“It feels weird to be back,” says Jack Garratt, on the eve of releasing his first new music since 2016.
“I’m really looking forward to it but also, at the same time, I’m terrified, and I want to quit.”
He’s not exaggerating. The last time Garratt released music, it triggered a crippling episode of self-doubt from which he’s only recently recovered.
His virtuosic debut album, Phase, saw him hailed as a mad musical scientist, chopping up genres and stitching them together in weird new forms. Soaring above it all was the singer’s gorgeous, aching tenor.
But the attention didn’t sit well on his shoulders. Garratt, who’d always suffered from anxiety, found himself spiralling into self-hatred and self-sabotage.
Over the course of a year, he recorded an entire album then scrapped it.
“It was trash. It was awful. It was all bad,” he says. “I wasn’t willing to accept myself in that moment, so I wasn’t willing to have a good idea.”
The problems began with those awards from the BBC and the Brits. At the time, he was one of only four people to win both accolades in the same year. The others were Adele, Ellie Goulding and Sam Smith.
“The world knows of three of them and it doesn’t know who I am,” says the 28-year-old. “That’s true. It’s not unfair. It’s not rude. It’s not mean. It’s just true.”
Unlike his predecessors, Garratt wasn’t making mainstream pop records. He had a place on the Radio 1 playlist, for sure, and was eagerly pushing sonic and compositional boundaries – but he didn’t have a Rolling In The Deep or a Love Me Like You Do stored up his sleeve.
But being put in the same bracket as Adele meant being subjected to a level of expectation and scrutiny he’d never expected.
“It screwed me completely,” he says.
“All I ever wanted to do was make music that I wanted to listen to. And, at a time when I was figuring that out, I got put into a corner where I had to defend myself for winning awards that I didn’t ask for.
“I’m still figuring it out, I’m still dealing with it. I think I will forever.”
- If you or someone you know are feeling emotionally distressed, the BBC’s Action Line has a list of organisations offering advice and support.
The first symptom of his discomfort was a physical one: He lost the ability to dance.
“When I was a kid, from the age of 12 to 16, I used to dance and I really enjoyed it,” he says. As an adult, he’d still go out dancing with friends, flinging himself around the Notting Hill Arts club like no-one was watching.
“But when I put out the first album, I stopped dancing in public. I just stopped moving. I stopped feeling comfortable in my body.
“My wife loves dancing and that was part of the reason we fell in love – because we we were able to just be like that with each other.
“And the saddest thing for me was knowing that, one day, I just stopped doing it. I didn’t know why and neither did she. But that was the first red flag that I missed.”
18 months off
By the time he came off tour at the end of 2016, his confidence was in tatters.
“I’m a self-analytical person anyway, I am an anxious person,” says Garratt. “The thing that usually helps me is making music but I’d just lost all my confidence; and it took me a year-and-a-half of no writing, no nothing, to start to enjoy myself again in the studio.”
The change came when his manager persuaded him to spend a weekend with record producer Jacknife Lee, who’d previously worked with U2, REM, The Killers and TLC.
Garratt was reluctant at first. Not only was he dubious about the quality of his new songs, but he was determined to remain a one-man-band – writing arranging, producing and playing everything on his records.
Finally, he was convinced to spend a weekend at Lee’s house in California’s Topanga Valley. On the first day, they just talked and listened to records.
“By the end of the second day, I’d shown him every idea that I had. Sixty of them!”
“He was so good at going, ‘This one’s great. You should work on that more. This one needs some work, I don’t think it’s ready yet.'”
A couple of weeks later, they ventured into a studio and recorded Time, a candid account of Garratt’s mental distress.
“Why is it not enough to be fine?” he sings, battling an insistent, fidgety beat. “You’re overthinking, in a rut, and terrified.”
But when the chorus arrives, the niggling rhythms fade away and Garratt sings, “Time is on your side,” over a reassuring, open guitar chord.
As the song builds, he straps on confidence like armour – climaxing with a joyous trumpet fanfare.
“I recorded some of those trombones in a shed at the bottom of my garden,” he laughs. “The neighbours hated me.”
The track premiered on Annie Mac’s Radio 1 show on Thursday, receiving her coveted “hottest record” accolade; and acts as the opening track on Garratt’s new EP, Love Death and Dancing Volume 1.
It’s followed by Mara, a subtle, soulful ballad about the intrusive thoughts that still plague him; and Return Them To The One, a which addresses his anxieties over performing live (“they haven’t come for me, I’m not the main event“).
Unlike his debut album, the lyrics are plainspoken and direct – “I’m not hiding,” he says. “It is what it is” – But, crucially, he never offers easy answers or trite resolutions.
“None of them end by going, ‘And then I was fine!'” he laughs.
“There’s such an expectation for pop music to give an answer to its own question at the end of every song. I was asking myself, ‘Does my music have to resolve itself? Do the lyrics have to have an ending? Or can they just be one part of a correspondence I’m having with myself?
“It’s like each song is one letter of a pen-pal relationship between me and me. And you only get to see one letter.”
The EP will be followed by three more “volumes” of Love, Death and Dancing which will, eventually, be compiled into Garratt’s second album. The music will be accompanied by a long-form video, which sees the musician dancing by himself, comfortable (for now) in his own skin.
“The videos are really a means through which I’m allowed to defiantly and without argument say that I like to move. I like to feel something. Without expectation for myself or anyone else.”
In keeping with the songs, however, there’s no happy ending.
Over the eight videos, the camera starts to lose interest in Garratt’s performance, leaving him on his own, until “I go back to the very first frame of the very first song”.
The idea is that his self-hatred and destructive behaviour are cyclical. “I accept that the way I hate myself now, I’m probably going to hate myself in the future,” he says.
And yet, even by identifying that flaw, he recognises he’s made progress.
“What I have come to understand is that there might not be an answer for my behaviour, and that’s actually great,” he says.
“I don’t think I’ve ever really liked myself. But I finally accept that I don’t really like myself and that’s helped me love myself more.”