Jack Garratt’s reinvented sound is inspired by a love of R&B pop, writes Fiona Shepherd
Jack Garratt is tough as old boots. You can call him a control freak – he’ll probably agree. You can slate his music – he’s his own toughest critic anyway. You can get personal – he has already described himself as a “fat, afro-haired arrogant kid”. You could even mention his ill-fated bid to become Britain’s Junior Eurovision entry a few years back with the first song he ever wrote – Garratt has already gone for full disclosure on that one, and seems immune to any criticism coming his way since his breakthrough earlier this year with debut album Phase.
“I can just shrug it off because it’s nothing worse than I’ve given myself,” says the chipper Garratt. “I can wade through the sludge of all that and know that I’ll get to a dry bank soon enough because I’ve already taken myself through that same pile of s**t.”
However, he does seem happy enough to own my rather clumsy description of him as “the mad professor at the centre of everything”. Garratt is the umpteenth solo artist to win the Brits Critics’ Choice Award but no other previous incumbent plays quite such an array of instruments. He’s a multi-tasking digital one-man band who prefers to do everything himself.
“My mind feels most free on my own, my mind works quickly,” he says. “But if I’m in a room with someone else, they may not know that and they’ll think this idea I’m doing now is s**t. But I know what it’s going to sound like in the future.”
Garratt has no issue playing music with others – growing up, he performed in school musicals, played in youth orchestras. “I loved being a part of that community,” he says, “but as soon as writing music with another person came up, my social anxiety would kick in and I would decay from the inside. I wouldn’t be able to give any good ideas because I was constantly critiquing myself even more than I already do just because someone else was in the room.”
He is quick to point out that he grew up in a loving family where he and his siblings were “encouraged to do the things that made our souls seem to speak – though that was never how it was sold to us, they just subconsciously allowed us the freedom to do that. That’s not an opportunity that’s given to every child, but it’s so important to have freedom of creativity because it’s so therapeutic. That’s what it’s been for me, it’s been my therapy for my entire life.”
Warming to his theme, Garratt reclines on an imaginary analyst’s couch as he explains further: “I spent my school life trying to write songs because I wanted the attention of other people. When I did the Junior Eurovision thing it was probably more because I wanted to be on TV rather than because I was proud of the song. I wasted my childhood by trying to impress people older than me and so I left all the children of my own age behind.”
The crunch came aged 20. Garratt’s long-term relationship broke up. Simultaneously, he ditched an album he had ready to go, along with a record deal and many of the friendships and associations he had made along the way. He remembers “this strange purgatory state of nothingness. I was left with nothing but my adoration for music.”
So Garratt moved from his Buckinghamshire home to London and rethought his approach. Angsty acoustic blues was out, R&B-influenced pop was in. Four years later, opportunity, recognition and success have followed. But he’ll stop short of saying he is fulfilled.
“When I was a kid and even in my late teens, I was so fixated on becoming someone, on being a finished thing,” he muses. “But if you feel complete, what are you going to do tomorrow? And that’s the fire that drives me. I’m happy to have faults because it means I’ve got more work to do tomorrow, it gives me a reason to wake up in the morning. It was a good quarter life crisis to have – at a slightly younger age than a quarter of the way through my life!”
• Jack Garratt plays T In The Park on 9 July