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Chilly Gonzales on minor keys

After making his unique minor key cover mixtape, the Canadian cabaret auteur takes us through his favourite minor key moments of all time

After collecting his reworkings, edits and 'mash-ups' – including a pairing of pairing hip hop anthems like 'A Milli' with dramatically melancholic minor keys [below] – on his 'Pianist Envy' mixtape, multi-instrumentalist and all-round musical outlier Chilly Gonzales has given us some of his favourite minor key moments as an in depth insight to his obsession alongside an exclusive clip of his new 'Composing Solo Piano II' series...

"The monarchies of Europe called the major key "major" because it was important. It was majorly important to celebrate the status quo, and thus became the musical method to sell a conservative viewpoint. If you think I'm going too far with this, consider that the melancholy and complaint of the minor key was called "minor", as if to undermine the validity of sadness.

A chord is made up of a tonic, a "third" (3 notes above the tonic) and a fifth. It's the third that determines if it is major or minor. A tonic and a fifth is an "open" interval, like my two favorite notes C and G (also my initials) , a sound that is neither major nor minor. If the third is raised (E), it's major. If it is lowered to the left (E flat), it is minor. Move your finger back to the right, and it's major again. Left -minor. Right - major. Right.wing politics, left-wing politics… it's all there.

Teachers start kids off with major-key exercises: Minuets, Frere Jacques, Chariots of Fire (perhaps the most Fascist of all of them). They all sound better when you lower the third tone of the scale and turn them into minor. Playing major-key songs in minor keys is the last form of protest music."


Minor Version of Lil Wayne - "A Milli" from Chilly Gonzales' Mixtape "Pianist Envy":

"I added the saddest music I could think of to Lil Wayne's classic banger. Something about his voice on this sounded to me like a tragic bluesman crying. But the backing track is, musically speaking, pretty empty, so I filled in the harmonic void with Viennese power balladry in C sharp minor, one of the most powerful minor keys (Chopin used it most of all)."

Mahler 1st Symphony 3rd Movement, Minor Version of "Frere Jacques":

"In concert I transform several children's classics from major into minor, including Chariots of Fire, Happy Birthday, and most entertainingly, Frere Jacques, known as Brother John in English. You know the one, "Brother John, are you sleeping?" Well in this version, Brother John is clearly dead. Mahler did this in his 1st symphony, though less as a musical statement than basing it on the original folk tune that preceded Frere Jacques."

Abe Schwartz - "Sher Medley":

"Jewish klezmer music has a way of making the hardest party music in a minor key. Never have world weariness and resignation sounded so energetic and celebratory. This is klezmer virtuoso Abe Schwartz doing a medley of "sheers" which are minor key dances."

Blondie on The Muppet Show - "Call Me":

"This song's melody literally goes up and down the minor scale in the verses. What makes the minor mode sound "mean" is the lowered third, and in this song the riff makes ample use of it. This very melancholy song is about a sad gigolo, so to hear it in the upbeat context of the Muppet Show is a real disconnect. "

Daft Punk - Veridis Quo:

"The Blondie track was written and produced by Giorgio Moroder, who used minor chords in combination with the cold metallic sheen of electronic music. (cf. Chase from Midnight Express). This kind of frozen melancholy was perfected by Daft Punk on this almost baroque banger.

Jamie Lidell "Multiply in a Minor Key" featuring yours truly Chilly Gonzales:

"I don't really do remixes, but occasionally I will attempt a re-make. Jamie Lidell's voice is the sound of repressed tears so my first instinct was to transplant his bouncy, down home feel-good hit to the depressing badly lit bar it actually belonged in. One of my proudest moments in re-harmonization."

Photos by Alexandre Isard

Chilly Gonzales will be playing Manchester Royal Northern College Of Music on Sun 2 December; Coventry Warwick Arts Centre - Mon 3 December; Liverpool Capstone Theatre Centre - Wed 5 December