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Grammy nominee Gallant's musical foundation includes 'anchor to Columbia'

When first-time Grammy-nominee Gallant moved into his Los Angeles home a few years ago, he chose a bedroom with a window overlooking the woods because it reminded him of growing up in Columbia.

"I'm constantly forming an anchor to Columbia and stitching together all the micro-moments of my life," said singer-songwriter Christopher Gallant III, who goes only by his surname professionally.

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The 2009 Atholton High School graduate is nominated for "Ology" in the best urban contemporary album category at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards, which will be televised live on CBS at 8 p.m. Feb. 12.

"A lot of the album is about things that weigh on my subconscious and that come from my nostalgia for the beauty of the landscape and the isolation as I walked and biked on the paths in Columbia," said the artist — who is known for his soaring falsetto — in his deep speaking voice.

A close friend from high school was the first to congratulate him, texting Gallant while he was on tour in Amsterdam before he was aware he had been nominated.

"Just getting this nomination for my first attempt is mind-bending — that's a good way of putting it," said the Washington native,25, who moved with his parents to Columbia in 1994.

Reviews have described Gallant's vocals on his first studio album, which contains the breakout single "Weight in Gold," as "weightless" and "channeling '80s and '90s R&B artists … while landing on something all his own."

Gallant — who cites Toni Braxton, Babyface and Brandy as influences — recently signed on to tour with 10-time Grammy winner John Legend starting in May.

Equally as exciting, he said, is that he's set to perform on yet-to-be announced dates at his "dream venue" — Merriweather Post Pavilion in Symphony Woods.

Gallant said that attending the Grammy show, which focuses on live performances and unusual pairings of artists, will be "an experience in itself."

With Beyonce and Rihanna nominated in the same category, he has no illusions of winning, but that's all right with him.

"To be there and see the process in person — I'm looking forward to that the most," he said.

The artist has invited his parents to accompany him to the awards show at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Lillie Gallant, a government employee, and Chris Gallant Jr., a real estate agent, still live in River Hill. Gallant's brother, Connor, graduated from Atholton in 2016 and is a freshman at Emerson College in Boston.

Gallant said he owes a debt of gratitude to his parents.

"My father was always irrationally supportive, almost blindly so," he said. "To have that kind of upbringing was a blessing."

Beyond paying tribute to family and Columbia's open spaces, Gallant credits two people in Howard County for their influence: Nathan Rosen, Atholton High theater arts teacher, and Damon Foreman, who runs Damon Foreman Music Academy in Glenwood.

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"Nathan gave me opportunity and created avenues for me to explore and shine in my own way," he said of Rosen, for whom he appeared all four years of high school in productions including "As You Like It" and "Footloose."

Independent study on the weekends also looms large in his memories.

"Damon let me do independent research, and I took that self-guided learning with me to college," he said of his graduating in three years from New York University.

"A byproduct of all that was a focus on individuality that completely transcended the detrimental force of any cultural weight," he said, referring to Columbia's founding on the principles of racial and socioeconomic equality.

"Columbia is very unique" in its embrace of diversity, he said. "I wish the rest of the world would catch on to Columbia's point of view."

Before moving to his current neighborhood of Sherman Oaks, Gallant lived in New York after college graduation in 2012.

"Living there was not matching up with who I was; there weren't enough escape routes," he said.

At NYU, he designed an individualized major that focused on music ideology, anthropology and sociology.

Asked if the title of his album originated from the suffix of those three disciplines, he said that may have been a subconscious choice on his part.

Rosen said Gallant has "masterful control over his falsetto, calling to mind [such artists as] Smokey Robinson and Prince."

"He was a hard worker and deep thinker, but not a big talker," Rosen recalled, adding that Gallant is deserving of the accolades he's receiving.

"As a songwriter, Chris is coming from a deep place, and I respect that," he said. "But he's also a good actor, and it wouldn't surprise me if he does a couple movies."

Foreman said Gallant "is an actual singer who could come out on stage with just a guitar and do a show without autotune" to assist his vocals.

"But Chris is much more than that," he said, adding that he also worked with him on music producing, which Gallant continued to study at NYU.

"He's an extremely sharp and intelligent young man, and I have always encouraged him to develop his own product and shop it around before signing on too quickly with anyone," Foreman said. "He set goals in 2007, and 10 years later, they're starting to manifest."

Gallant said he plays piano and often writes music on a keyboard, but pronounced himself "terrible" at guitar nowadays.

Most of his songs "culminate after a series of serendipitous events," he said.

"I tap into my subconscious. There's a steady stream just below the surface, just behind my eyes, and I channel that into my music."

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