Kevin Garrett is a talented new artist steadily rising to fame. At 25 years old, he has already toured with many artists including Alessia Cara, Oh Wonder, and James Vincent McMorrow. WTBU DJ Christina Carpio sat down with Garrett after his final show on his first headlining tour for his new EP False Hope to talk about who inspires him, working with Beyoncé, and what is to come.
Christina Carpio: When did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in music?
Kevin Garrett: Well I’d always been around music. I started music when I was very young—4 years old or so—and I started writing songs when I was 11 or 12.
CC: Songs about what? What does an 11 or 12-year-old know?
KG: Nothing. I didn’t have anything to write about, so none of those songs really ever saw the light of day. I went through high school, did the talent show and all that stuff. It was always kind of just a hobby. I was recording myself at that point, and like looping, and doing all these cool things with my guitars and stuff; that’s when I started writing. Once I got to New York for school, as soon as I got there, I just started playing, and my first show was at 3 p.m. for two off-duty police officers on a Sunday. Then the venue asked me back, and the next time I went back, it was opening for Norah Jones, so it was pretty cool. Once I played a few of those shows at that venue, I kind of realized that I could hang with this circle, and then I just started hustling. New York, and Boston too, could do this because they obviously have a very vibrant music scene, sort of the bigger metropolitan cities—something about a place. Like when I moved to Brooklyn, that atmosphere makes you run so much harder. So I write everything at home in Pittsburgh, where I’m from. The phrase I like to use is “I work in Pittsburgh, and I run in Brooklyn.” I’ve obviously written elsewhere, since I’m not home enough, but the hustle is in Brooklyn.
CC: Who are some of your inspirations or idols?
KG: I was raised on classical music because of the violin, and then if it wasn’t that, it was classic rock, like Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd—pretty much every band except The Beatles, oddly enough, just kind of what my dad was into. Then once I was old enough to buy my own CDs, I got a Ray Charles disc, then found Sam Cooke. Sam Cooke—he’s obviously not been with us for a while, but he still is the person that everybody leans on for vocal inspiration. If you listen to enough Sam Cooke songs, they all start to sound the same. But he was the first person to do those set of runs, those set of melismas, those set of nuances in his singing, and it just took soul music and gospel music to a whole new level. [Also], Otis Redding, then really old country like Hank Williams, Willy Nelson before he had the ponytails, and Porter Wagoner. I like a lot of old stuff. I think idols—we all have the same idols: Beyoncé, Beyoncé, and Beyoncé. Sam Cooke would be really cool to meet, if I could figure out how to meet him and go back in time.
CC: How would you describe your music?
KG: When I first put out Coloring, it started as a joke, because it was a reference to my favorite MUTEMATH song, “Odd Soul.” I called my music “odd soul,” because it was supposed to reference the different palette of influences I was taking in around this sort of soul-centered pop sensibility, and I’ve always been attached to that type of phrase, “odd soul,” being my music. I talk to people about it, and I’m very lucky for them to say they can’t really put a finger on it. I’m kind of somewhere in between all the Franks and the Sams and the Jameses, and that’s pretty cool because in the same way the Franks and the Sams and the Jameses are between each other, I think I’ve worked really hard to sort of carve out this sort of niche for myself, and it all started with kind of a fake tag, but now it’s very real to me.
CC: You worked with Beyoncé on Lemonade, can you tell me more about that?
KG: Yes, I was very lucky to contribute to Lemonade. It was what I will continue to only refer to as a “right place, right time” sort of thing. It was very much an honor to be a part of that album, I would say more than any of her other albums, because it was just so impactful. There were two very strong messages she was giving for women and for equality. And you know, it’s a shitty thing for me to say that I’m lucky to be a straight white male. It feels stupid saying that, but like that’s the reality of the situation, and I think we need artists like Beyoncé to make albums like Lemonade to remind people that everybody should feel lucky to just be a human, because we’re all humans. I think she did a really good job of opening up on this album, and conveying a side of her that we never see, and I’m just happy to help set the tone right at the top of the record. It was really cool to be a part of that song, and I saw her perform it at the VMAs, the only time she’s ever performed it, and it was phenomenal. I remember when I first heard it, heard her record it, I was wondering how she would sing it. What it was going to be like? But she really stuck to the vision. I think we were tapping into similar headspaces, because she wanted to sort or channel that sort of vulnerability. You see in the movie, she’s in a bathtub beside herself. It made it very real. Long story short, [I’m] very honored to be a part of that album, and congrats to her on her Grammys.
CC: So you’ve been on a lot of tours with a lot of different artist; has that taught you anything? Have you learned anything as an artist from touring with other people?
