Animator and musician Chad Vangaalen is a consummate, self-contained artist's artist. Exported from his home studio in Canada, his constant creative output ranges from albums, to illustrations, to music videos for himself and others, hand-drawn in an idiosyncratic style that fuses the anything-goes art-toon aesthetic of the Beautiful Losers generation with the hyper-detailed psychedelia of comic book greats like Moebius. For “Forerunner Foray,” his music video for Sub Pop labelmates, avant-rap duo Shabazz Palaces (off sophomore LP, Lese Majesty), Vangaalen put his own spin on interstellar mythos á la Sun Ra, transforming the shimmering low bass boomer into a cosmic odyssey that features trippy alien lifeforms, Egyptian mythology, and even Magic Johnson riding a giant slice of pizza through space.
Over the phone, Vangaalen tells the story of how the video came to be: “I was visiting my label Sub Pop, and I think my friend Tony [Kiewel, head of artists and repertoire at Sub Pop] was like ‘Yeah, you should do a video for Ish [Butler, 1/2 of Shabazz Palaces],’” he explains matter-of-factly. "They sent me the new Shabazz record and I was pretty excited—I mean, I loved Black Up [Palaces’ 2011 debut album], so I was stoked about this one. Then they were like, ‘You need to finish a video for yourself before you can start working on a video for Shabazz,’” he laughs. “Then I met Ish at the Sub Pop office, and we talked for like two seconds. I was like, ‘I’m going do you a super-weird video. Is that cool?’ He was like, ‘That's cool.’”
Vangaalen’s video for himself turned out to be “Monster” (off 2014's Shrink Dust), a literal interpretation of a song whose lyrics describe a personal transformation into a creature. Clocking in just shy of two-and-a-half minutes, it watches like a reflexive, hand-animated version of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” Only days after its completion, Vangaalen found himself wrestling with another beast, but this time, one that went by the name of “Forerunner Foray.”
Exclusive animation cels from "Forerunner Foray." All images © Chad Vangaalen. Thumbnail via
“I started off thinking that the whole thing was entirely going to be hand-drawn animation, synced-up kind-of loops,” he explains. “I really wanted to tap into the old school Sun Ra vibes that were going on on the record.” But after presenting an early draft of hand-drawn animations to Shabazz Palaces, Vangaalen realized he’d have to push himself beyond his regular repertoire. “Ish ended up liking the more digitally-colored stuff for the slickness, I think. […] Usually, I would be like, "No, that's the way the video is, sorry,’ but since it was for Shabazz I was like, ‘Fuck it, I'm not going to stop until it's awesome.’”
And awesome it is. The whole thing took “about five weeks” to create, as Vangaalen tells it, drawn up in between raising two daughters, working on personal music, listening to Rhode Island noise-rock instrumentalist, CONTAINER, reading the final chapters of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius’ The Incal comic book series, and watching The Empire Strikes Back "religiously, a couple times a week […] out of respect.”
While he claims to have “worked more in post-production than ever before,” in order to fuse his personal sensibilities with Shabazz Palaces’ desires, the resulting music video feels less like a commission than a collaboration between kindred spirits. “We come from opposite worlds, and very similar worlds, in a sense,” Vangaalen says, of working with Butler. “We're both pretty spaced out. I think he's a lot more focused in outer space, and I'm just kind of bouncing around there, but we're still in that same world.”
Watch Chad Vangaalen’s music video for Shabazz Palaces’ “Forerunner Foray” above, and visit Sub Pop to learn more about the artists.