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The Daily Tar Heel

Q&A with singer-songwriter Kevin Garrett

Kevin Garrett playing piano during his sold out show at Cat's Cradle.

Kevin Garrett playing piano during his sold out show at Cat's Cradle.

Kevin Garrett is a singer/songwriter from Pennsylvania who played at Cat's Cradle on Sunday night. He’s toured with Alessia Cara, Oh Wonder, James Vincent McMorrow, and, soon, Mumford and Sons. Staff writer Alexis Hinnant spoke with Garrett on his music, dream collaborations and what he likes to eat.

The Daily Tar Heel: What's it like putting so much of your personal experience out into the world. Is it hard? Or does it make it more worthwhile? 

Kevin Garrett: I always wanna be able to talk about being able to tap into a handful of experiences that happen to me in the type of music I’m making. It only really works if you’re super honest with yourself. I guess the goal for me is to make a song and while I’m making it, I figure something out, and then when I release it, you can listen to it and be like, "Well, this is really getting me through something." So as long as I’m transparent and honest enough where I feel like I’ve addressed something it’s meaningful to me. It’s something that I’ve been really trying to key into. 

It’s hard, because we all kinda hold back, but when you’re just saying what you’re saying instead of trying to beat around the bush, it gets easier. When you’re writing about love, the end of love or something affiliated with that, you can’t really make it up.

DTH: What was it like working with Beyoncé on such a critically acclaimed album? (Garrett wrote "Pray You Catch Me.") Was it intimidating or natural? 

KG: Beyoncé is absolutely in charge. She knows exactly what she wants, and I think she has a really good sense of what is on the come-up and what is artistic versus what is trendy. She made an album I was lucky enough to be apart of that not only put out good, accessible music that crossed many genres, but that sent two very distinct messages that were very important at the time and still are.

DTH: Touring is a crazy lifestyle. What do you do to relax and mellow out in your alone time?

KG: I try to write — I can never write when I’m on the road. I was an opener; this is the first time I’m touring with more than just people in the band. And I thought that would alleviate some stress, but I ended up with more stuff to do in the first place. I’ve never had to do promotional stuff, I’ve never had to talk to people. Nobody ever wanted to, and now that’s really cool.

I kind of use that as sort of like the decompressing, cathartic moments of tour because I’m not talking to anybody on the crew about how I feel, I’m not talking to anybody about my songs. So these are really important to me, because one, obviously I’m expanding the horizons, but two, a moment of reflection is kinda nice.

DTH: I know you did a lot of creating for the "False Hope" EP in your room. What was that process like? Is it easier when you're somewhere comfortable and familiar? 

KG: Writing the songs has always been in my room, so that part is not any different, but producing and really diving into the sonic landscapes — that’s when you kind of drive yourself crazy. I worked with some producers in certain aspects remotely, because they were based in London, but it was all like Skype calls, and working on the time zone. I would stay up until 4 a.m. because that’s when they were waking up. In terms of the creative process when you’re locked in your bedroom, the house I grew up in. There’s a lot of distractors, and a lot of things that can just like drive you insane when you’re in the same place like that.  

DTH: What inspired the unique melody of your song, "Stranglehold"? 

KG: The title is "Stranglehold," and it sounded like a heart monitor. I thought that the song is lyrically talking about something that is actually like taking the breath out of you and something that is so painful, but you can’t escape it. At first, the heart monitor thing was kind of just a joke, and then it ended up getting heavier and heavier.

DTH: What are some of your dream collaborations? Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone? For example, EDM?

KG: The same way with any kind of collaboration, I’m looking for a few different things. In order to stay true to who I am as an artist, I don’t want to do something just because it’s going to smash. I think you can still collaborate like that with people at that level or in that genre and make something that crushes. My whole thing is staying true to both parties as artists or however many people are involved to make something that is honest, and that touches on things that are meaningful. You have to know what you’re singing when you’re writing a song. What are you singing, not just like what sounds cool.

DTH: What do you think of the mixing of genres?

KG: I think I’m crossing over a certain number of genres, and I think that’s where you start to pollinate everything, and make something even more unique. I think it’s kind of happening like Frank Ocean, Calvin Harris and Migos just did something. I think even the Zedd/Alessia song is sort of touching on the genres you wouldn’t really expect to blend turning into something that’s really accessible and unique. (Alessia) is obviously a very unique talent and has a very incredible voice that sticks out in the best way possible, and Zedd is an EDM wizard. So if you get the right samples, and the right things going on, and make the right song. 

DTH: Sometimes when you're on stage as a guest for another tour, not everyone in the audience knows your songs. How does that contrast to now? What's it like hearing everyone sing your lyrics back to you?

KG: I got really lucky with the opening books I was getting. James Vincent McMorrow, I actually played (at Cat’s Cradle) with him two years ago, and then with Oh Wonder, we came to Asheville. I toured with Alessia — it was amazing. By the time I was getting to Oh Wonder, and even halfway through the Alessia tour, I remember Texas. I toured in Texas a lot, I was kind of already seeing people sing along, which blew my mind, like, you can never even anticipate that. I’m sure some of the huge names go on tour, and it still surprises them.

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This tour has been exponentially so much more than that, which has been crazy to me. Even the shows that ended up selling out. I did not expect Carrboro, North Carolina, to sell out. I did not expect Scottsdale, Arizona, to sell out either. I kinda was hoping bigger cities might, like LA or New York, but almost every show kicked off this tour, which is insane to me. I think it’s a testament to the tours I was on, and the fans who have been there since day one, and the people who just want to see a honest live show. I give my best every night; I don’t wanna let anyone down. We’re not a huge production. I don’t have a label, I don’t have anybody helping me out. It’s very much just me singing songs to you, and so far people have been into it. 

DTH: Are you a foodie? Do you try different things kind of signature to each state or do you stick to kind of the same diet?

KG: I was on a diet for the longest time, and I’ve been trying to go back on it, but it’s hard. I like tacos, I like barbecue. Texas had kind of the best of both worlds, but once you get over here it’s a total different ball game, I’m aware. I know some friends, some of the guys found a pizza spot. Pizza's another thing. But, yeah, I wouldn’t say I’m a foodie. There are some towns where I know what the staple is, and I get that every time. But especially with this tour, there’s less time to find a restaurant. So it’s more like what’s close by, and what’s got the most stars on Yelp.