If Jack Garratt wasn’t a musician, he’d make a mean critic. A detractor of his music could throw a brickbat at him but Jack will always have got there first. Ask him now about his 2016 debut album ‘Phase’ and the 28-year-old doesn’t pull his punches, describing it as “busy and erratic”, “clever bullshit … a record full of beautiful metaphor that doesn’t really say anything. I was scared to actually say something real; I didn’t think people wanted to hear it. That’s why my production on that record is so busy, so saturated.” Yup, he’s down on the production, too. “I didn’t think I was a good producer, so I did lots of tricks to make people think: ‘He’s good.’ Same with the lyrics, with the melodies, all of it: it was just me on a face-value level effectively going: ‘This is good because it’s impressive, not because it’s actually good.’”
Phase struck so many of us at the time as a debut of rare audacity and bravery, confrontational and challenging pop record that, far from pandering to listeners, instead made demands of us, and was all the more thrilling for that.
As he gears up to send ‘Love, Death & Dancing’ out into the world, Jack looks back on that period not with gratitude exactly, but with an appreciation of the wisdom it gave him – hard-won, maybe, but deeply precious, and an experience that armoured him for the battles ahead. If the process sounds hellish, “Love, Death & Dancing”, by contrast, is an ultimately joyous album. It isn’t afraid to lay bare the torment that led up to and informed its creation. But it is also a triumphant testament to survival, and to courage.
“I was in what should have been this huge celebratory moment, I’m 24, 25, my album has not only sold but sold well, globally, the tours were selling out, I was getting all these accolades and awards – I should have felt comfortable, at the very least. And instead I was scared and alone, and desperate for affection. I’d realised that a lot of the pillars of affection were hollow; they weren’t real.”
Right after the tour’s last stop in Brighton, Jack and his then fiancée Sarah fled to Chicago to be near Sarah’s family. But it wasn’t the haven Jack had envisioned, instead only exacerbating his problems. “I remember walking in there – and I was terrified, just empty and lost. We have these matching tattoos of spoons now because that day, I went into the kitchen for a bowl of cereal and I had no idea where the cutlery was. It may sound strange but it was a moment that made me feel so alone, in what should have been the safest place for me. And it said so much about what was going to happen over the next two-and-a-half years.”
A Christmas break in New York two years ago, a trip that would be on many people’s bucket list, would prove to be the catalyst for a violent wake-up call. “Somehow, in the middle of all this joy – we went to the theatre, to Saturday Night Live, it was lovely, all these things I’d wanted to do, with the woman I love – this overwhelming thought came into my head. It was the first time I’d ever truly contemplated suicide. I was so taken with this moment, within the joy that I was feeling; that still, despite that, this arrow was able to find a way through it all and hit me, directly, square between the eyes. I just broke down. No love for myself existed in that moment. It was just all self-loathing.”
As can sometimes be the way with artists (it’s a terrible thing to say, but it’s true), this experience, by pulling Jack up short and forcing him to reassess everything, gave life to a song. Writing it would spark not only a new appreciation of his surroundings, his loved ones and his own worth, but a new honesty in how he wrote. The result was ‘She Will Lay My Body On The Stone’, one of many moments on “Love, Death & Dancing” where you find yourself thinking: no one says this. Such naked soul-baring goes, after all, against the pernicious English code that says that unfiltered emotional candour just isn’t the done thing; that we like our honesty dressed in allusive finery, hinted at rather than shouted from the rooftops.
Working with the producer Jacknife Lee on half of the record and James Flannigan on the other half was amazing, Jack says. “They were incredible and really helped me in terms of getting my groove back, my confidence. Jacknife challenged me from a position of respect. He liked ‘Phase’, and was open to the issues with it.” Musically, ‘Love, Death & Dancing’ reflects its lyrical content, moments of mellifluous beauty and calm giving way to outbreaks of cacophonous anxiety and manic energy.If the bluesy spaciousness of ‘Anyone’ recalls Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac, ‘Mara’ conjures the production work of Lindsey Buckingham circa ‘Tusk’, while ‘Time’ could be the offspring of both Baba O’Reilly and Boys of Summer. The anguished, propulsive ‘Better’, meanwhile, channels the Beach Boys, Daft Punk and Beat It, and the enraged, accusatory ‘Mend a Heart’ honours the legacy of Cupid and Psyche 85. Throughout, Jack’s extraordinary voice – equal parts soul and blues – soars and swoops, communicating desperation one minute and rapture the next. You never doubt that he means it. You never doubt it’s the truth, unfiltered, unapologetic, laid bare.
“The album was written from the point of view of someone who has a functioning sadness,” Jack says, “who has had his day-to-day depressions and anxieties that have influenced the decisions he’s made. The album is about that functionality, that day-to-day battle, conversation, tug of war. We’re making a film at the moment, to go with the whole album. The premise of it is that it’s me in the back rooms of my mental health, on my own, interpreting the album. The one thing it needs to do is for the very last shot to be exactly the same as the opening shot. Because this battle in my head is cyclical, infinite; it’s a line of consistency, a time loop that’s just going round and round and round.
“I think this is the first time I’ve felt proud of the songs I’ve made. I wrote this album as someone – and for anyone – who likes dancing but doesn’t necessarily want to go out on a Saturday. It’s dance music for people who don’t want to go out! And that’s the music that I love: music that doesn’t care if you’re standing up or sitting down. It’s going to give it to you either way.”