Garratt not phase-d by gongs

Jack Garratt. Photo: PA Photo/Daniel Harris.
Jack Garratt. Photo: PA Photo/Daniel Harris.

“I’m taking things a few hours at a time,” says Jack Garratt, repeating Premiership footballers’ oft-repeated maxim about taking matches in a title race one game at a time.

“There’s so much going on, I can only really deal with things in chunks like that.”

The multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, hailing from Buckinghamshire’s Little Chalfont, isn’t exaggerating either. Garratt’s diary is the stuff of nightmares, if of course the thing that keeps you up at night is the thought of hundreds of scheduled events, gigs and promotional activity for your recently released debut album, which in Garratt’s case, is called Phase.

It’s so full-on right now, the 24-year-old has stopped looking at his calendar and instead relies on other people getting him where he needs to be.

“I don’t know what’s happening from one day to the next, but at the moment, there’s nothing that I don’t like doing, and I trust everyone implicitly. I’ve had the same team around me for the past four years, and they know if something is going to be good for me, or if I’m going to be asked about things that I don’t want to talk about.”

For many artists, Garratt’s last line about his management team helping him to avoid certain topics would be hugely revealing. The construction of a new artist’s image is a complicated thing, and normally ends in a media campaign where that central message, normally about an artist’s back-story, is repeated again and again until the legend is concrete.

For Garratt, this isn’t quite the case. He doesn’t appear to have any dark secrets he needs to shy away from, and his back-story is pretty unremarkable. His team keeping him talking about the right thing is more likely down to him going off on a tangent.

A recent BBC News interview saw the presenter say, ‘Hello’ and Garratt respond by talking for two minutes without drawing breath, and today’s interview isn’t much different. He’s very pleasant company - interesting and interested - but he can’t half ramble on.

“I love talking about creativity and art, and how important music is to the world, and people’s enjoyment of their life, and if I could fill my calendar talking to interviewers about that, then perfect. Talking to people and promoting my album is a huge part of my existence at the moment, and I do like that. Ultimately, I just try to avoid talking to people about my face.”

It’s not Garratt’s face people want to talk about, but the trend-setting prizes he’s won in the run-up to the release of his debut album. Last year it was announced he was going to be the recipient of the BRITs Critics’ Choice award, previously awarded to the likes of Adele and Florence + The Machine, and a month or so later, it was revealed he had also topped the BBC’s annual Sound Of... poll, previously won by the likes of Adele, Sam Smith and Years & Years. For what it’s worth, in the year Florence + The Machine came third on the poll, Little Boots won, proving the tastemakers can occasionally get it wrong.

On the whole, however, the winners of such industry prizes tend to go on to much bigger and much better things, and increasingly in recent years, the prizes themselves have come under fire for granting what looks like preordained success. Garratt, who is also signed to a major record label, has something to say about such criticism.

“I’ve read some reviews, and they all go on about these awards, and the fact I’m signed to Island, but some writers appear to have done no research whatsoever,” he says.

“There’s this suggestion that I’ve somehow changed the writing of my music because I’m signed to a big record company, but in truth I have barely any involvement with them at all. People just want to assume the worst of me, when in fact, my music is full of the best intentions.”

As a result, he says, he’s doing his best not to read any reviews, but often they’re put in front of him.

“I was reading Twitter this morning to see what people were saying about the album, and I didn’t see a bad thing, but the only thing I can think of is the two-star review I read in a paper the other morning. I need to stop it.”

Garratt is the son of a primary school music teacher mum and a police officer dad. He was encouraged to get involved with music from a very young age, and by the time he was 12, could already play the guitar, piano, drums, mandolin, ukulele, mandolin, trombone and harmonica. In 2005, when he was 14, he entered a song he’d written into the Junior Eurovision Song Content, and was duly selected to take part in the competition in Belgium. Things didn’t quite go to plan, with Garratt’s The Girl finishing bottom in the eight-song competition, with just 13 points.

Rather than it being a distraction, Garratt believes it’s the thing that kick-started his career and, as he believes he entered the contest for the attention rather than a love of music, made him focus on what was important.

“It’s also why, after the Critics’ Choice and Sound Of poll, I refuse to say I’ve ‘won’ them,” he says.

“I didn’t have to encourage people to vote, and it’s not really a competition. Fortunately, I was given the awards and I’m incredibly grateful, but I’m not in this for prizes. It’s just the music I care about.

“With Eurovision, I thought I was getting a foot in the door of the music industry, but actually, it was TV.”

After that experience, Garratt recorded an album, but with the help of what he calls a “big break-up”, re-evaluated his life plans and decided not to go to university to study teaching, but moved to London to pursue music instead.

“Everything in my life was for someone else at that point,” he says. “The album I’d made was for someone else, because I wanted people to accept me. I wasn’t happy with the university I was at because I was going there to please someone else, and then the break-up. We broke up on Christmas Eve one year, so I woke up on Christmas Day surrounded by my family but felt totally lost. It felt like I was avoiding the one thing that made any sense to me - music - and decided to move to London.”

That was four years ago, when Garratt started writing the music that makes up his debut album, which swishes from genre to genre, acoustic songwriter one minute, dubstep drops the next.

“People say I move around all over the place with genres, but I’ve never really thought about it like that,” he says.

“I just write the music that I like. I love pancakes, but I wouldn’t want them to be the only thing I ate. So why stick to one style of music when there’s so much to be explored?”

Jack Garratt’s debut album Phase is out now. He tours the UK from April 1