KG: When I first started touring it was James Vincent McMorrow in late 2014—a short run across the southern states, and I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d gone on tour with my old band a couple of times, but it was all very much the type of shows where the venue might not have even known we were there. There was no advance; there was no anything, so it was the type of thing where, “Oh this is a legit tour, let’s do this.” And every time I open for someone—continually, because I’m going to open for Mumford and Sons pretty soon—I learn something from everybody, and every time I’m on stage with my band, I learn something from them every night. All three of them are in their own way influential to me, because we play the same songs every night for a month, and Sean, my drummer, he’s been playing the Mellow Drama songs for two and a half years. It’s not very common, I don’t think, for an artist to tour an EP for two and a half years. We did “Pushing Away” tonight and it felt like we were playing it for the first time. I think what’s important on tour is to think ahead, know until the last show, there is always another show. And if you’re opening, it’s kind of important to put yourself in the headliner’s shoes. Now that I’ve been a headliner one time through, I kind of sometimes just want to go right back to being an opener.
CC: How different was it doing your own tour this time?
Obviously the shows are very fulfilling, because they’re sold out and people are coming to see you. Some opening looks, people came to see me. Like on Alessia [Cara’s] tour, there were people who seemed to know who I was by then, and same with Oh Wonder. But when you are headlining, especially since we are doing some smaller rooms in certain cities, it’s the type of thing where I can take my ear[piece] out, or I can just listen to the crowd sing the lyrics to my songs louder than I even know them. All this is to say, touring is exhausting; I would not recommend anyone to do it, but at the same time, the only way I would pursue a career in music, is to stay on the road. It’s pretty old school to do it that way.
CC: As an up-and-coming artist, who are some other artists you think people should be on the lookout for?
KG: His album just dropped yesterday, Khalid. Homeboy is 19. He’s from El Paso. I was texting him the other day, because I think I said something about him in an interview when I was at the L.A. show, and he tweeted me. He was like “Oh my god, thanks man!” And I was like, “You don’t listen to me, you don’t know who I am,” and then he DMed me and he was like “No, no, I didn’t think you listened to me.” With artists like that, you’re always kind of wary, because there’s hype and then there’s talent. With Khalid, he’s got both, and it’s incredible. The same way when I first discovered Alessia, just as “Here” was going viral, before I went on tour with her, Alessia Cara was just kind of down-to-earth, surprised that things were happening, and she still is. Khalid, he’s on a rocket ship. It’s crazy, and he definitely doesn’t know it yet but, congratulations on the new album, if you’re listening. Also, Nick Hakim, he came to Berklee I think. He’s putting out new music. He’s signed to ATO, and I’ve been a fan of his forever. Brilliant, brilliant, young man, who just knows how to write a song better than you. No matter how you look at it, any song. You give him a song he’s already done [and he’ll say], “Oh I’ll do it better man.” And he’s not boastful about it—he’s just so smart with his decisions and anything that he puts out, even the songs he probably doesn’t like. I’m like “Come on, this is just not even fair.” There’s a British guy who I love, he’s a dear friend of mine, and he’s slowly sort of building a catalogue, re-releasing some songs and releasing new songs in this sort of Oh Wonder-esque, every month sort of thing. His name is Bruno Major. He has some pretty cool songwriting connects; he’s worked with some really awesome people, and I’ve been lucky to work with him a little bit, but I really want to work with him some more. He just put out a song called “Just The Same” and it’ll hit you where you need to be hit at any given moment.
CC: Lastly, what’s next for you? Is there an album coming soon?
KG: I’ve had the concept for my album for a really long time. I’ve never really given it up to anyone. I’ve told a few people what I know it’s called. The title has recently taken on a deeper meaning, which I’m really excited about, because I think I’ve also kind of found some design pieces within it that I’m really amped on. I’m a very visual, sort of tactile learner, like creator I guess. I see things when I hear things and smell things when I hear things, some kind of weird synesthesia thing. I don’t really know. I never really think about it, but like enough people say they have synesthesia, that I think, “Wait a second, I better look into this, because you’re saying things that I do.” Maybe I have synesthesia, and that’d be pretty cool. But anyway, the album hopefully comes out sooner than later. The same thing about touring an EP for two and a half years—I’ve been touring for a very long time, so I’m trying to take my off time to sort of buckle down. Obviously not being signed, not having a label and a marketing strategy, or really any sort of PR help, has been trying to say the least, but at the same time I relish being independent. I think it’s rare these days. Something that I’ve definitely noticed is that I’ve grown in the past two years, kind of more than I ever thought I would off of two EPs, so I feel really good about where I’m at. I’m not in any rush to put the album out, but at the same time, I know we’re all waiting for it, and I’m just as anxious as everyone else is, so sooner than later is probably the answer for that.
Check out Kevin Garrett opening up for Mumford and Sons this May, and listen to his latest EP, False Hope.