Kevin Garrett twists up soulful tradition with singer-songwriter spirit, lush instrumentation, and post-modern alternative adventurousness. The Pittsburgh-born GRAMMY® Award-nominated artist, multi-instrumentalist, and producer echoes the kind of grit meant to be smoothed out only on vinyl and quietly emanates the vast ambition of a 21st century festival draw on his 2019 full-length debut, HOAX [AWAL].
Growing up in Pittsburgh, he fixated on music at a young age. By four-years-old, he started violin lessons. On the way to these lessons, his dad often blasted selections from both the classical and classic rock canons. At ten, he used his lawnmowing money to purchase a Ray Charles CD. He opened himself up to soul icons such as Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and Solomon Burke in addition to folk heroes like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. During junior high, he commenced writing songs and taught himself piano, guitar, and drums. In order to learn the ins and outs of production, he attended New York University with a major in Audio Engineering and relocated to Brooklyn.
As he recorded solo music, Irish sensation James Vincent McMorrow invited Kevin on a U.S. tour in 2015. Simultaneously, his independent debut EP, Mellow Drama, attracted acclaim from The Fader, Complex, Vibe, Pancakes & Whiskey, and more and yielded a hit in the form of “Coloring.” Organically featured on key Spotify playlists, it racked up 30 million-plus streams. Beyond gigs alongside everyone from Alessia Cara to Mumford & Sons and electrifying festival performances at Bonnaroo, Latitude & Longitude, and Sasquatch, he contributed “Pray You Catch Me” as the opener to Beyoncé’s blockbuster Lemonade, sharing co-writing and co-production with the superstar and James Blake.
2017 saw him sell out his first headline tour. It marked “a luxurious moment as we upgraded from my Toyota Highlander to a Sprinter Van,” he laughs.
During 2018, he retreated to Durham, NC in order to record with producer Brad Cook [War On Drugs, Bon Iver]. Together, they refined his signature “odd soul” style with an emphasis on organic and acoustic instruments, tones, and textures.
“I had three words on my mind: ‘restraint,’ ‘refinement’, and ‘purpose’. I wanted to show restraint. I also tried to refine my approach. Purpose was important, because everything is intentional with me. The record is a commentary on what we don’t spend enough time on. It’s an inward reflection on love or lack of emotions in this realm. The initial part is trying to unpack the feelings in my head. It’s like I’m alone in front of a mirror asking, ‘How did we get here?’”
He introduced HOAX with the stark and simmering “In Case I Don’t Feel.” Backed by delicately plucked acoustic guitar and plaintive piano, he relays an unfiltered message.
He says, “I’m telling this person, ‘If you’re going to leave me, I want you to break me as much as you can, so I know not to do whatever I did again’.”
The opener “Warn” materializes from a smoky orchestral hum into jazz-y nocturnal keys and breathy delivery punctuated by pained proclamations such as, “But you don’t love me at all.” Elsewhere, “Telescopes” projects raw sentimentality over airy guitar and a minimalist soundscape. The second single “Faith You Might” hinges on acoustic strumming and warm strings as his voice stretches to head-spinning heights.
“‘Faith You Might’ is about longing for something to last, but being aware you’re getting older and might not be on the same page with the object of your affection, no matter how much you want to be,” he goes on. “Conceptually, it’s how we react to a breakup or losing something. Every track has pieces of me which can be assembled to give you a clear perspective on who I am.”
Those scars and experiences ultimately inform Kevin’s brand of bold and blunt soul, which always ensures a lasting connection.
“Listeners will relate to Hoax in their own way,” he leaves off. “The overarching message is the necessity of growth and self-analysis of both your personality and temperament. In dealing with my journey on the road and through the music business, the one thing I’ve learned about myself is that everything is reactionary. We benefit from a certain awareness of our reactions though. Sure, it’s totally fine to be impulsive. The point of this album is to show you need to be thoughtful of yourself and how you actually communicate though. If you can be mindful of your own sadness, you can get out of it.”