“A lot of people are trying to be my harshest critic, but I’m my own harshest critic…” - hmv.com talks to Jack Garratt
You might not have heard Jack Garratt’s music, but you’ll probably have heard his name. The 24-year old singer-songwriter has already been awarded the Brits Critics Choice Award and the BBC Sound of 2016 award, gongs that went to James Bay and Years & Years last year, two artists who both ended up having a rather special 2015.
As he releases his debut album Phase (which you can preview and purchase on the right-hand side of the page) we sat down with Garratt to find out all about the making of the album, if he’s feeling the pressure of his two awards and his plans to take the record out live...
Your album finally hits shelves today, have you had it finished for a little while?
“It’s been ready for a while, but I like to think it’s been fermenting and just getting even tastier as it sits there. It’s been all ready since November, but I promise, however long people think they’ve been waiting for it, I’ve been waiting for a lot longer!”
Was it harder to say “That’s the end, it’s done!” because you’re so self-contained, you produce, mix, write and record by yourself most of the time?
“Yes, but that also meant I got started on it a lot earlier. I’ve been writing and recording the album for three years. I think even if I was in a band and had more deadlines to meet I still think I’d act in the same, mad, perfectionist way I do. I know I’ll never achieve perfection, but I always want to adapt my music and change it.”
“Sure. It sucks to press finish and give it away because music really has its own life. I just have to remember people don’t go through my process and just want to hear it, else I’d just hoard it and live in a cave all day and make beats.”
What’s the song on the album that’s taken the most work to get right?
“‘Weathered’, which I wrote almost two and a half years ago, that’s been a journey, that’s gone through seven or eight different alterations and lives until it made the cut. It feels like it’s what it’s supposed to be now, the song is the same one I wrote in my bedroom, but the bed of sound took such a long time to get right.”
You produced the album, but you called in a few different people to work with, can you talk us through how that worked?
“It was four in all, two that were friends of mine and two that I had put on me. Mike Spencer came in and helped me with ‘Weathered’, he really saved it. I also worked with a guy called Carassius Gold on ‘Worry’, we co-wrote that together. Then there’s Brett Cox, he helped me refine and finesse a lot of the record, he stopped me from burning out basically. Finally there’s Anthony Kilhoffer who helped me at the start ‘Far Cry’ and then I took the song away and produced it myself.”
When you mostly work on your own, is it hard to know when to ask for help?
“The reason I do so much on my own isn’t because I want to hog all the limelight and the attention, or because I want all the points on the royalties. I’m very scared of writing with other people, writing music is such an emotional experience for me that I don’t like doing it in front of other people. What I need from other people is fresh ears and fresh perspective. I’m my own harshest critic. A lot of people are trying to be my harshest critic, but I’m my own harshest critic. I do know when to ask for help and when not to.”
Was there any pressure from your label to work with some more hit-driven songwriters and producers?
“There was early on, but as soon as they realised that I wasn’t having any of it, they stopped. No one has ever suggested that I change anything on my music, I’m not here to make music for you, I’m here to make the music that you trust me to make.”
You were doing quite well as an independent artist, but you’re now signed to a major label in Island Records, were you ever tempted to stay independent?
“No, but I know where my strengths and weaknesses are. I hand picked my team, I know I needed a team of good, well-intended people who want to do it for the right reasons, I didn’t want people who were going to change me or turn me into a product, I just knew I needed help getting to the widest possible audience. We’ll see if it works, I know they’ve taken a chance on me, I don’t think I’m a safe bet.”
You’ve already been named the Brits Critics’ Choice winner and won the BBC Sound of 2016 poll, does that add more pressure to the album?
“It does. But the album has been finished since November and there’s nothing I can do about it now. I’m not putting pressure on it, the label aren’t putting pressure on me, I don’t think the audience is putting pressure on me, they’re just excited. There’s always pressure because I care so much about my music and I want to be a positive addition to culture and music and art. If the album does nothing, I’ll still be as proud of what I’ve done. Awards are incredible compliments, but I’m not here to win awards.”
Can you sum up the album lyrically? Does it have a theme running through it?
“It does have a couple of themes, but there’s more of a common idea in how the lyrics are presented. Every song feels like a letter, not necessarily from me, but to someone, asking them to change, or grow, or adapt. I like doing that, it means I never get to see the response, which I like. It’s 12 one-sided arguments. It is an album about love, but love is a really broad term and this album deals with affection in the widest possible way.”
Who are some of your favourite lyricists?
“I love the way that Tom Waits writes, he writes stories without actually writing stories, I adore his tongue in cheek hobo humour, I’ve never read a cheap Tom Waits lyric. I’m a huge fan of Paul Simon and Jackson Browne too and Napalm, who’s the singer in this band called Hiatus Kaiyote, she writes entirely through images and she’s so inspiring. A lot of different inspirations went into this record."
Where did the title come from?
“Phase stood out to me because of the different meanings it has. Things in the natural world have phases and I’m really interested in the cyclical nature of life. I like the idea of how our memories are cyclical too and that feeds into it. Also this record is a phase, hopefully the first phase of my career, it’s my first three years.”
Finally, when it comes to taking the record out live, how much is planned?
“Pretty far, I think the next year is mapped out, the next three months are booked in and the year is planned. We’re looking to tour places I’ve never been to before.”
Do you have an appetite for the big stages? Or do they scare you?
“I’ve done the big rooms on the Mumford & Sons tour, I don’t think I’m ready for arenas, my next London show is Brixton Academy and I’m so pumped for that show, but also really scared, it’s a big place.”
Jack Garratt’s debut album Phase is out now. He will meet fans and sign copies of the album at hmv 363 Oxford Street later today. Click here for more details.