A Chat With Jack Garratt About Needing To Be Selfish To Make The Best Music Of His Life On ‘Love, Death and Dancing’

Content Warning: This article discusses suicidal thoughts and depression. If this raises any concerns for you, in Australia, Lifeline is always there on 13 11 14. For international readers, a list of individual country services is here.

Jack Garratt doesn’t care if you don’t like this new album of his, because he made it for himself.

After becoming a proper superstar in 2016, taking home a Brits Critics Choice award and touring his complex and wild #1-selling album Phase across the globe, Jack went from achieving everything he could have ever imagined to the darkest bout of depression he’s ever faced.

It meant some serious time away to start paying attention to his feelings. Not just doing a facemask, like, seriously looking into why he felt shit all the time.

Four years on from the debut, Jack’s channeled every last bit of feeling into making another record that processes that. His aim with this record was to do it for himself, which he explains in this lovely conversation below.

Nic Kelly’s in bold, Jack Garratt’s in not-bold.

How is the global pandemic treating you?

Probably the same as it’s treating everyone else I would assume, but I’m inside and that’s a good thing.

Well done, you made a record. And it’s really good.

Thank you. That genuinely made me feel like a 12 year old and I was talking to my dad. That was very lovely.

Oh that’s very sweet!

But I have made a record! I’ve genuinely made one. Every now and then I’ll get a funny tweet from a fan or someone saying exactly that. Like, literally sending sending a screenshot from a video or sending a link to a song going, “you like, made this!” I never think about my music like that. It’s always very much like a freely creative thing and I don’t know. I find it hard enough to refer to myself as an artist as it is, so to actually think about the fact that I made something, doesn’t make any sense to me. But saying it like that genuinely makes me feel like I’ve achieved something rather than what my parents’ friends might have thought I was doing when I was fifteen, which was ‘wasting my life’, and ‘waiting to get a proper job’. Luckily my parents never actually felt that.

You say you find it hard to think of yourself as an actual artist? What do you think drives that?

An OVERWHELMING sense of self hatred! Next question!

Of course!

No, look, it’s been a concoction of feelings, that I think I’ve had since I was about 12, or so. I talk about this a lot at the moment, just because it’s so relevant to the album. The album is so much about me. It’s SO much about me. I’ve gone out of my way to really selfishly make this record. I’ve written it about me, I refuse to write from anyone else’s perspective, because I don’t have the right to talk about anyone else’s truths or lives or whatever. But also musically, I’ve written this to entertain myself and to do those things with such – what I would say is necessary – and beautiful selfishness, encourages a certain level of self scrutiny that I have daily anyway and have had since I was like a kid. My relationship with myself, I should tell you, is like an emotionally abusive relationship. I’m very good at gaslighting myself, I’m not very good at giving myself compliments. And I’ve really, really tried to reverse that this time around. I’ve really tried to encourage more acts of self love and be very honest with myself and this this record that I’ve made, I think it’s just a testament to that. It’s a very difficult thing to do. It’s a very long journey that I think I’ll be having for the rest of my life, that journey of self-discovery and self-love and various other current 2020 buzzwords, but they’re all really fucking important! I believe in selfishness, I think it’s an amazing thing and I’ve written an album that celebrates that. And it seems to be igniting people in a very interesting way. I think it’s really cool.

Is Get In My Way the most selfish song on the record, in your opinion? Because literally all you say is “nothing is gonna get in my way,” which is a wonderful thing.

Yeah, but it’s kind of like that Bart Simpson meme where on one hand, he’s hitting the pan saying “I am so great,” and then in the other frame, he’s curled up in bed, really sad. That’s what that song is essentially. That song is definitely selfish, but as all of the songs do, they take one global concept and then talk about that concept from as many different and conflicting opinions and angles as I can fit in to still make a coherent song. Get In My Way is kind of explicitly a song about my relationship with music journalists. It’s a song where I show off arrogance and bravado but not because I believe it, simply because I’m using it as a means to combat aggressive criticism that I think I’ve faced. So the arrogance I have isn’t real. It’s not founded in anything. If anything, I… I hate myself, I don’t think I’m very talented, or I at least don’t think I’m very good at my job. The arrogance and the bravado is just there as a defence mechanism. And that’s kind of what the whole song is about. That’s why the repetition of the nothing’s gonna get in my way. At the end, when everything kind of starts to go out of control, there’s a reason for that – it’s because the more that you say something, the less words mean. Me saying “nothing’s going to get in my way,” stops being like, an affirmation and starts being a threat that I might lose that feeling or a threat that it might actually not be true.

Wow. That’s much deeper than I thought it was.

I think with a lot of the songs, they offer two levels of enjoyment, one, which is initial – “this has got a fuckin’ hook, this is a really fun song,” and then two, “I’ve listened to it thirteen times now and I’m pretty sure that Jack might be depressed.” There’s two levels of enjoyment!

Can we talk about Better? What a song Jack. And then what a video. Had you ever considered yourself a good dancer?

