Make It Music: Kevin Garrett
Singer-songwriter Kevin Garrett’s music career has soared to new levels of greatness in the last two years. He’s gained support from a star-studded fan base, including the likes of Sam Smith & Katy Perry, and recently sold out 17 dates on his ‘False Hope’ headline tour – a pretty amazing achievement for an independent artist who’s yet to release an album.
Hailing from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania (now residing in Brooklyn, New York), Kevin began writing songs at 13 after learning to play the violin, keyboard and guitar in his younger years. These days, he’s composing musical works of art for some of the biggest names in the music industry. His most notable writing achievement came in the form of co-writing and producing the opening track of Beyoncé’s Lemonade album, titled “Pray You Catch Me”
His recent release ‘False Hope EP’ is packed with pitch-perfect, poignant melodies and a contemporary R&B-influenced sound that can’t be placed into a single genre. The collection of heartfelt sad songs dishes up soul food for your ears, with lyrics that take you back to your last lost love.
For his Make it Music session, Kevin has performed an acoustic version of ‘Heart Like Yours’ from his False Hope EP, as well as an exclusive cover of Childish Gambino’s massive hit ‘Redbone’.
You’ve been touring with Mumford and Sons recently – how was that?
That was the first time I ever got to tour in like, arenas, auditoriums and amphitheaters. You play festivals sometimes and it’s almost similar to that but their fans and the crowd were incredible. It was really an honor to get to share the stage with [Mumford & Sons]. They even hopped on for a few songs at the end of my set a couple of times, which was really crazy, and they learned my songs, which I never thought would happen, so that was cool. But yeah, really great – one of the cooler touring experiences.
Were there any points during the tour where their British humor or slang got lost in translation?
I think that I’m a fairly sarcastic person and every time I’ve come to London or the U.K or anywhere like that to play, my banter seems to go a lot better over here than in the states, which is unfortunate because I don’t live here. There were only maybe a couple of times where someone was talking too fast that I couldn’t pick it up, but we seemed to be on the same page otherwise.
You’ve been performing at some festivals over here too – how do they compare to performing in the U.S?
I was just talking to someone about how I like the festivals over here so much more than in the states. I mean, I love playing in the states on those stages too ‘cause its kind of new crowds and unexpected fans who probably didn’t even know who you were and then after the set they’re with you for the next couple of months, but over here you get kind of like the chaos of the festival but more controlled somewhat. I didn’t feel like I would get lost or mobbed or anything. Then also the crowds were louder which was fun, like at Longitude Festival it was crazy during Mumford’s set – they were screaming all the time. It was a like a Bieber concert, it was awesome!
So you’ve performed at some amazing venues, but is there one that’s your favourite?
There was a venue when we were opening for Mumford near my hometown in Pittsburgh where I went to my first concert – it was Elton John – it’s an amphitheater half hour away from the city and I grew up going to shows there. To be able to play on that stage was pretty special. I think also, I did a couple things at Barclays Centre [in New York] and a place like that in a city like that is pretty cool. Then I opened up for my friend James Vincent McMorrow at the roundhouse, which was kind of a bucket list moment, so there have been a few which have been notches on the belt.
How old were you when you saw Elton John?
I think I was like 6 or 7. We had the same birthday, so I had to go! I remember it was the best, well the second best, concert t-shirt I had. I had the ‘Oops… I Did It Again’ tour t-shirt as well but I lost that, I’m not sure how. But yeah, it was a really awesome show and I didn’t meet him or anything because it was such a massive crowd, but he did like four encores. I think it was Benny and The Jets for 45 minutes at the end and he kept like walking off then hitting the keys then walking off and coming back and hitting the keys. Nobody got bored, which was great. Cool show.
What’s your first musical memory – would that be it?
Yeah that’s probably up there, or when I first did anything really musical I was like 4 or so and I took a piano lesson. I hated it, which was kind of ironic because it’s now kind of most of what I do. I just remember hating the piano. I think it was the teacher –she was really grinding my gears. I didn’t like her. I couldn’t understand her accent. I don’t know where she was from, I think it was somewhere around the Russia area. She was mean, so I quit after one lesson. Obviously I later returned to the piano, without the mean Russian lady I began to enjoy it. That was probably the first moment, I guess.
At what moment did you know you wanted to pursue a career in music?
