PEOPLE: Jack Garratt

A New Kind of Music


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In England, Jack Garratt is considered a musician to watch in 2016. The BBC crowned the multi-talented artist as newcomer of the year. But to find the path to success, Jack Garratt must first lose himself.

  • Author: Simon E. Fuchs
  • Photos: Universal / Island Records
„First place on the BBC’s Sound of 2016 poll“

He feels what he plays and he plays what he feels. Jack Garratt’s method for expressing himself is unusual. He sings and plays the keyboard, but has a guitar hanging from his shoulder as he does so and, when he’s not playing it, he takes a drumstick in his right hand and triggers a pad, which introduces percussion into his songs. For him, this is how you shape the future of audio.

Garratt stands amid his instruments as though he’s never done anything else. The beat of his music is in tune with the rhythm of our times and shifts between pop, soul, R&B and electro. It is notable for its congenial modesty, but at the same time it is too raw to play over and over on the radio.

And exactly that is what makes it attractive. The British media is celebrating Garratt as the next Ed Sheeran and the 24-year-old landed in first place on the BBC’s Sound of 2016 poll. In the past, the annual list has featured the likes of Adele, Lady Gaga and 50 Cent before they became household names. For Garratt, the year 2016 could hardly have had a more promising beginning. But in order for Garratt to get to this point, where he would seem to have found himself and his voice, he had to start all over again from the beginning.

Garratt: A little bit hipster, a little bit farm boy

Today, when Garratt steps behind his instruments, you see a young man who is a little bit hipster and a little bit farm boy. In a live video for the song “Worry,” he is wearing a white T-shirt, with the sleeves rolled up, of course, and his curls are hidden beneath a colorful baseball cap. With his full, red beard, he would almost certainly have a successful career as a model for hip, big-city boutiques. Yet his appearance does not at all seem forced. It’s as though he feels more at home in the countryside than in the pulsating capital of London.

Garratt did not, in fact, spend his youth in the big city, but in Little Chalfont, a small town west of London. It is a place of forests and fields rather than clubs and malls. At home, the record player played LPs by Stevie Wonder, Tom Waits and Stevie Ray Vaughan – and they became his idols. Early on, Garratt began fooling around with instruments and his parents, a teacher and a policeman, sent him to music classes as a child. He yearned for attention and he used the classes as an attempt to fulfill this need through singing and making music. “I just really enjoyed making noises and really enjoyed the reaction that I got from making those noises,” he told the BBC in a recent interview.

He recorded his first songs at the age of 12 and appeared on television for the first time at 13. The occasion was the British competition to decide its representative for “Junior Eurovision.” Jack Garratt sang a song called “The Girl” – and came in last place.

That, Garratt says today, was the first time that he had wanted to achieve something with music. But his intentions, he said, were misguided. “I did it more for attention rather than for a love of what I was doing.”

But Garratt was not discouraged by his last place finish. He continued writing his own songs and his music shifted toward the blues. But he never released the first album he made. "I knew I needed to change something because I wasn't having fun and wasn't liking the songs I was writing," he says. Instead of having a mid-life crisis at the age of 40, Garratt had his when he was in his early 20s. "That freaked me out even more."

Garratt’s new independence: He's found his voice

Garratt had originally wanted to become a teacher, but he dropped out of university to take a year off for himself and his music. He experimented and practiced and listened to his inner voice. And he wrote new songs, like "I Couldn't Want You Anyway," a piece which opened his ears and his eyes, as he says. For the first time, he was able to communicate exactly what he was feeling. “The minute I started to treat music with a totally different level of respect and integrity, everything changed and suddenly things started to fall into place.”

He hired a good friend to be his manager. “I found my way back to a path that I felt was very familiar, but knew I’d never walked on before," he says. Garratt had found his voice.

Following his own path with creativity

Today, Garratt is celebrated for exactly this sound and voice. In addition to coming in first place on the BBC Sound of 2016 poll, he also won the Critics’ Choice Award at the Brit Awards for his debut album “Phase.” He is now under contract with the well-known music label Island Records.

Despite his growing fame and the honors he has won, Garratt's songs still evoke memories of the time when he was still searching. “The right side of my bed has always left me feeling stuck in between; Everything I know and all the lies I tell myself so I can sleep," he sings in "Worry." Garratt himself speaks of a natural darkness within of the kind that everybody has - a darkness that can be heard in most of his songs. Perhaps it is exactly this search and this feeling of not yet having found oneself that so many young people in big cities can identify with.