Photo of Jack Garratt by Zoe Zimmer
“I keep waiting to wake up and find out it’s just a dream,” Jack Garratt says as he reflects on the past few months of his life.
It’s a warm spring afternoon and he’s speaking with Variance during a string of his first official U.S. shows. “I never played New York before this,” he says. “I’ve played L.A. before but not an official show where people could buy tickets. So this is all new for me.”
The rising British singer-songwriter is performing in support of last year’s Remnants EP and his newly released Synesthesiac EP. And while he’s currently one of the year’s most buzzed about acts, he’s keeping himself grounded as he hits the road.
“The thing I try to remember is to be nice to everyone,” he explains of his touring strategy. “Because everyone is there to help each other out. And they all want everything to go well and for everyone to have a good time. There’s nothing worse than being in a band or being a musical act and having an oversized ego. It affects the energy for everyone.”
Having opened for Ben Howard in the U.K. last year, Garratt says he observed firsthand the kind of work ethic he wants to emulate as he plots his own trek. “He is one of the hardest working people in the industry, without a shadow of a doubt,” the singer confidently declares. “It was really eye-opening being on that tour with him, because I had never been on a tour like that. Everything from thousand-cap venues to 6,500-cap ones. And watching the way he treated his music and the sound of it to come across through the crowd, so effortlessly. It was hugely inspiring.”
"[Ben Howard] is one of the hardest working people in the industry, without a shadow of a doubt. It was really eye-opening being on that tour with him."
He’s also drawn inspiration from sources perhaps without the level of international name recognition as someone like Howard.
“I love futuristic, soul-funk stuff,” he confesses. “Like really aggressive stuff too. My favorite band at the moment is an Australian band out of Melbourne called Hiatus Kaiyote. I love them so much. But they’ve been a huge, huge inspiration to me, in that they just do whatever happens in their head. And they trust themselves to do it, and it works because it’s obvious they care so much about the music they’re making. It’s super-futuristic, jazz, soul, it’s crazy. Fucking incredible.”
He also points to multi-instrumentalist and Thundercat associate Taylor McFerrin as motivation for his own creative aspirations.
“I was listening to a lot of Taylor McFerrin last year heading into my EP,” says Garratt. “He worked with Nai Palm from Hiatus Kaiyote; she’s on his album Early Riser, which was released on Flying Lotus’ label. And the tone of that album really pushed me and inspired me. His music has affected how I approach my own music.”
And of course there are guys like Thundercat and Flying Lotus themselves, who Garratt says “are changing music. They make people like me want to be better,” he exclaims, before recalling an album that has had his attention since moments after it was released, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. “I listened to that record and—fuck, man. That was really special. Because not only is it such a great hip-hop record but it’s probably one of the most important albums of the year. And to hear these musical influences in it, music that I love but sometimes I’m not sure how it translates to a wider audience. This guy with such a massive platform just comes out and does what he needs to do, and he doesn’t care if it fits into this single category of music, that’s fucking cool to me. And it’s refreshing to think, if music is heading in that direction, I’m super stoked about that.”
As for his own music, Garratt acknowledges that some fans were caught by surprise by his own seemingly left turn last fall when he released “The Love You’re Given,” which was one of Variance’s 100 Best Songs of 2014.
“It’s incredible that people have responded so well to it because it was never my intended goal to ‘step it up a notch’ or anything,” he confesses as he reflects on the song’s origins. “It was just a natural progression for me from where the music was being written. And I’ve also started focusing more on the production of my songs and how they sound.”
That’s become a key factor for the musician as he continues working on new material. But he admits he’s also been increasingly aware of the listener: “Am I being respectful of everyone’s ears? Am I being careful about how I’m treating the actual music? Those were things I had to consider. And maybe that’s what people have reacted to, the change in tone,” he suggests. “I think it still sounds like me—my music, and it still belongs in the same body of work. It’s more a matter of, ‘This is what I’m ready to give to people.’”
"I won’t put music out unless I can justify someone spending four-and-a-half minutes of their time listening to it."
And that’s what’s on his mind a lot these days, what he has in store for fans and how he’ll deliver it. “Getting the music out to as many people as I can and playing it live. That’s the most important thing to me right now,” says Garratt, who has a number of U.S. shows scheduled throughout the coming months.
If all goes as planned, he hopes to release his debut album later this year. “But only if it’s ready,” he cautions. “I won’t put music out unless I can justify someone spending four-and-a-half minutes of their time listening to it. If I have a six-minute song, I would only want to release it if it was worth people’s time. I know the music industry moves so fast and there is pressure to keep up, but I think if the goal is longevity, I want to do it right.”
Jack Garratt’s Synesthesiac EP is out now. For his tour dates, go to facebook.com/jackgarrattmusic.