“When I was 4 years old I started playing violin,” songwriter Kevin Garrett told American Songwriter. “That opened the doors for everything else.”
Garrett, now 28, still picks up the violin occasionally, but “after 18 years of intensive formal training, you can easily get burned out on something.”
Nowadays, Garrett spends less time learning theory and etudes and more time focusing on his blossoming career as a writer and artist. Since 2015, he’s put out several releases under his own name and contributed his songwriting talents to a number of other artists — most prominently Beyoncè. Garrett’s newest release is an EP titled Made Up Lost Time, which dropped on February 21.
Made Up Lost Time consists of five songs that demonstrate Garrett’s knack for writing songs that are both honest and irresistibly enjoyable to listen to — which fits his canon perfectly. With the nearly two decades of classical training under his belt, Garrett is able to blend his theory knowledge with his emotional sensibilities to get a truly unique and organic result.
“I think songwriting is the most painful thing I do sometimes,” Garrett said. “It’s one of the few moments where I truly confront myself. It’s the most vulnerable thing you can put yourself through if you’re being real about it.”
“From a musical perspective,” he continued, “having the music theory foundation has been really helpful. In collaborating and in my own songwriting, it helps me know where to go with something, how to get from point A to point B and then to point Z. When things stall out you can change it up pretty quickly — it’s nice to have those kinds of chops in your back pocket when you need them.”
From a lyrical perspective, Garrett values the honesty garnered from his aforementioned vulnerability. “I’m obsessed with words,” he said. “I love any type of expressive writing. The emotions elicited from the lyrics are often what I really key in on, the music has always been like the underpinning.”
Perhaps the brilliance found in the marriage of technical prowess and emotional honesty is what Beyoncé heard in the demo of Garrett’s song “Pray You Catch Me,” which, ultimately, was used as the title track for her seminal 2016 album, Lemonade.
“‘Pray You Catch Me’ is a song that I wrote in my bedroom on a guitar and a DL4 loop pedal,” Garrett told American Songwriter when recounting the story of the song’s journey. “For the longest time, it was going to be the first song I was ever going to release. It was really a series of right-place-right-time moments that my demo ended up getting in the hands of her.
“A couple of years before the album came out, I got a call saying that she wanted it. It was out of nowhere. I knew who had the song and where they worked, but the expectation was never for it to go to another artist, especially not someone like that. When I got that call, I was kinda more confused than anything else. I thought I was getting pranked.
“When I handed it off I was curious as to how she was going to sing it; I know that she has a lot of bravado to her performances and this song is an incredibly understated, open and honest thing. She did a really nice job with it. I heard it at the same time everyone else did a few years later. I remember that I was bugging a lot of people to check-in and see what the deal was, but when it’s someone like that you don’t really have a choice.
“She crushed it, I think she sang it very understated. It was a really incredible experience to be a part of that record. All I can say is that it was a weird flooky thing that came and went. It was a tremendous honor, and it definitely taught me some lessons about how I like to collaborate with artists, the intention of my writing and why I write songs.”
The surrealism of having a personal composition go from the bedroom to the global stage was not lost on Garrett — but perhaps what’s most exciting about his solo output is its ability to retain that “bedroom” intimacy.
“I wrote and recorded this new EP over the course of a month or two last summer,” Garrett said. “It took so long to get my first album out that I wanted to move a little bit faster on things.
“I find myself connecting with certain songs on different days of the week. This EP’s production is a bit more down-the-middle on some things, which is exciting. Practicing for the next couple of shows, it’s been nice channeling what’s going on in my life presently with the motifs in the new songs.”
That connection between Garrett and his work is something that’s followed him since the first violin lesson all those years ago, and it is something that is evident to anyone who listens to Made Up Lost Time.
“The goal of using these songs as a mirror is something I was definitely able to figure out on this one,” Garrett said.
Listen to Kevin Garrett’s new EP Made Up Lost Time below: