I stepped into the High Watt on Cannery Row and joined a substantial Nashville crowd gathered to see a band building up the room’s energy with blasting synths, a little saxophone, and even a flugle horn. The four piece band was a good fit with Garratt. strong melodies and powerful crescendos…but they also served a different purpose.
They showed what it normally takes to generate an exciting live show—four people all playing different instruments.
Then, they tore down their drums, synths and guitars and cleared the stage. What replaced them was a simple set up made for one musician. One keyboard, one looping station, one sampling pad. One foot trigger for bass drum kicks, some effects pedals and one guitar.
Then one man came out and did the job of four. All at the same time. And he did each of those jobs arguably better than most.
Jack Garratt’s songs tend to start off simple. One looped track run off his laptop either triggered by his sampling pad or created live on his keyboard. He’d then start playing the drum beat, typically with only his right hand and foot. Next comes voice. Delicate falsettos or deep rumbles and growls then grow into a crashing chorus, and in comes the left hand playing huge dubby bass lines on the keyboard. At one point during “The Love You’re Given” he managed to send a deafening rattle around the air vents that snaked across The High Watt’s ceiling.
If a status quo could be pinned to Garratt’s performance, it would be this. Soulful and energetic singing with a super dynamic range, live and powerful drum beats and massive bass lines played over a simple loop providing a skeleton for the other parts. But Garratt don’t stop there.
Garratt is anything but static. His songs are active, with powerful moments of change and development. His voice is clean and timid at times, roaring and triumphant at others. On stage, he is vibrant, rarely standing still, even when all limbs are occupied. He’s a funny guy too, cracking jokes with the crowd (after performing a sensual rendition of “Let Me Love You” by Mario, he sang the soaring chorus again, but as a duet by Michael Jackson and Michael McDonald). He also expressed exuberance and humility at the mere opportunity to play. Currently on his first US tour, and this being only his second show, he was wowed by the size and excitement of the crowd. After all, he hasn’t even released a full album yet.
Recently, I was able to catch Jack on the phone and ask him a few questions.
So you’re here on your first North American Tour, playing solo shows and also opening for Mumford and Sons. How are you liking it so far?
Having a really good time! It’s about ten past nine [AM], I’m not hungover yet, we’ll see how the day goes. We did the first arena show with Mumford last night, so I’m in Edmonton right now. We just did this show at Rexall Place, so that was a lot of fun, kind of a big moment. I’m having a great time, I’m working hard. I’m trying to enjoy every minute of it when I get the chance to enjoy it.
Was that your first arena show?
Yes. First of quite a few, actually. Then I’m doing some of Gentlemen of the Road Stopovers, which is the festival that [Mumford and Sons] curates. So yeah, last night was the first show I’ve ever done in an arena, which was really good. It was incredible, it was such a real privilege to be able to play to a room of that size.
What made you choose to go the route of one-man band?
I never really did. There was never really a point where I chose to not have a band, or just do it on my own. The way it came about was I was writing these songs and producing this music that was just so different from anything I had written or produced before, and I needed a way to play it live. The setup I have now came from necessity. So it wasn’t me going “I want to be a modern one man band,” or trying to define myself by the live show, which has been getting a lot of attention lately (and I kind of didn’t mean for it to do that). I just, out of necessity, had to build a set up quite quickly so that I could go and play some shows that I already had booked. So a friend of mine and I put together this setup that I’m still using today. He gave me lots of advice on the equipment to use. So to answer your question, I never decided to not have a band. I just need to play music, and I might as well do it all on my own because it saves having to organize rehearsals with other people.
Have you considered putting a band together in the future?
I’ve thought about it… I’ve definitely, definitely thought about it. I don’t know though, really. As I said, it was never really a planned thing. I think if I ever used a band it would be for the same reason. Watching the Mumford boys play last night in front of something like thirteen or fourteen thousand people, I had a real moment where I was like “Fuck, it would be incredible to go up and do that with a band.” That would be amazing to get up there in six years’ time and play to a crowd of that size. But then the other part of me was like “Yeah, but you might not need one. Also if you do then great, if not, then also great.” I love to perform with other musicians, but I’m having a lot of fun at the moment being able to explore the stage, explore the sounds on my own.
Seeing your live set, it became very clear there is a lot of programming involved to keep everything running. Do you do that all yourself?
Yes, I do. I produce a lot of my own music anyway, so I have all the stems that I need to bounce all the samples from. There are a couple of tracks I’ve had mixed by other people, that I need to get the stems from, mix them down and create my own samples. Another reason I do the live set on my own is because it has become quite significantly and uniquely complicated. I have my stage guy, the friend I mentioned earlier who helped me with my live setup. He’s there with me and knows my setup inside and out, and can put it all together and take it apart and fix things for me, he’s my guy [@HotRoadie on twitter]. But as soon as it would get to programming samples and then putting them onto the pad so that I know where they would be… no one else knows how to do that other than me because I change it for every new song. So it’s really complicated, but it’s only complicated for me. I’d rather have it be complicated for me, than for me and six other people.