There was a time in high school when I was taking anatomy class. I was already writing songs by then, but I got a really good grade on the anatomy test. At the end of the year there was a week where I wanted to be a doctor, but then I realized that the test was all just really memorizing things, so I got kind of defeated, went home and started writing again. From that point on, it was “Music’s cool” and all that.
I’m sure you get asked this in all interviews, but we can’t really do an interview without asking about your co-writing and co-producing for ‘Prey You Catch Me’ on Beyoncé’s Lemonade – how did that come about?
I love that song. It was kind of just a right place right time type of thing. I heard she was a fan, handed it off and I was interested to see how she would interpret the pieces I was contributing and so forth. And if it was going to remain understated – it’s how I kind of had it played and recorded and stuff. She knocked it out the park. I think it was a really cool way to start that album and obviously an honor to even be in the conversation on that record. It was so important. Oh yeah, it was just surreal!
Based on that, would you ever call your first child Beyoncé?!
No, because then my child would have way too big a pair of shoes to fill! Maybe er… no, I’m not even going anywhere near even naming my kid Beyoncé. It would hate me. What if she or he (if I named my son Beyoncé)? What if he or she was born without a voice box or what if my kid was a mute? And then I named it Beyoncé and it couldn’t even utter a sound? I would hate myself!
Who’s the most famous person in your phone contacts?
I don’t know… it’s been a lot of DM’s, less phone stuff. Maybe some of the Mumford guys or I’ve gotten pretty close with Sam Smith, he’s a friend. He’s been really supportive and I send him pictures of dogs every once in a while. He likes those. It’s always dogs driving cars. You know when you drive down the highway and you get to a light and for some reason there’s a dog in front of the driver’s lap with his paws on the window and it looks like the dogs driving the car because the guy is laid back? It’s real! I think that’s a cooler question. How many pictures of dogs driving cars do you have on your phone? And the answer would be five.
Brilliant! So here’s a question for you – would you rather win a Grammy, or see the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup for the sixth time, which I’m sure you know would make them the most successful in the championship among non-original six teams?
That’s awesome. I kind of have a feeling that the Penguins might have a shot of winning another one just on their own, so I don’t want to jinx it, as there are a lot of good teams, but they’re also pretty solid right now. But also like, Grammies… I was lucky enough to be nominated for one with Lemonade and it was a really high honor, especially because it was ‘Album of the Year’ nomination, which was really cool. I think obviously it would be cool to win a Grammy for my own stuff one day. Those awards still matter to me even though sometimes it becomes a little overdone, you know? Especially like the awards that don’t get shown on television, because the majority of those usually focus even more on the music side of things. So I would like to have one of those one day. Well, I’ve seen the Penguins win three times so four would be cool…. Yeah, go Penguins!
What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you?
The first time I met Beyoncé – this is a juicy one – it was a holiday party and I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I thought it was just going to be some people from the office where I was being represented at the time. I went to school with some of them so I thought I was going to be hanging out with my friends. Then I get there and there are a lot of artists there; Santogold was there, Haim were there – everyone was there, it was crazy! Someone introduced me to Beyoncé, I thought it was going to be someone from a label or a friend, but it was Beyoncé! They introduced me to her as the person that wrote that song. She was like ‘Oh, Kevin!’. It was an indoor/outdoor bar too, so I was standing under one of those heating lamps, that wasn’t a good idea because I had a coat on, shirt buttoned all the way up, so I was kind of stewing. She reached her hand out and I didn’t know what to do with that, so I try to shake her hand but then I start melting and she’s saying really nice things like “It’s so nice to finally meet you”, “You’re super talented” and she looks at me like “What are you going to say back?” but in a nice way – a protective way almost as if to say “It’s ok, I got you” sort of thing. After she said “You’re super talented”, I said “You as well”. That came out of my mouth! There was some laughter and hopefully a somewhat positive enough reaction, but I told Beyoncé she was ‘alright too’, so that was embarrassing.
Another time that was embarrassing was when I was playing on stage and there’s a song I have called ‘Come Up Short’ where I try to get the crowd to scream and the line is “If I don’t ever fall again” and I slipped and almost fell flat my face on right during line – but I didn’t and I landed. It was like the last 30 seconds of that song, but it was the same feeling as when I said you’re OK to Beyoncé!