Before His Site's Fifth Annual Showcase, A Chat With Gorilla Vs. Bear Founder Chris Cantalini.
I've known Gorilla vs. Bear founder Chris Cantalini for around seven years now. And, having bonded with the man behind that internationally renowned music blog over such broadly appealing subjects as University of Michigan basketball and covering music on the internet, I think I've gotten to know him fairly well.
Or, well, I should amend that. I think I know the guy somewhat well. Far as I can tell, Cantalini prefers things that way, too. And, no, not just with me. For all of the conversations he and I have shared, one of the very few things that I've definitively learned about the guy is that he's really not too big a fan of attention.
He doesn't like his picture to be taken. He hates being interviewed. And even though he's obviously a huge music fan, he doesn't really attend too many live shows, preferring instead to consume his music in the comforts of his own home. Meanwhile, when he does go to a show? It's in the back of the room, removed from the action, where you'll mostly often find him (his attempts to snap a lovely Instagram shot notwithstanding).
There's but one exception to this live show rule. Every summer, Cantalini, his GvB collaborator David Bartholow, the Granada Theater and former Granada/current Transmission Events talent buyer Ryan Henry throw a showcase highlighting some of the acts GvB has championed. It's this show for which he breaks his no-interview, no-photo rule. It's at this one where he allows his more-social side to show.
So, chances are, should you head to the Granada Theater tonight and spot him, he'll be in good spirits. And he'll have a few reasons to be: Tonight will be his fifth annual Gorilla vs. Bear showcase — a milestone that comes in tandem with his site's tenth anniversary. This year's event is also notable in that it represents the annual showcase's expansion to a second market: Tomorrow night, Cantalini will take this same bill (and one addition) on the road to Austin, where it'll make its debut as a two-night, two-city deal.
And what a bill it is, too. With Jamie xx and Lower Dens topping this year's event, Cantalini and Henry have amassed maybe their strongest lineup yet. No wonder the shows in each market have already sold out in advance.
Still, we couldn't let this opportunity to interview a willing Cantalini pass. So we recently caught up with him over Google Chat to discuss this year's expansion, the shining star that is Leon Bridges and, naturally, a variety of Lightning Round topics
Check that conversation — edited only to remove the parts where Cantalini wondered aloud how interesting his answers were — in full below. While you do, hit pay on DJ Sober's most recent awesome (and celebrity-assisted!) annual mix promoting the show, too.
Pete: this is kind of a big year for gvb. fifth annual showcase. tenth year as a site. have you thought about those milestones at all?
Chris: not too much, but a little bit. the 10 year thing, particularly, seems a little surreal. that's like 50 blog years
Pete: haha. i mean, it's a long time no matter how you slice it. how've things changed over that time? i imagine even things like the back-end uploading have changed.
Chris: yeah i don't even remember that part of it tbh. but in terms of content and just like, the general focus of the site in terms of content, i like to think it's remained essentially the same.
Pete: do you remember the first band you posted about?
Chris: no, would have no idea. i think we lost a few posts when we migrated off “blogspot” so i don't think i could even check that if i wanted to.
Pete: back then, you surely were seeking acts out and not the other way around.
Chris: definitely. wasted a lot of time on myspace back in those days
Pete: like, just clicking through bands' top eights? until something caught your ear?
Chris: ha yeah basically. i forgot about top 8s. but yeah basically
Pete: can you describe your music discovery process these days? what do you use to find new music?
Chris: well i get more submissions these days, so that's cool. but i still love to find things on my own. soundcloud, youtube, message boards, internet radio
Pete: i think what's especially awesome about gvb is that you appear to relish in taking on the early adopter role — but that you definitely maintain relationships with the performers, too. how closely do you associate with some of these performers? like, are they sending you early recordings of new stuff?
