Gonzales. Music fans may recognize that name as the alias of Jason Beck, the Canadian composer, pianist, producer and songwriter behind projects like The Entertainist, Solo Piano and Solo Piano II. He’s also worked extensively with Canadian singer Feist and played piano for tracks on Daft Punk’s latest opus Random Access Memories. Serious Drake fanatics may also know the name from scouring the credits of So Far Gone and particularly Take Care, which Gonzales contributed to. So how exactly did Drake and Chilly Gonzales end up working together?
“I don’t want to be in the world of classical and jazz,” explains Gonzales over the phone from his home in Cologne, Germany. “It’s the world I studied in and I decided definitively I didn’t want to be part of that. I think like a rapper even when I’m at the piano. Even my name, Chilly Gonzales, the way I dress, the way I perform, the way I try to keep people guessing on stage as to what’s serious and what’s not—a lot of that is directly ripped out of the rapper’s playbook.”
Gonzales first came into Drake’s musical orbit when the rapper sampled “The Tourist” off Solo Piano, an album of—surprise—solo piano pieces, for his 2009 mixtape So Far Gone. “I was kinda hoping he would rap on it or sing on it,” says Gonzales. “But in fact all he did was add the sound of a popping champagne cork before it and I guess he viewed it as a kind of interlude on the mixtape. In one way, of course, it was incredibly flattering, but I didn’t really understand.”
Most importantly, this provided Gonzales with the opportunity to reach out to Drake about possibly collaborating in the future, though it took some time for the two artist to ever meet in person. They were eventually brought together by the Juno Awards, the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys. Drake was hosting the event in 2011 and his people reached out to Gonzales about working on the opening monologue for the event. Drake didn’t want to rap, instead choosing to sing and tell jokes over piano accompaniment in the style of a lounge act. Wearing a suit jacket with long white tales, Gonzales joined Drake on stage for the first time.
“We ended up in the studio rehearsing a bit and after that rehearsal was over,” says Gonzales. “Drake just said, ‘Hey do you want to hear some stuff from the album I’m working on?’ which was at that point was Take Care. That naturally lead to them asking if I would play on ‘Marvin’s Room,’ which was the track I reacted to emotionally the most. I really couldn’t believe that song when I first heard it. Combined with my dreams of being in the studio with Drake finally coming true, maybe making me more vulnerable than usual, that song almost made me cry on the spot.”
Gonzales also contributed to the “Good Ones Go Interlude” on Take Care and his experience left him hungry for more. Following the release of Take Care, Drake went to one of Gonzales’s shows in Toronto and the two again set up some time in the studio together. “I just sat there with him and 40,” says Gonzales. “40 constantly comes up with drum sounds and beats, literally changing the sounds on the synthesizer as he goes. He knows Drake so well, you can really see the history they have. So he’s reacting to what he knows of Drake’s process and when something needs to change or stay the same. There’s this vibe that Noah is kinda steering and Drake would be with a microphone, and I could never exactly hear what he was singing ’cause he would be quietly reacting to the chords I’m coming up with. There was very little concrete feedback so I have to be very sensitive to where it’s going.”
After the session Gonzales again felt inspired and started sending Drake piano pieces over e-mail that he thought he might be interested in. He was right. The unnamed song that Drake tweeted about on Thursday night draws from one of the compositions Gonzales sent over e-mail. While there was some speculation that the song would be titled “Momentous Occasions,” Drake recently squashed that rumor, dismissing it as a terrible title. Does Gonzales know the real name of the song? If he does, he’s not telling. In fact, he didn’t even know he would be on the album until recently. “A few days ago 40 let me know,” he says. “Then today I found out it’s featuring this singer, whose name I forget even right now.”
Does that mean there could be more hip-hop in his future? “I’m actually collaborating long distance with a rapper from Odd Future, Domo Genesis,” says Gonzales. “He tweeted a while back ‘Wake and bake to Solo Piano 2.’ I was like I’m pretty sure that’s about me because who else has a Solo Piano 2 out. So I just reached out via Twitter and again I just started sending him stuff. It’s fun because I know his music and it’s a whole other musical world compared to Drake’s world. It’s more of a ‘90s production, a little Neptunes meets RZA.”
Gonzales is perfectly content playing the role of pitch-hitting collaborator, even if that means he doesn’t always know what the final product will sound like or what it will be named. “So often when you end up with high-level creative people you see that they don’t like to waste a lot of time,” he says. “They go for what has a direct emotional response. When I worked with Daft Punk last year it was fairly similar. It was kinda over before it began but you trust these people. The reason they’re at the top of their game is they know pretty much exactly what they want.”