Jack Garratt is one of the biggest up-and-coming artists in the industry at the moment. His debut Phase (2016) earned him a loyal fanbase, but it’s his newest release Love, Death & Dancing that has had the greatest impact on his career thus far. Having been interviewed by Radio 1’s Clara Amfo just a few days after me getting the chance to speak to him over the phone, it’s clear that Garratt is on the rise and now is the best chance to catch him before he’s inevitably off playing big stadiums across the world.
So, Love, Death & Dancing was just released. I know you’ve already explained this on Twitter and elsewhere, but can you please explain the reasonings behind the two different track-lists?
Ultimately it kind of came from an idea that I had a couple of years ago before the album was even made, before I’d even started to make the album. I remember sitting down with my management and showing them a few songs that I had been working on at the time and just thinking of ways that we could really make my return a real moment. I was aware of the fact I’d been away for a while, and I was aware of the fact that the music industry had changed so much in the time that I released my first album and me releasing my second album. I was just trying to think of inventive ways of being able to present music to an audience of people, and [it was]the thing that crept into my mind.
I just wasn’t aware of that having been done that much before, but more than anything it just made sense given the way that people stream music now, and the way that the vinyl sales have increased and become a very popular medium to listen to music to for the last 5-7 years. So, I just thought, ‘what’s the easiest and most efficient way to kind of respect the same listener who listens to music in two completely different ways?’. I stream and listen to music on vinyl, and I’m usually in two very different frames of minds when I’m in those places. It seemed to make sense that what you could do very simply was just curate the listening experience by changing the playlists. So doing the streaming one in volumes made sense because streaming is more catered to play-listing and short bursts of listening, as opposed to the vinyl which tells more of an abstract story from track 1 to track 12. For me, though, it was just an easy and entertaining and creatively interesting way to attack the same pair of ears, or to attack one pair of ears from two different places.
I’m aware this is quite a difficult question to answer, but do you have a personal favourite track-list to listen to? Do you prefer vinyl or streaming music?
I prefer listening to vinyl any way, but I probably do streaming more often. That being said, though, the playlist I prefer is definitely the physical track-list, the track 1 to track 12. Not that Love, Death & Dancing is a concept album, but it definitely tells a cohesive story through those 12 tracks.
So you mentioned before about the change in the music industry from your release of Phase to your release of Love, Death & Dancing. Would you say your approach to writing and recording the new album differed in any way from your writing of Phase because of this?
Yeah, I don’t think it differed because the music industry changed, I think it differed just because I’ve grown as a person and as an artist in that time. I mean, I’d hope that I would have changed in that time – it’s been 4 years since I released that first album. So, I mean, I’d hope that I had changed a little bit as a human being in that time. My writing has followed suit, I think. I approached this album with a lot more patience, for myself and for the process of just writing music, and that helped me.
I mean, it was a struggle to get there, it was a struggle to patient with myself, it’s not something I do naturally. It was definitely something that was needed, especially given what these songs are about. The songs were asking me to be a lot more careful and to be a lot more caring of myself as well. So, no, I didn’t change the way that I wrote to suit the industry, but I definitely changed the way that I wrote because the way that I wrote Phase wasn’t how I was writing music this time. Also the way that I wrote Phase was unsustainable; it took me 20 years to write that album because it was made up of songs I’d collected over my teenage years and in my early twenties. I didn’t have 20 years to write Love, Death & Dancing.
This is another difficult question to answer, but do you have a personal favourite track on Love, Death & Dancing at the moment?
Well, obviously they all hold very different places in my heart and they hold those places for a reason. The song ‘She Will Lay My Body On The Stone’ is probably just my favourite song I think I’ve ever written. There’s a lot to that song that I have been wanting to say for a really long time, and I didn’t have the maturity, I didn’t have the confidence in myself nor did I have the talent in the first album to write a song that’s as mature as that, to write a song that is so honest and vulnerable. But, it’s something I’ve been practicing a lot more.
Over the years in my interim of me not releasing or recording any music, I just focused on making music that I liked or I tried to make music that I liked, and when it came to then writing songs for this album I was so ready to tap into that part of my adoration for my own music. It came quite natural to me to sit down at a piano and write a song like that. Likewise, just from a technical stand-point, I’m really proud of that song, just for its lyrical and harmonic technicality. It’s a song I’m very proud of, partly as a fan of my own music but as also someone who lives inside of my brain. I’m just very, very enamoured with it and it’s one of the rare examples in song-writing for me, in my songs, where I’ve intended to do something and then hit that nail square on the head.
