- 25 Jun 20
The English singer on Love, Death & Dancing, overcoming backlash, and making “dance music for people who don’t go out”.
Indie-pop merchant Jack Garratt is back with his sophomore effort Love, Death & Dancing, which arrives some four-and-a-half years after his debut Phase. Releasing an album in the midst of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is undoubtedly a surreal and disconcerting departure from the norm, although Garratt is stoic about the process.
“I think there’s no right or wrong way to release an album anyway,” he reflects, down the line from London. “To be honest, if anything, having something like this thrown at you at least forces you to release the record in a certain way, because you’ve got one less thing to decide. I’ve only ever put out one album before, and I remember that release – at the best of times – was an absolute shit-show. But you just have to pretend like you know what you’re doing.
“I don’t think there’s ever been an album campaign that has run smoothly! And I don’t think you can use Covid-19 as an excuse as to why it was easier or more difficult. A lot of industries are seeing that – this is a very strange curveball. I mean, it’s still fun, but you’ve got to a find a different way and change your tactics. All the strategy in the world won’t prepare for this, but here we are doing it anyway.”
Love, Death & Dancing was co-produced by Ireland’s Jacknife Lee, whom Garratt credits with giving him a renewed sense of creative purpose.
“I changed management after my first album, for somewhat strange and unpredictable reasons,” explains Garratt. “My new management were kind and careful with me, because they understood the emotional fragility I was showing at that time, due to my relationship with this other person and this other manager. They gave a lot of time just to chill, and go and live life for a bit.
“I got married, then moved to Chicago and back to London again: I did some life stuff and it was amazing. But when it came to needing to write and record the next album, my self-confidence was at an absolute low. It was my manager, Adam, who said there was a guy he wanted me to go and talk to, and see what happened. That was Jacknife.
“We sat in his studio for two days and just listened to records, and it was the most creative I’d felt in about two years. He talked about music – and also my music – with such passion. We obviously had this palpable respect for each other. I remember the first day, I didn’t share anything with him of the music I was making, we just listened to records. But about two hours before I left, I played him everything I’d been working on. He cracked something open in me and it just flooded out.”
Garratt has described the album as “dance music for people who don’t go out” – the first time I’ve heard someone categorise a genuine sub-section within music fandom. Perhaps the Pet Shop Boys represent the ne plus ultra of the genre: they make sublime dance music, but there are still lyrical and thematic layers to pull back for those who wish to do so.
“I make dance music for people who don’t like to go out, because that’s who I am,” notes Jack. “I’m someone who thoroughly enjoys dance music, but I get really strange in public places where you’re expected to dance. It’s just a very weird and socially anxious place for me to be, but that doesn’t mean I should starve myself of a bit of four-on-the-floor. The music I make is supposed to calm that part of my needs, as a consumer and someone who loves music.”
There were also specific artists the singer had in mind when creating the album, as he elaborates.
“The album’s been inspired by the dance music that’s intended to be danced to and also to be listened to,” continues Garratt. “I want to be careful about saying this, because I’m not grouping any electronic music into another category. The music I listened to growing up was thoughtful, intelligent dance music. Definitely for me, Daft Punk’s Discovery was one of the most important albums. It proved to me that dance music could be fun, and the soundtrack of a moment, and not need your absolute attention to enjoy.
“But if you choose to sit down and listen, it will feed and nourish you. The music that does that for me is the music I want to make for other people. Making this album, aside from Daft Punk, I was also listening to a lot of Leon Vynehall, Sylvan Esso, Flying Lotus and Robyn. People who make dance music you can get lost to, but also dance music that you can sit down and commit yourself to. I want my music to be part of that world.”
Lyrically, meanwhile, Love, Death & Dancing draws on the difficult period Garratt experience following Phase’s release. As a 24-year-old in late 2015, Garratt followed in the footsteps of Adele and Sam Smith by claiming the Brits Critics Choice Award. The resulting commercial expectations – that Phase would hit number one and make Garratt an instant international superstar – didn’t come to pass.
The singer also endured a critical backlash, leaving him at a low ebb once the campaign for the album had finished. It was tumultuous period he felt compelled to revisit on his new record.
“I knew what this album would be about, and the perspective I would be writing it from,” says Garratt. “That was going to be a place of absolute honesty. I wasn’t going to overly poeticise my lyrics, and I wasn’t going to over-perform it or overdo the production. I wanted it to be honest and truthful, and to do that, the lyrics would have to be at the forefront.
“So I brought in a friend of mine, the best lyricist in the world right now, a man called Henry Brill. He came in and mentored me on the lyrics for a few months. We had this lovely pen-pal relationship when he was living in Nashville – we were sending words back and forth. We ended up creating these really lovely and effortlessly honest accounts of how I was feeling. It was important to me that, if you’re going to have something as honest as that, you have to juxtapose it with something energetic and fun.”
The travails Garratt endured after Phase are encountered by a lot of artists – though they are in fact reflective of the painful ups-and-downs many people experience in their twenties. The distorting factor with pop and rock artists, however, is that they undergo the whole process in public.
I ask Garratt how he dealt with all of it, whilst acknowledging it’s a big question.
“Of course, but I think it’s right one for journalists to be asking,” he replies. “There is absolutely an understanding that a lot the pressure young artists feel is created and put in place by the journalists who write about them. The thing I felt was most difficult to even try and defend myself on was that, before my first album, I was written up to be someone who had made it. That’s so impossible. Back when I was promoting Phase, the thing I said was, it took me 23 years to write that album.
“You’re going, ‘From my entire life and all of the songs I’ve written until this point, these are the ones I’ve chosen to release first.’ Then it was reviewed and dissected, and lauded or criticised, as being the defining moment in my career! My argument was, ‘Well, hang on, this is the just the first thing – it’s the only thing you can measure my growth against.’ And yet everyone is expecting this to be the finished product. I just don’t agree with that.”
Garratt also notes that it’s an experience you can’t really prepare for.
“No matter what industry you’re in, I don’t think there’s any training that can prepare for that sort of scrutiny,” he continues. “Also, on top of that, there was no opportunity for me to be able to say that out loud. If at any point, I did say, ‘I think this is unfair’ or ‘I don’t feel alright about any of this’, I would have been called ungrateful and accused of complaining. That’s horrible: to convince these kids – which is what I was – that if they speak out against the things they see as wrong in their industry, they’ll be seen as ungrateful.
“That is abhorrent; it’s such an unnecessary thing to expect of artists who are just trying to share their music with their world. That was a huge part of the reason I ended up losing a lot of my confidence. I felt helpless, and I was helpless: there was nothing I could do to prove to people that I was grateful for the opportunities I was given.
“But I think it was worthwhile shining a spotlight on the fact that they didn’t help me as much as they were promoting that they were. That’s still something I’m trying to be able to talk about – I’m still trying to figure it out, because it really has affected and had a great impact on me.”
Love, Death & Dancing is out now in Universal-Island.