I was really impressed by your humor and energy on stage. I think typically in your genre of music, the electro-R&B type stuff, that’s quite rare. Most guys like James Blake or Frank Ocean are fairly serious. I was wondering if that was a conscious choice to bring humor and energy to what is typically a more stoic music.
Well, I’ve always been a talker. I’ve always talked to (or probably most of the time, at) people, ever since I was a kid. I always just naturally found myself in a place where I wanted to be able to talk to the crowd. It took a bit of work, it wasn’t always successful. I wasn’t necessarily trying to be funny, just trying to make sure that the audience was having a good time, and making sure that the audience and I were on the same team, that everyone is in the moment together and everyone is enjoying themselves. That’s the only thing that I cared about. And so, after a year of pretty relentless gigging, I’ve been able to narrow it down and… I don’t know, say the right kind of things I guess. It was definitely a conscious effort, making sure that the show was one people would walk away from going “Holy shit, I have no idea what just happened.” Because you’re right, there’s not a lot of people doing the music that I do, who also have the opportunity to treat the audience as another person in the room.
I’m also in the fortunate position where my stature isn’t big enough yet to make walking on stage irrelevant. As soon as you get to a certain crowd size, no matter what you say on stage, it kind of doesn’t matter because the person at the back isn’t going to understand a thing you say.
So that was going to be my next question – How did that play out with this arena show with Mumford and Sons?
Well yeah, so I just didn’t do it. I had half an hour, went up on stage, I had five songs, I played my five songs and I walked off stage again. I had a couple of moments, where I was able to give the Mumford boys a shout out and say thank you to them, but I have a different job there. Not only to warm up a crowd, but also impress them. That’s my job, make sure the crowd is ready for the next support act, but also that they are impressed with my performance and don’t feel like they’ve wasted money on the ticket they bought.
I’ve done a couple shows now with the Mumford boys, and they have a really, really good band relationship on stage in front of their crowd. The room is just so big, I don’t get how anyone can understand what they’re saying. It shows I still have a lot to learn, because I’m looking at them and they can do it fine.
I want to talk to you about your new single “Weathered.” It has a different sound than your previous stuff. It has this positive, triumphant feel as opposed to the more traditional sad, bluesy fare typical of R&B. Is that indicative of a direction you’re going in?
That was just necessary for the song. I’ve always made sure that my songs are as right as they can be, for the song. The sound of it, the tone of it, the texture of it. There would be no point in putting the production of “Weathered” on a song like “Chemical” for example. Even if you strip away all of the production and everything from both those songs and lay them bare, they are two completely different entities, and they need to be treated and respected as such. It just so happens that “Weathered” has taken this much more positive attitude, even though the song itself is about such an abysmal subject; it’s about such a depressing thing. But then again the song itself is hopeful, it is uplifting. It’s a positive song, so therefore the production had to swell with it, it had to move with it. The song was breathing. But it’s not a direction I’m going in, it’s just that one song needed that kind of sound.
As I go on creating all the other songs to put together this record, every song will be treated individually, and will have its own place and sound and style and moment. And if some of them sound the same, then some of them sound the same But so far, almost all of them have sounded different. It’s all about the song. All about what it asks for.
So you mentioned a record. Is this the first full length Jack Garratt album? What’s going on with that?
Yes… where am I with that? [laughs] It is going to be part of a bigger thing. I am absolutely moving forward and working toward a larger project. At the moment, I’m still in a place where everything has happened quite quickly, in terms of the sudden increase of attention I’ve been getting. Because of that I’ve made sure I’m not going to rush anything. The worst thing that I could do is have things happen quicker than I expected, and then rush a product to meet the demand. Because that’s not fair to the people who want the thing I’m going to give them. So instead, everyone’s going to have to be a bit patient, including myself. I’m just enjoying fleshing out these ideas that I’m having at the moment. You see, “Weathered” itself is quite an old song, with the production and the idea behind it being very, very new. It was only really finished about a week before it was released to other people.
But it’s coming! I promise! I’m just having a lot of fun fleshing everything out myself.
Jack Garratt sings like Sam Smith but with more grit and energy. He produces with the pop ear of Calvin Harris and the creativity of Dan Deacon. He plays piano tastefully, shreds on guitar, and composes interesting beats. And he does it ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Not to mention he’s a pretty cool guy.
Pay attention to this one. Or don’t. Either way you’re going to hear more from him.