To his plaudit for top newcomer in the BBC Introducing poll the 24-year-old from Buckinghamshire quickly found himself top of the Corporation’s taste making Sound of 2016 list. Last month he also received the Critics’ Choice prize at the Brit Awards.
Garratt says his music career began at home. “I grew up in a house that was filled with music, not only physically in the rooms with instruments and stuff but also in the air, like it was overspilling with music. It was a very infectious thing to be around.
“Music has played a very supportive, consistent role in my life and I’m very lucky for that but it was only when I was older, 20 or so, that I was able to utilise those things that I’d learned and come across as a kid.”
Garratt taught himself to play most of the instruments he plays today, but he credits his mother and father – a primary school music teacher and a police officer – for their support and open-mindedness.
“They never discouraged me, they only encouraged me to just love music, all different kinds of it, different sounds and genres and styles. Infectious is the best way to put it because if you’re surrounded by that kind of attitude you’re going to adapt into it and that’s exactly what happened to me, I gained the same appreciation of music that my mum and dad had.”
The musical autodidact Stevie Wonder became Garratt’s first music passion. “Stevie Wonder was one of the first albums I really listened to as a kid where I felt there was some kind of awakening in my soul, even though I was too young to understand what the word awakening meant. I remember being so impressed by his music and not understanding why I was so impressed by it.
But, he says, he has a theory “that if Stevie Wonder had had a laptop at his disposal in the way that I have a laptop at my disposal, there’s a lot of musicians nowadays use laptops to store their music, I feel that he would make music in the way that we do now”.
“He played all of those instruments himself or imported musicians where he wasn’t able to give the best performance, but the music was the most important thing. He was the first bedroom producer.”
His father introduced him to the music of David Bowie and as he grew older, he also began listening to Jackson Browne and Tom Waits. More recently he’s been turned onto contemporary R&B and hip-hop.
“The music that inspires me the most is the kind of music that takes the genre that you think you know and turns it on its head, that offers you something new from the information you’re already aware of,” Garratt says. “Music that is able to do that makes me feel so euphoric, it’s an unavoidable sensation. There are artists that I found out about a couple of years ago and I sat there and went ‘OK, these guys are making the music that I can hear in my head’, the feelings that I can feel from the music that I make I feel when I listen to these people – people like James Blake and Frank Ocean. When I heard those things my soul woke up again in the way it did when I was a kid listening to Stevie Wonder.”
Garratt admits all the gongs that came his way before he’d even released his debut album, Phase, were strange yet flattering. “I’m not here to win awards, I’m not in a competition, I’m not going to put myself into that competitive world of music because I don’t believe that’s the best music to be interested in, but it is overwhelming and such an incredible compliment to receive both the BBC Sound poll and the Critics’ Choice because I didn’t ask for them, those decisions were made completely out of my hands.
“But the honour that I receive from it comes from what the award is there to do, to promote new, exciting music that’s going to hopefully change the face of music in the coming year, and to have been listed alongside the other people who have been included is just an absolute thrill. I’m here for the camaraderie of music, not to shine a light on myself.”
Garratt’s live show is the very definition of one man band, with him on drums, guitar and keyboards. “It came about out of necessity, really,” he says, “because I didn’t have the finances or the time to find a band, but I knew that I had shows coming up that I had written these electronic songs and was playing an acoustic guitar and thought that that relationship would work properly. I needed to find a way to play my songs on my own.
“I knew that I could play a couple of instruments at the same time, ever since I was little my ears worked in a way that let me hear music in different parts but at the same time, it allowed my body to play a rhythm with one hand and play a melody with the other. That’s always been the case so when I decided that I was going to play all these instruments at the same time that was never an intimidating thing. I wasn’t doing it for the spotlight, I was just doing it because I knew I would be able to do it and I’ve been doing it like that ever since.”
Jack Garratt play at Leeds University on April 5 and at O2 Academy Leeds on November 9. For details visit http://jackgarratt.com/