Jack Garratt may be one of the bookies’ favourites for the BRITs’ new talent Critics’ Choice award. But don’t let that put you off.
The Critics’ Choice winners are usually an endless parade of beige.
This year already looks different, as Garratt is the man who has managed to make bass-heavy dubstep ballads look irresistible to the masses.
The 24-year-old is mainstream enough to have his single Weathered covered by Ellie Goulding for Radio 1’s Live Lounge and to support Mumford & Sons this month on the band’s arena tour.
But the impressively-hirsute singer also makes the sort of warped tearjerkers that never usually cross over. He has been Julie Adenuga’s holiday relief DJ on Apple Music’s radio station Beats 1 and was recently named the second winner of BBC Introducing Artist Of The Year, following Catfish And The Bottlemen in 2014. On November 20 he’ll find out if he’s a BRIT Critics’ Choice winner and will perform at the BBC Music Awards in Birmingham on December 10.
“I used to smoke as a kid but I don’t do drugs – it’s too dark and I don’t even like rollercoasters”
It’s not only his crossover appeal that makes Garratt stand out from dubstep peers such as James Blake. He also has huge charm when he plays live. Rather than stand solemnly behind a bank of laptops, Garratt yells enthusiastically throughout his shows and keeps up a stream of bizarre shouted observations for the crowd.
“On stage, I go mental,” the Bucks-born singer admitted when he sat down with Loaded. “I go really hard. I’m not just a musician who writes music – I have to entertain people.”
It’s the right attitude, especially for someone who’s not a natural thrillseeker. Garratt added, “I don’t throw myself into dangerous things. I’ve never done drugs. I don’t like anything that makes my heart go faster – I don’t even like rollercoasters. I hate my adrenaline pumping. But that’s alright because I have music as my release.”
He laughed as he said it, aware he doesn’t sound like a rock ‘n’ roll firebrand.
“I’m just not interested in drugs,” Garratt continues. “I used to smoke when I was an idiot kid. I drink and socialise as much as possible. But drugs? That would be difficult. It’s such a dark thing to entertain, having my mind altered. I don’t have the strength for it. It’s weird to say, but I don’t have the strength to be drug-dependent.”
It’s not surprising Garratt is scared of drugs. He seems on a constant natural high and speaks with the hyperactive enthusiasm of a coke fiend given to a lot of random laughter.
Garratt is talking to Loaded backstage at London’s Roundhouse an hour before he’s due on stage for 4,500 fans, and Garratt is a fizzing ball of energy. Rather than hide in his dressing room to find zen-like calm Garratt welcomes the distraction of an interview – it gives him an excuse to shake off some of his pent-up excitement.
Growing up in the quiet Buckinghamshire village of Little Chalfont, Garratt’s father was a police detective, his mother a music teacher. His brother and sister “both have more financially secure jobs than music”, leaving Garratt to soak up his parents’ enthusiasm for music. His dad gave him his first guitar when he was nine.
“I was a massive show-off as a kid – an absolute wanker, and I haven’t stopped since”
“When I was really young, I wanted to be a policeman like dad,” Garratt said. “But as soon as I was open to other jobs, I was open to the idea of being a massive show-off – an absolute wanker, and I haven’t stopped since. I wanted to sing, dance, act – all the things people would give you attention for. I just craved the attention.”
In 2005 aged 13, his craving for adoration led Garratt to win an ITV2 contest to represent Britain at Junior Eurovision with his first self-written song, This Girl. Typically for a Brit in that contest, Garratt finished last.
“My music would have gone down a totally different path if I’d won,” he said. “Losing Junior Eurovision was what switched off my need to show off for the sake of it. I eventually realised I had to stop writing songs to try to make people like me.”
So would he go back and represent Britain at the adult Eurovision? “Ah, no.” Good answer.
The need to show off was still there when Garratt became an acting extra. Again aged 13, he ended up in a crowd scene at the start of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. “I’ve got a massive afro and am wearing an ill-fitting denim jacket over an even more ill-fitting orange fleece,” Garratt said about the role. “I’m on the top right of the screen, apparently, though I’ve not been able to see myself.”
He talks of wanting to act again, a desire to write his own comedy sketch show and says his Beats 1 show was “a mini audition” to see if he’d be interested in doing more radio presenting.
“I can talk forever and I got to play music I like for two hours. That was a dream come true,” he added.
As talkative as he is, Garratt is guarded when it comes to explaining what inspires music such as his haunting new single Breathe Life. He prefers “to let the listener have their own ideas” on the subjects of his songs, though he later confessed, “I don’t think I’m good at creative writing, which is why my lyrics are so ambiguous. I’m not good at writing stories.”
Garratt solo-produced his debut album Phase, out in February. He has also produced a single for Kacy Hill, a singer signed to Kanye West’s label G.O.O.D Music. He’d love to also produce Alicia Keys and Pharrell, “though only if it could be with N*E*R*D and I could say to him, ‘Let’s do the old shit’”.
Garratt has another ambition – to get rid of his trademark red beard. “I don’t have much growth on my cheek, so the hair gets concentrated under my neck,” he said. “If I’m not clever about shaping it, it just looks horrible. I look like the guy on the train where the mum has to say to her kid, ‘Don’t point at the homeless man’. I might shave it off soon. I won’t tell anyone at the record company and won’t comment if anyone asks. Or maybe for the first video for the second album, I shave the beard off. That’d be really funny.”
Jack Garratt’s new single is out now and his debut album Phase is released February 19. Garratt supports Mumford & Sons on tour from November 29 and headlines Brixton Academy on April 16.