Yes, definitely! Obviously, we’re in lockdown right now – have you found that this has inspired or hindered your writing in any way? Are you working on anything new right now?
Well, because the album’s been out, we had to release the album during the lockdown and during everyone being inside and away from other people, so much of my time has just been focused on getting the album out and having it be successful, whatever that means! A lot of my effort has been going into just making sure that the last couple years of hard work haven’t gone to waste, or that I’m still releasing an album that I love, that I care about, that I want to continue to talk about for a long period of time, because I can’t obviously go out and tour it. I’ve still got to get people interested in it and convince people to listen to it.
However, I have been writing bits and pieces of other kinds of music, other styles of music, just giving myself little creative challenges every now and then. For example, at the moment I am working on a re-worked version of a couple of the songs. They’re not necessarily remixes, they’re definitely re-workings of the songs. It’s something I did on the first album but kind of mislabeled them as remixes, which they’re definitely not. They are re-imaginings of a couple of the songs, so I’m kind of doing that at the moment.
Are those the things you’ve been putting up as Twitter voice-notes recently, by any chance?
Yeah, yeah, a couple of them I’ve just been putting up!
You can’t tour the album right now, and fan interaction is quite difficult as it’s all over social media at the moment. But, I know you’ve done a couple live-stream gigs – did you find these difficult to get used to at first?
I’ve done quite a few of them now actually, and they don’t necessarily get easier. I mean, a show’s a show; I’ll do that forever. I love performing no matter who or what it’s to, it’s just been very weird that it’s had to be towards a camera and nobody else. The really difficult thing was when the lockdown first happened, and for those first couple of months, I was upstairs in this house that I’m renting there’s a top room that I’ve converted into a little make-shift studio, and we had to set up my whole live set in there.
That was weird because I was usually just performing to my phone or I was performing to a camera that was then streaming to the live on Facebook or Instagram or something. That’s just weird because obviously you don’t get the feedback in the room, but the thing for me that was weirder than anything is that you don’t get the disturbance of the air in the room. Like, my show is pretty electronic any way, there’s not a lot of real, analogue movement of air to create sound, a lot of it is just coming from a plastic box that then makes noise when you plug it into the speaker.
The thing you always get back is an audience [is that]you always get that basic, human interaction of just disturbing the air that’s around somebody. To have complete stillness was so weird, knowing that there’s 100 or 500 people currently watching from the other end. So, I don’t think I’d ever get used to that, but luckily now that the lockdown is easing a little bit, it means I get to go to a studio and then a couple of my crew were there as well, at least it’s got the people in the room I get to feedback off of.
Obviously everybody is missing live gigs at the moment. Where do you think the first venue you’ll visit will be, either to play or to watch a show?
I mean, it depends on the show. To be honest, the logical answer is that it’s going to be in the UK if it’s going to be anywhere, because that’s going to be the easiest place to get to from here, and it’s going to be the easiest place for people to get to see me as well. The minute that I can, I want to go everywhere. We had a whole summer of touring booked up and luckily we hadn’t announced anything, so no one had bought any tickets for anything. The worst thing for me is that we had penciled in a bunch of gigs and we’d asked people to hold those days, like crew and stuff like that, and obviously none of the gigs had been confirmed, so that’s a lot of work for a lot of people that’s just disappeared.
The biggest thing for me that I am trying to keep at the forefront of my priorities is not necessarily what I’m going to do when I can go and play in front of people, but it’s what I can do now. Like, what can I do in terms of doing shows right now that still means I can then employ a crew of people because they deserve that work, they deserve that money, and they’ve missed out on a lot of that this summer, as have I. The minute I can I’ll be in a venue in front of as many people I can fit in there, but up until then the thing I’m trying to think of is, you know, how do I do that in a virtual situation that still means I can properly and rightfully pay a crew of people so that we can create the best show for as many people, who can then stream it around the world? That’s kind of the fun challenge we’re looking at at the moment.
I saw that you’ve premiered your visual album already. For those who weren’t able to watch it, can you talk through what it is exactly?
