JACK GARRATT IN NEW YORK, MARCH 2015. PHOTO BY VICENTE MUÑOZ. GROOMING: STEFANIE WILLMANN/SEE MANAGEMENT.
Last week, British multi-instrumentalist, singer, and producer Jack Garratt released his latest EP, Synesthesiac (Interscope), a follow-up to his 2014 debut EP, Remnants. As he melds a range of influences from musicians like Hiatus Kaiyote, Thundercat, Flying Lotus, and any beat-makers who, as he says, “create soundscapes [that] offer people to get lost in them,” Garratt’s music is hard to pin down. Resultantly, the 23-year-old’s tracks combine elements of dance electronica and electro pop with soothing, slowed drops of new age jazz piano and hypnotizing vocals.
From Remnants to Synesthesiac, Garratt’s sound matured through an autodidactic process and learning by watching. He often creates songs alone, experimenting in a bedroom-turned-studio, but then receives direct feedback on completed tracks from the likes of former Columbia Records Co-President and Def Jam Co-Founder Rick Rubin. Accordingly, this summer, Garratt will share the stage with notable acts, such as Mumford & Sons during their U.S. tour, and commandeer stages on his own at a range of widely attended events, including two Gentlemen of the Road stopovers and the Montreux Jazz Festival.
We first met Garratt last month in Brooklyn, where he showed up hungover, yet still filled with an intoxicating energy and sense of humor. We then caught up again over the phone once he was in L.A. visiting friends and writing new material at an Airbnb he converted into a studio.
NAME: Jack Garratt
MY FIRST SONG… was about a girl. I wish I could say it was about a global economic crisis or how we’re going to fix the government, but it was about girls. [laughs] I wish I was a prolific writing wondrous boy genius, I wish I was Stevie Wonder, but I wasn’t. I was me. I wrote terrible songs about girls I was head-over-heels about. As soon as a pretty girl looks at me, that’s it—I’m in love and I should probably write a song about it! [laughs]
THE START OF A NEW ERA: I got my first laptop, what I learned to do everything on, when I was 17 or 18, and I had no idea what I was doing. I’d only ever produced on an 8-Track before. When I was about 13 and writing songs, I would write on that. It would literally be eight tracks and that’s all I had. There was no screen, there was no computer, and there was no ability to put anything in time, or tune anything correctly. It was just completely free-form, crazy, random, experimental. The Remnants EP was the first time I got to really explore myself as a producer, and I got the insane idea of doing it on my own in my future career.
SYNESTHESIAC: More than anything, this new EP is me trying to sharpen my producing tools. It’s an extension from where I left Remnants. The EP itself travels linearly through a songwriting progression, with “Water” and it goes into “Worry.” Those are songs that, in my opinion, are stronger. So I left on that note, like, “Here’s an impressive sounding production,” and now Synesthesiac is about me picking up from where I left off, “Here’s more producing.” So the biggest strength is the production side, since I’ve been working hard at it, trying to get better every day.
The reason why I called it Synesthesiac is because I have this person in my life who has synesthesia, and her version of it is that she sees colors through numbers. For a lot of people, it’s most commonly seeing colors through sound, but it can be anything, like feeling a physical motion by seeing something. There’s some rare cases where people will see other people hugging and feel like they’re being hugged. For me, the idea was that I’d like to make a collection of music that would encourage synesthesia to come out of people. It’s all quite big and chaotic and big, sweeping, romantic scores, because I wanted to evoke that kind of emotion, that chemical imbalance, just to see if it was possible to trigger it.
ON HIS OWN: I’ve been naturally quick at learning things, and I learn by doing things, so if I sit beside someone who is actively doing something, I look at how they do it and absorb the way in which they do something, and find my own comfortable way of reimagining that, or using certain techniques in my own way. Whether it’s production, or anything else… I have a unique way of doing what I do, because it’s self-taught—kind of not a very good way of doing stuff. It seems kind of unprofessional to some people and I probably do lots of things “wrong,” [but] producing, more than anything, is problem solving, for me. For some people, it’s the ability to curate sounds around the songs, and give it a nice sonic bed to sleep in, but I always have the sounds in my head and know what I want to put on the track. So for me, it’s a problem solving exercise, like “Okay, how do I get that sound in my head onto the record? How do I make that?” and I’ve always done that on my own, as a solo project.
LITERATURE, OR A LACK THEREOF: I don’t read at all, it’s terrible. It’s so bad. I call myself a writer and I don’t read anything, I don’t read other people’s words. I just try to make up my own and complain to myself when I can’t do it. Of course I can’t! I’m not reading, I have no vocabulary! Now, I’m reading a series of books, where they ask journalists, professors, lecturers, or whoever to write a small book on albums that impacted pop music in a huge way, or impacted a certain career in a huge way. So I’m reading a Tom Waits one at the moment, which is about his record Swordfishtrombones, which is one of my favorite records. This dude goes through, song by song, and talks about Tom’s life at that point, and talks about what it meant to him, and how this album or this collection of songs impacted his life or career, and the music he made from there in comparison with the music he made before.
RICK RUBIN: I caught up with him recently while I’ve been in L.A. He’s a chill dude, he likes my music, he’s interested in it, [and] I think he wants to help in any way he can. So the direct link people make is, “Oh, shit, you’ve been talking to Rick Rubin, is he going to produce your record?” I’d love to work with Rick in the future, but right now it doesn’t quite make sense to work with him that closely, because I’m doing everything myself, and I’m still trying to figure out my sound and what I’m trying to say. It’s great to have a pair of ears like his that I can send new music to and get an honest reaction from, but at the moment, that’s what our relationship is. He’s a great confidante and an incredible mentor.
The best thing I’ve learned from him is just to not worry about the bad stuff and concentrate on the creativity and yourself. It’s difficult to word, because I never even thought it would be a thing, and then suddenly there’s a tidal wave of calm. [laughs] His attitude—not to music, but to everything, to life and surroundings—he surrounds himself with comfort, and love, and peace. Walking into his house, you don’t ever feel like you’re not supposed to be there. You never feel like you’re walking into somebody’s home. Through that alone, it’s so relaxing being around him and that environment, and in turn, it makes me relaxed when I leave and write music again.
SYNESTHESIAC IS OUT NOW VIA INTERSCOPE RECORDS. FOR MORE ON GARRATT, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.