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Interviews

Kevin Garrett Is All About Capturing Those Raw, Emotional Moments

The 24-year-old singer started off playing violin at just four and now makes glitchy piano soul that has been known to move audience members to tears.

Fans of soulful, R&B-infused pop have a new musician to obsess over thanks to newcomer Kevin Garrett. The 24-year-old—who is hugely influenced by classic songwriters like Sam Cooke, Willie Nelson, and Bob Dylan—has the ability to tap into your soul and truly stir emotions with the sound of his hypnotic voice. His most recent single “Refuse” makes you want to sway, cry, and make out with someone at the same time, which, depending on your make out partner, might be awkward or really hot.

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With an EP, a single, and another newly released single under his belt, Garrett is poised for big things in 2016. Judging by the dark, but gorgeous nature of the the music he's already released, we’re guessing his album will be a refined extension of its melancholic beauty. Next year he hits the road with Alessia Cara, although you might have caught him playing shows with X Ambassadors or James Vincent McMorrow earlier this year. Perhaps you've see the Pittsburgh-born, Brooklyn-based crooner selling his own merch at shows: He likes making connections with fans. Before the new year, we chatted with him about his impending album, writing a song for the haters, and if those comparisons to James Blake bother him.

Noisey: How long have you been making music? Did you start when you were a kid?
Kevin Garrett: I actually started on violin when I was 4—I was a big nerd. That kinda got me into college and college is what got me to New York—I’m originally from Pittsburgh. I went to NYU. Songwriting started along the way with violin—that was the instrument I took lessons on and picked anything up that made noise thanks to that. I started writing songs in high school and once I got to New York, played a couple of shows and gained a bit of that experience, people saw that I could hang and thought I should go for it. So, I’m going for it.

You’ve put out music as EPs in the past year. Are you planning on making a record in 2016?I’m definitely working on an album, for sure. The plan is to have it out next year. I think I’ve been touring a lot, and I’m still touring a lot going into the beginning of next year, so my main focus has been going out and playing as much as I can. When I do have some downtime I’ve been writing. We’re taking the time in between tours and when I’m home to really zone in on new music.

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What do you mainly write about? Do you go to one particular thematic place when you write?
I guess everybody wants to write about love and falling in and out of love—I think that’s where the initial perception of my music lies. It’s definitely the most personal stuff I’ve written off the EP —like “Refuse.” I think people may interpret it as that sort of thing, and that’s definitely true, but I’m also working on some kind of self-reflection ideas. The new music I’m working on—I’m definitely exploring different angles, looking at specific emotions or feelings about stuff that generally circles around a relationship aspect or something. I’m just trying to be as honest as I can. Whatever is going on with me, I can write it in such a way that it’s relatable. That’s my goal. With the stuff that’s out, it’s been that love-centered material. I think it’ll stay there a little bit, but I’m definitely exploring and seeing what else I’m feeling.

Your latest song is “Refuse.” It’s an incredibly powerful and heartbreaking song. What’s the story behind that one?
“Refuse” is one of the songs I had written for a while. As I was trying to find what I wanted the EP to sound like, there were so many different outside opinions trying to input in so many ways. I kind of took that idea and tried to morph it into something a little more sensitive. Basically making the saddest "F the haters song" on the planet might be the goal. It’s kind of about trusting myself and when someone can do that for themselves it’s unique. “Refuse” is fundamentally about that.

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You do sound a bit like James Blake. Do you get annoyed at the parallel?
I get the James Blake comparison. I was getting a Sam Smith for a minute. I’m humbled. I think they’re both incredible at what they each do. It’s nice to be in that category, but I also think objectively we’re all really different in terms of our music and our styles. It’s very nice to be compared to James [Blake], but I wanna do my own thing. He’s obviously an influence, and I’m a big fan. Comparisons are cool—it just depends on how they make the comparison. It’s all about the delivery for me. You did great.

Ha, thanks. There are artists in the same vein as you right nowJack Garratt, Jarryd James. Do people get you confused with Jack Garratt specifically?
I get confused more with the basketball player Kevin Garnett more than I get compared with Jack [Garratt]. I think people tend to be more fans of both of us—they’re in on it. It’s funny how that timing worked out. He’s great—he’s phenomenal.

It’s so funny because I feel like a lot of musicians with your vibe came out around the same time.
You see trends. We must all be listening to similar stuff. I was on tour with James Vincent McMorrow, and he actually got me hooked onto Jarryd James.

Do you have any trepidation about fame?
I don’t really know that I’m too focused on it. I think it’s been cool to be on tours and see people singing along, connecting and wanting to meet. I think that’s awesome. Just watching online the response to my music is overwhelming because I’m unsigned. It’s been great to see this organic support. It’s like a game—fame is a trick. My ultimate goal is to continue to connect with people—I think that’s the whole reason any of us put music out. If more people want to listen, that’s awesome because then I have a job, but it’s all about the music for me.

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Obviously your music is really powerful. Have people come up to you at shows crying or having crazy emotional reactions to it?
There were a few times during this last tour with X Ambassadors. I sell my own merch at the merch table because I’m still at the point where that’s meaningful. I think I actually sell a lot more when I’m there, and that’s how I get gas in the car. There were a couple of shows on that tour where people weren’t expecting me to be there and this wave of emotion went over them. It wasn’t funny, but I might have smiled at it for a second. Like, you’re being silly right now, let’s just hang and talk about stuff. There was also this time with James [Vincent McMorrow] in Edmonton, Canada, and I got a note saying, "Somebody heard you were coming to the merch table. They’re waiting through James [Vincent McMorrow]’s set." I was like, "Oh my god, what are you doing? He’s the most beautiful singer, and you’re standing in the back." I ran back to the merch table and the girl must have been 13 or 14 and she was sobbing. I get kind of uncomfortable when someone comes up to me crying. It’s like, I’m here. You have no reason to be crying right now.

Has playing music and having this effect on people been cathartic for you?
With the stuff that’s been released and the stuff I’m gonna keep releasing, I’m tapping into points of vulnerability. It comes back to having it relate to people. If it makes someone else cry, then I think I’ve done my job, but I’m not trying to hurt people. It’s just about making these raw, emotional moments. For me, those moments have passed once the music has come out, so I’m just channeling that part of the song. It’s fulfilling to see people connecting in this way.

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Kevin Garrett Tour Dates

1/22: Boston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall* 1/23: Philadelphia, PA @ TLA*

1/24: Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club*

1/26: New York, NY @ Webster Hall*

1/28: Cleveland, OH @ Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame*

1/29: Chicago, IL @ Metro*

1/30: Detroit, MI @ St. Andrews Hall*

2/1: Atlanta, GA @ Terminal West*

2/2: Nashville, TN @ Mercury Lounge*

2/4: Dallas, TX @ Granada Theater*

2/5: Houston, TX @ Studio at Warehouse Live*

2/6: Austin, TX @ Emo's*

2/9: Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom*

2/11: San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore*

2/12: Los Angeles, CA @ El Rey*

(* = w/ Alessia Cara)

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