Chris: thanks man. yeah i think a lot of the artists that we post about regularly get the sense that we are genuine fans of the music, and aren't as concerned with the celebrity or tabloid aspect of it that some sites have gravitated toward (via chasing the pageviews). so yeah, it's not like we're hanging out with the bands regularly or we're BFFs or anything. but there are artists that send me early recordings and new stuff to get my impressions or whatever. or if they're looking for a place to debut something new, and they know I'm a fan, situations like that
Pete: i think this allows us to transition to leon bridges, right? dude completely blew up in the wake of your posts about him — and, who knows, maybe he would've anyway — but he's def gone on record thanking you for that in other publications, and deservedly so. i know you first found out about him through the white denim guys, who you've long been supporting. i guess that's kind of an outlier example, but it seems like the relationship with white denim paved that path, right? can you just pull the curtain back some and, for people who don't know, kind of share that discovery story?
Chris: yeah i don't think there's any question he would have blown up anyway. as soon as people heard that guy, he was going to be huge, which was obvious from the first time i heard his rough demos. i'm definitely honored that he thinks the site played a small role in that. but yeah, Josh and Austin from White Denim stay in touch, and Josh in particular lets me know when they're working on something new. so this was just them letting us know they were working with a new artist that they were both really blown away by. and they invited me to come out to the studio to see him do it in person, and it was just really obvious that he was something special. btw, i've your boy Mike Marshall on the Central track podcasts insinuating that people are into him for the wrong reasons or whatever ha. would be interested to hear his take now that the album is out and it turns out he really does have the songs to backup the hype.
Pete: Ha, well, thanks for being among our dozens of podcast listeners
Chris: no problem
Pete: We actually talked about that in another episode. I think he's on board, but has the same worries that so many in a “scene” have in these situations, that there's such a thing as too much too soon
Chris: yeah that's why scenes are toxic and we don't participate. like if something is good enough and holds up, it will get our attention, but we don't make concessions because of where someone is from geographically, and i guess some people have a problem with that
Pete: I don't think Mike was talking about you specifically, fwiw. And I think Leon's been handling that all with great grace. He seems to really like repping Fort Worth.
Chris: yeah, which is awesome. i love that he's trying to give all of his friends some shine whenever he can
Pete: How do you feel about the “taste-maker” term? Is it on your business card? Related: Do you have business cards?
Chrus: ha no, i have never referred to myself as a tastemaker either verbally or in print, if that's what you're asking. i think the term is a little outdated and silly. people have so many options these days that no one needs a tastemaker. if anything i think i'm more of a facilitator. i don't love inserting myself into the narrative (any more than may be necessary to give people context or something). and no i don't have business cards
Pete: who've been your favorite acts to watch — like follow their career — over your time with gvb? i mean, with leon, it's definitely been fun watching his rise. i know there've been others you feel this way about.
Chris: good question. i think Grimes is the first one that comes to mind
Pete: why's that
Chris: she sent us her first tape like 5 or so years ago, and it was so weird and lo-fi and out there. and while i obviously loved it enough to post about it and ask her to play our first GvsB show, she was not someone i imagined would become this (relative) celebrity who signed with Jay-Z and toured with Lana Del Rey or whatever. so it's been really cool to see her evolve — versus someone like Annie Clark, who I always got the sense would eventually be massive and win grammys. so yeah. have to love the underdog. White Denim is the same way
Pete: who are your go-to artists that we maybe don't see written about on the site? you've not gonna post about some old stuff you jammed in high school, but i know you've gotta have other staples in your listening rotations. are you, like, a huge billy joel fan, but we don't know that because why would gvb ever post about uptown girl?
Chris: ha i can get down to some billy joel. but yeah, to answer your question, of course. i think the most formative thing for me, like a lot of people my age as a kid in the late 80s/early 90s, was golden age hip-hop stuff. so like, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Digable Planets, that stuff never leaves the rotation.
Pete: did you see that houston press article about how golden age hip-hop is the new dad-rock?
Chris: no i didn't. were they talking about the throwback FM stations that are popping up? i mean that makes sense i guess. i'm a dad. i like golden age hip hop
Pete: this is the first time you're doing this in austin. pumped? also, why now? why this year?
Chris: very psyched. i love the Mohawk. the venue and the Transmission/venue guys, they've always been really supportive and awesome. it happened this year because Ryan Henry, who we sort of 'created' this event with back in 2011 when he was the talent buyer at the Granada, moved to his new position with Transmission Dallas. and the Transmission guys in Austin were down. so it was a pretty easy/seamless expansion
Pete: maybe beyond the two-night change, what stands out to you about this year's even? i'm certain you did a fist-pump when you scored jamie xx. and the advance sell-out in both cities? congrats, that's huge.
