Jack Garratt is a British artist who is rapidly growing in popularity, especially since winning the BBC Introducing Artist of the Year Award in 2015. He is known for being a talented singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, and his debut album Phase was released in February. Last week I was lucky enough to get the chance to have a fifteen-minute phone interview with him during a calm day from his busy US tour. After some very stressful technical difficulties I finally talk to a chirpy receptionist at his Las Vegas hotel who puts me through to his room. He picks up the phone halfway through a mouthful of pancakes but assures me he’s ready to start the interview.
So you’re on tour in America at the moment. Obviously you’re huge in England but is it different performing there? What’s the reception like?
“It’s very kind of you to suggest I’m hugely popular in England, I’m more maybe ‘well-known and has a beard’. America is getting there though, in certain places. I remember, the last shows I did out here I kind of focused primarily on places like Chicago and Los Angeles and New York, places where I’ve built up a bit of a fanbase, but then again I’ll walk around London without thinking about it (because I shouldn’t ever have to think about that) and people come up and say hi or ask me if I am who I am.”
I bet you’re getting good at taking selfies.
“Exactly, but over here in America the chances of something like that happening are so much smaller just because I haven’t been pushing my music here the way I have been in the UK. But in certain places like LA or New York, especially if I’m doing a show that day, it gets a little interesting, people will come up and ask me who I am. I hope it’s something I never get used to, I don’t think anyone should ever get used to something like that.”
It sounds like you’re having an amazing time but it must be exhausting touring, especially being so far from home.
“Actually home is a little closer to me now because I’ve moved out to Chicago… simply because I don’t know if I will ever get to live in America again and right now I have a visa that says that I can. I’m not a huge risk taker, I don’t really do it that much, but in the last few years I’ve done a lot more jumping into a lot more deep ends, which has been really invigorating and challenging because it’s not part of my personality.”
I guess that’s something you’ve had to get used to, because you must get similar feelings every time you perform live.
“Yeah, it’s a different kind of exhilaration though. Going out on stage, I always say this, because it is always true: every show is different – no two shows are the same, no two moments are the same, so it’s impossible to compare. But playing out here in America is always interesting because of that: you can play two shows in the same city and it will be crazy different simply because the people are different, or the venue is different, but that’s what keeps it exciting, that’s what stops it getting as tiring as it might do. The only thing that kind of gets to me is that I travel with a very small team but then I perform completely on my own, so the before and after of shows can be a little difficult to manage.”
I actually saw you perform live at Radio 1’s Big Weekend earlier in the summer and what impressed me so much about your performance was that it was just you alone on stage doing all the music, percussion, singing, everything. Why did you choose to do it all yourself rather than just have a band?
“I’ve tried it with a band, I’ve played in bands before, I loved playing in bands. But my music I’ve always been very precious about, and its not that I think nobody else would be able to play the music and give it the reflection it deserves like I can, it’s simply that I’ve only ever known how to do it this way. For me it would be like…I don’t know if you’ve ever been in the situation where you’ve wanted to buy a piece of clothing that it is so completely not something that you would wear, and in buying that piece of clothing you have to adapt a whole new look. I’ve only ever known how to dress the way that I dress and the minute I think about playing with a band it’s like someone going ‘Ok, so now wear a top hat’. I’m like, I don’t know if I’m going to look good in a top hat, I don’t know if that’s the right way for me to walk around, I don’t know if dungarees and a top hat is a good look but the whole point is you don’t know unless you try it, and I will try it one day but right now my safe space is still the danger of playing on my own.”
I did notice that you’re the producer of all the songs on Phase, so clearly it’s all very much your vision. I read about how you wrote more acoustic, bluesy music in the past and you weren’t sure about whether it was genuine or if you were crowd pleasing, but it now seems like you’ve definitely found a way to do both.
“Well before when I was doing the acoustic stuff, and I say this without arrogance, without confidence, without ego at all – I say this because I hate myself – I was just doing it because it was easy to do those kind of songs and write those kinds of songs and make that kind of music, but I just wasn’t challenging myself at all. The minute I started challenging myself I started having a lot more fun, and people started to say ‘ooh I’m not sure about that’, and that’s what I really enjoyed – that suddenly not everyone enjoyed it. Whereas before, no one was listening to the songs, they were just saying ‘hey, look at this thirteen/fourteen year old kid who shouts in a microphone because he can’t sing and plays guitar really fast to hide the fact that he can’t play guitar’. People were impressed by the gimmick of who I was, rather than the music that I was trying to write, whereas now I’m making music that speaks directly from – I don’t even think my soul, I think something far greater than that. I see myself as a vessel of music, I see myself as a container that can take an idea that already exists and just give it words to speak through. The minute I took myself out of the equation I started having a lot more fun making the music, people started to respond to it in a much more aggressive way, which I really enjoyed.”
“I see myself as a vessel of music”
The reception of your newer music has been really positive, but despite how it’s much more original, do you have any particular influences? I saw in an interview that you said that ‘Worry’ was meant to be in the style of Justin Timberlake and J-Pop, which was an unexpected combination – what kind of music do you listen to?
“If I like it, I like it, that’s what I’ve always thought about music. It’s as easy as that: if it’s good, listen to it. I used to be that kid that everyone hated at school because if people didn’t like the music I listened to I would just be like, ‘pfft, well you know nothing’. I used to be that guy and I hate that guy. But now I’m much more willing to enjoy absolutely everything and anything. The thing that turns me off about music is if it doesn’t respect itself. That’s the only thing I hate, when I listen to something. Whether people might disagree with me or not, I don’t care because I always think I’m quite a good judge of that. I can listen to a piece of music and instinctively know if it’s been written because it should have been written or written because the money was asking for it to be written, and that really turns me off.
“The thing that turns me off about music is if it doesn’t respect itself”
“So the music that I love is music that still respects itself entirely. Like David Bowie, for example, I’m a huge fan of, and Prince, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Jackson Brown, Tom Waits, those are the big ones that taught me how to write and produce music. But nowadays music that influences me and gives me clues about where music is headed, are people like Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Hiatus Kaiyote, Chance The Rapper, people who are taking music, taking all those great inspirations from the people I’ve mentioned before and turning it into something new and progressive and forward thinking, that’s the music I love. And it respects itself, it respects itself by not just giving its audience what it expects, by giving its audience what they need.”
That’s really interesting to hear, because it definitely feels like your music does respect itself.
“I’m glad that comes across because that’s the thing, the biggest criticism I get for my music usually comes from a place of spite. I mean, most criticism usually comes from a place of spite, but particularly I’ve found that people don’t like my music because of the way I look, or they don’t like my music because of how privileged I must be as a straight white male. They decide not to like my music because of the things that I cannot control. But then the interesting thing is that when people positively criticise my music and look favourably on it, it comes from a place of self-respect and creative intent, and stuff like that, beyond me, it’s not my name but it’s the music I make. That’s something I’m very proud of, that the only hate I get is from people who are just looking to hate things.”
On that note our fifteen minutes are up, so I thank him for his time and interesting opinions and leave him to enjoy his pancakes.