It was an idea that I had a couple of years ago as well, when I first started getting the demos to the album together, and I started thinking how to visually represent different videos. I had this image in my mind of what I wanted one of the videos to look like, and it was just me in front of a camera dancing, and that’s a very simple image but in my head it was very vibrant – I could definitely make out what it needed to look like. I saw myself in a bare house with a jumpsuit on and it’s just me and a camera and a bunch of lights. I took that image to a really good friend of mine, who I’ve worked with before on some of my music videos, a guy called Tom Clarkson, and he and I spent months just writing up a bunch of pictures for a bunch of videos. We took it to my label to talk about funding and budget, and we came to an agreement that we could go away and film 8 videos to tell this story of the album visually, and that’s what we did. So we’ve got these 8 videos all playing one after the other, which tell this kind of strange, abstract narrative that’s very linked to what the narrative of the album is. It’s a visual representation of it, it’s a film, it’s me dancing in a giant empty warehouse with a boiler suit on for every single song. We filmed the whole thing in 4 days, which was a terrible idea but it’s done and people are enjoying it.
I was going to say that when I watched the music video for ‘Better’, the choreography does seem quite complicated! Was this your first time having to use choreographed moves for a music video?
It was the first time I’ve had to do it for a music video, yeah. I used to do it a bit when I was a kid. Part of the reason why I wanted to do it is because there’s nothing more vulnerable than not being a professional dancer and dancing on screen. For me, at least, there’s nothing more vulnerable than that. I wanted to use that vulnerability, I wanted to use it as a story-telling device. So, yeah, it was very weird and very hard but I had the best team around me doing it.
Liv Lockwood, who was the choreographer who I worked with for all of November and all of December – we worked together and I think we only took Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off, and maybe Boxing Day, and that was it. The rest of December we were working, and pretty much through all of January. She just took me through everything, and we worked on the choreography together, worked on the movements together, so I always felt supported throughout the whole thing. But, at the end of the day I still had to be the only one in front of a camera doing the dances myself which was fucking terrifying!
How important do you think music videos are in reflecting the music that you make?
I think it depends on how you use that medium. I’m not sure if I could confidently say that if I’d written this song and recorded it that that’s it, that’s the story told – I think there’s always more story that you can peg from something, or that you can give from something. I’ve always really tried to make sure that the music video that goes with one of my songs is serving the music but also serving itself – the two end up working together. When you watch the story, or when you’re watching the video, the music is helping you understand the video, and the same with the video helping you understand the music. It’s not that you could just have one or the other.
I love it when a music video comes together with the song and it’s almost as if you could never listen to that song ever again without thinking about the music video. I think as a story-telling device it is so important, and what I wanted to do with this video [the visual Love, Death & Dancing album]was exactly that. I didn’t want people to watch the video and listen to the music without wanting to go back and watch the video again. I wanted it to keep adding to the story, and to keep adding to people’s enjoyment of the album.
Also, people listen to music on YouTube more than they listen to music anywhere else and as depressing as that is, I wanted to use that as a strength. I wanted to be able to know that people are going to go to somewhere like YouTube to listen to my music. All of that is bad for me because it pays me the least amount of money and it’s also just not how I had produced, written and recorded all of this music, it’s not for that purpose. Yet, if I know that that’s where people are going to be, I want to make sure that if they’re there, they are watching something that is absolutely as well thought about and as detailed and as creatively independent as the music is. And videos are the way to do that! Same with live performances, same with all that kind of stuff – when it goes up there, I’ve got to make sure that it’s worth people’s time. I want people to know that when they’re going there, they are getting the best thing that I can give them.
Yeah, definitely! It’s Glasthomebury this weekend, which is taking place of the real thing which cannot happen, so are you tuning in? If so, whose set are you most excited for?
I’ve not had a look at the line-up actually, so I don’t really know who’s doing what. I’m gonna have to just sit down and have a scroll through. I mean, every single person who’s knocked it out of the park hasn’t just knocked it out of the park, they’ve just redefined what it means to headline that stage. It’s been interesting to look at what they call the ‘Legacy Slot’ on the Pyramid Stage, like who that’s been given to over the last few years, like the quality of the performer has changed and just increased so much over the last 10 years on that stage. But for me, the beauty of that festival isn’t the Pyramid Stage, it’s all the stages around it.
The performance I did, for example, on the John Peele stage is still one of my favourite performances I’ve ever done. There is no feeling like being in that festival, being in that tent and being on that stage. It’s not as if [Glastonbury] is the pinnacle of what a festival can be and the greatest festival of all time, but it is truly special. It is truly wonderous and unique in the energy that it creates within the people who are there watching it, and I think you can see that in the eyes of the performers when they’re on stage. I mean, there’s nothing like saying “Hello Glastonbury” to 10,000 people, like I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like that before and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like it since.
Love, Death & Dancing is available to listen to now via Island Records.