Chris: thanks man! yeah i'm really happy about it. i think this year was just really serendipitous, timing-wise. like when we booked Jamie xx to headline, we had no idea he had an album coming out. and that’s sort of backfired (only in terms of ticket sales) in the past where we think someone will have a record out, and they didn't. the fact that Jamie xx and Lower Dens both put out amazing full-lengths was obviously so huge. so this year has just been really easy, relatively. everyone we wanted to play was available and was down to do it.
Pete: except bop english, the new band from james in white denim, isn't playing dallas, which i'm bummed about
Chris: yeah us too! we asked, he couldn't do the Dallas show. he has kids now
Pete: once upon a time, this event was called “gorilla vs bear fest,” but you’ve since dropped the fest part because, and I know this from other conversations we’ve had, that you don’t consider it to be much of a festival. that in mind, what do you call it?
Chris: i don't really call it anything. usually “show”
Pete: you mentioned earlier how happy you were to see the lineup come together. are there any particular highlights you're most stoked on?
Chris: this is probably corny but i'm genuinely psyched about every band
Pete: i don't know that that's corny. but i don't know that it's not
Chris: yeah i mean obviously i like them all or i wouldn't have asked them to play, but i feel like this is the strongest lineup yet from top to bottom
Pete: i've done a little booking at this point to know that it's easier to work one multiple dates in some regards than a simple one-off. you think the additional austin date has helped
Chris: yeah for sure in terms of the fly-in bands, it definitely helps to have two dates for them as opposed to just a single Dallas date. the booking went relatively smoothly this year, but it also helped to have jamie xx and lower dens on board first. i think the other bands were stoked about playing on a bill w/ them
Pete: i'm sure
Pete: ok. you read for the homestretch? YOU READY FOR LIGHTNING ROUND?
Pete: first album you bought with your own money.
Pete: THIS IS NOT A LIGHTNING PACE
Chris: SORRY i had to feed my dog. public enemy “it takes a nation of millions” or beastie boys licensed to ill
Pete: first concert?
Chris: by myself? sade and digable planets at COCA COLA STARPLEX
Pete: tripping daisy still your all-time favorite dallas band?
Chris: yeah easily. jesus hits like the atom bomb is probably a top 10 album of all time for me
Pete: fave tripping daisy song?
Chris: waited a light year
Pete: related: how many members of the polyphonic spree does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Pete: i was looking for “one to screw it in and 25 to sing about how bright it is.”
Pete: favorite GVB show performance ever?
Chris: man. probably Chromatics/Glass Candy
Pete: favorite badu song
Chris: fuck. either didn't cha know or the healer
Pete: jay electronica or andre 3000? your choice on context
Chris: dude cmon. 3 stacks all day in any context. although once i did see Erykah and Jay in the Gold's gym on Buckner
Pete: favorite mav of all time not named dirk is it roddy b? it's roddy b, i'm p sure
Chris: dude he's actually up there. but no. so many. van exel, vince carter, deshawn stevenson, rodman
Pete: deron williams: has-been or still has some?
Chris: never-really-was (even when he played for the colony thought he was mad overrated)
Pete: if you were to throw your show at a venue other than granada in dallas, where would you pick?
Chris: i wouldn't want to throw it anywhere else, unless we somehow outgrew it. in that case, only the Bomb Factory
Pete: what's your pre-show meal on friday night?
Chris: no idea
Pete: cornier question than your earlier response to close out the lightning round: who wins in a fight, a gorilla or bear?
Chris: (waiting for a better close out question)
Pete: pfffft. I’ve known you a long time and never asked you this. I wanna know. you've clearly talked it out.
Chris: i think i finally arrived at 'walrus'
Pete: beatles reference?
Chris:or possibly rhinoceros
Pete: well, ok then, nevermind.
Gorilla vs Bear V happens tonight, Friday, July 31, at Granada Theater.