On paper, Jack Garratt is really tough to define. He deftly mixes pop, electo, jazz, R&B and a slew of other genres, he writes in a completely unorthodox way and produces and records every note on his albums and recreates it all by himself on stage. But as I came to learn talking to the 24-year-old UK native, his music isn’t written on paper, both figuratively and literally.
Garratt approaches his writing and performance almost as stream of conscious. Multiple times in our conversation, he made reference to sounds flowing from his brain and out of his hands, almost like a rapidly evolving out of body experience that results in catchy electro-pop tunes. Spastic bass and soaring synth. Sometimes dark, sometimes hopeful, Garratt is more singer / songwriter than he is your typical button pushing electronic producer, but there I go again, trying to define him.
February’s release of his debut album Phase has led Garratt to mega notoriety in his native UK and growing fanfare here in the US, where he played the festival circuit this summer and is about to spend the next five weeks headlining shows throughout the country. We caught up with Garratt yesterday as he enjoyed an off day in Santa Barbara before he begins that US tour with one of his first stops being the Constellation Room in Santa Ana on Monday, Sept. 19.
OC Weekly (Dale Johnson) I’ve gotta say man, you’ve had a hell of a 2016, did you envision your year turning out like this?
Jack Garratt: Yes and also no. There’s things that happen in it that I would have never envisioned, but the feeling at the end of it was what I was always hoping that I would have. To say that all of this was a surprise and a shock would be lying, because this is what I have wanted and I have worked for this and put my heart and soul into the music I made so that I could hopefully become a musician and that’s what seems to be happening.
What drew you to the idea of producing and playing all the instruments on your work vs. collaborating with others or a band?
I’ve never known how to do it any other way. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been making music and performing it and producing it myself but that’s because I didn’t know that’s what I was doing, I just assumed that’s what everyone did because that’s what I did. It wasn’t until I was about 17 or 18 that I kind of came to realize, that that’s not what everyone does, but I just kind of kept doing it. It’s the quickest way and the most creative way for me to get an idea out of my head and to have it flow through my fingers.
The ideas and the songs and the riffs and the beats, they fly around in my head at a 1,000 MPH and I have to catch one of them and hope that it likes me enough to then flow through my fingers, and to be able to do that efficiently and quickly. And the best way to do that is for me to do it alone.
Not only are you playing all the pieces on the album, but you do it on stage as well, are you consciously thinking of the logistics of replicating your songs live when you write or does that come later?
I remember thinking that once, and I also remember instantly thinking “Don’t think about that,” because that’s not why I’m making the music. I’m not making a record to then go play it live. If I started writing my music because I was thinking about how I was going to perform it live that would take the fun out of the eventual challenge of “how the fuck I am going to play half these songs live?”
But it’s fun and I’m aware it’s crazy. It is hard and it takes a lot of preparation. I don’t practice that much because I don’t want to make it perfect, I don’t want to turn it into a routine. I’ve always said that practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes routine and that’s not what I’m here to do, I’m here to give a new, different performance every single time.
How have songs from your album Phase evolved throughout your touring?
They’re totally new things than they were when I started touring. The live show is always the really fun bit for me, because I get to re-write the song every time, I get to do something slightly new with it. That’s what a good performance is, it’s not just doing a live version of you pressing play on your laptop at home, it’s reinventing and reliving the song for the first time by giving it to you in a completely new way.
Electronic music isn’t typically known as a storytellers genre, what made you want to challenge that idea?
I’ve always said that my songs are songs about death that people can dance to. The music that I take from and the music that inspires me so much does that, it has lyrical meaning, it’s got intention and self respect and cares about itself. I try not to waste any lyrics or waste any notes, I try and make everything purposeful and have it be there for a reason.
How are you approaching your upcoming US tour?
I do the same thing that I do for every other show and that’s every show is completely different, even two shows in the same city if they are in two different venues are completely different, even if they are in the same venue they are completely different. That’s how I prepare for the show, I remember that. Even though the audience I am playing for might have an expectation, I will not give them what they expect. I will give them the show that I have made, which is one that respects them by not giving them what they expect from me. That’s how I view my shows.
Jack Garratt performs on Sept. 19 at the Constellation Room, 8 p.m. $29.50. For full details, click here.