Yeah, I have! When I was a kid, I used to be a really good dancer. One of the most false senses of bravado that I used to have when I was a kid – was dancing. When I was about eleven or something, I joined like, an after school theatre school, every Friday and you’d do acting, dancing and singing lessons. I remember loving the dancing, and surprising myself, because I was a… fat… child? I remember being like, “Oh my god, this is movement that I enjoy,” I didn’t like football like my brother did, I didn’t like netball or basketball like my sister did. I didn’t really have a sport. I tried Rugby and just cried every single time. So when I found something that I liked, that made me move and made me sweat and made me like, feel, like an actual body, I bloody loved it. I did it for a really long time, til’ I was about seventeen I was still dancing. Then I started releasing music and I started to put very vulnerable and emotional parts of myself into the public and I stopped dancing altogether. This very strange thing happened in my head, where the minute I started releasing music, I stopped enjoying dance. I would become embarrassed, I would become very self effacing. I was not able to allow that sort of vulnerability in a public place without controlling it, like I could do with my music. It was really weird. So the whole point of using dance for this album because every single song had a video shot in four days. We did eight videos in four days, in the same building, with the same crew and every day, each song we did was a different dance for me, a different level of like, physical giving. So the video for Time, which was my first single, has me really enjoying myself and just dancing, free of what the camera’s doing. Whereas Better is a song that I’m very much aware of where the camera is, I’m performing for the camera the whole time. The thing that we were going for, me and my choreographer, because the song’s about my relationship with critics, we’ve got to make sure that the dance I’m doing is one that the camera can follow. I’d like me as a character in this video. I want the camera to be on me the whole time. So it’s gotta to be impressive, but it’s gotta be, you know, spoon fed. It’s got to be easy. It can’t be loads of weird, trippy dance things. It’s got to be palatable. The thing we came up to, was theatre school dance revue. Kind of when you see, like, twelve white kids and they’re all called Jayden and they’re all doing the exact same dance. And all of their mums – they’re all called Karen – sitting, they’re all watching and it’s this big thing. Because I fuckin’ did it. I did it every year for about six years. We wanted that dance to be really present in the chorus. So that’s why it’s all very regimented. You do this movement four times, and then you move on to the next movement… I’m talking for a very long time simply because I like talking about the video. I could talk about it forever.

It made me feel it made me feel even more connected to the song than when I first listened to it.

Yeah, that’s good. That’s the point. That’s what music videos should be. They should serve what the song is already doing.

Yeah. I can’t stand additional concepts stacked on top of a song that’s already got a concept, it’s just too much. Too much layering.

A hat on a hat.

Let’s go from a song like Better to a more sombre moment like She Will Lay My Body On The Stone. I like that after the first verse and chorus, you’ve sort of left an instrumental part where I can already hear crowds cheering and giving you that energy, was that a purposeful thing?!

No! It wasn’t at all. As much as I have a strange relationship with how much I hate and also love myself I don’t think I was willing to give myself that sort of glory. I based that song off of – again, all of the songs on the album flip between forced public displays of art and private displays of emotion. I wrote She Will Lay My Body On The Stone harkening back to old piano pieces I used to learn when I was a kid and how much I hated them. The song is so intense and so emotionally jarring. It’s a song that explicitly references a moment in my life when I contemplated suicide. I wanted that message to be something that I could present in a way that was like, controlling and romantic. Not to romanticise suicide – that’s not an attempt to do that whatsoever – it’s simply just as an act of storytelling. And I don’t know why but the chord sequence I came up with what I thought parents in the early 1900s would ask their, like, daughter Elizabeth to play for the guests in the front room, like you could tell that she learned it that week at piano lessons. That was the feeling I wanted to create, like a forced performance from someone who is far too vulnerable and emotionally unlearned to know what they’re doing. Because that’s who I was as a kid, I loved performing. I didn’t know what performance was, though. I just thought it was the showing off that parents let you do, rather than the showing off the parents didn’t let you do. So to have a song like this, I really wanted to present it in a way that was truly conflicting and vulnerable and kind of created that sense of, “I feel like this is a performance but I know I’m hearing a confession.” And as an audience member – I like putting audience members in those strange Schroedinger’s Boxes of emotions where you can feel two conflicting emotions at the same time. You’re allowed to, that’s fine.

I know that you wanted to with this album, in comparison to the last, you didn’t want to hide behind production. I know you were talking about how the production was almost you trying to do too much so that you could hide behind the quality of your producing. Do you feel like you’ve achieved what you wanted to achieve, from that perspective?

Yeah, completely. I think that this album has been a huge challenge, simply because I knew so much about the first album and I know Phase so personally, like obviously as the person who wrote it and then toured it for what felt like thirty years, I know every ache and pain of that album. And I didn’t want this album to not be growth, it needed to be growth. That forced me into thinking about the parts of myself creatively and personally in terms of what needs what needed to grow, how can I grow, where can I find the weaknesses in myself? One of the main things was that every time I listened to Phase, I do have moments where I can’t help but feel exactly what you were saying – that I over-produced because I was afraid that people would find out I wasn’t a very good producer, like I overwrote the songs in fear that people would find out I wasn’t very good at writing songs. If I could just keep people socially distant, two metres away from me, they’ll never fully understand how bad I am at my job. That’s the feeling that I had throughout the whole first album, my imposter syndrome was through the roof. And with this album, I knew I deserved the opportunity to make another record, I knew I deserved this opportunity to continue to have this career. I needed to prove to myself that I was worth it though. And that’s what I feel like I’ve done. I’ve been able to make a record that I can – without arguments – say has pleased 100% of its target audience, because its target audience was me. And I LOVE this album. And I can say that I when I play She Will Lay My Body On The Stone live, I always open it by telling the story of why I wrote it. And then I always say that it’s my favourite song I’ve ever written. And I can say that, knowing I’m about to play it to a bunch of people who have never heard it before. Because, your reaction to it – whether you like it or not – will do absolutely nothing to what I think about this song and I know this is the best song I’ve ever written in my entire life. And I know that about this album. I love Phase. I love all the albums I’m gonna make. Right now, this is the best album I’ve ever made. And no one can tell me I’m wrong because it’s just not their place to.

Jack’s new album Love, Death and Dancing is available now


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