He might have Depeche Mode on board, but he’s not too proud to bump session singers for the rousing vocals of Granny.
Though in the flesh, with his foppish curls over oceanic eyes and awkward, thin lips that nibble between statements, he might be channelling a disarmingly meek, younger Mika, or, heaven forbid, skinny-legged indie kid in the guise of The Kooks, vocally FrYars - or more to the point Ben Garrett - marries a very different genre of artist. Compared to every eloquent rocker that ever graced the charts - Nick Cave, Daniel Johnston, Rufus Wainwright (just don’t mention Radiohead “Someone compared me to Thom York. Now that’s just comparing for the sake of comparing”) - Garrett’s booming voice that cracks in all the right places to tell of a pain far beyond his 20 years (he celebrated his recent birthday watching the victorious Arsenal game) is like heyday Bowie - all sweeping statements littered in the liquor of heartbreak. Disarming prose about heavy wombs and the murder of loved ones - unimaginable when dealt with a face-to-face conversation with the articulate, smart and unabashedly coy comedian whose gentle voice barely registers on the Dictaphone upon replay - has marked him as something of a stand-out figure in today’s charts of 20-something Londoners wailing about their pub-and-grub lifestyle. James Morrison? No. Paulo Nutini? No. Garrett is Jeremy Warmsley. Garrett is Midlake. Garrett is Magnetic Fields. Garrett is the maligned, lovelorn son of Amanda Lear. Why else would Goldfrapp handcuff Garrett into a touring deal before the ink had even dried on his contract, if they didn’t see something of the didactic showman about him?
“I’m compared to serious musicians because of my lyrical content,” Garrett enunciates as we stop for midday Vietnamese. “A lot of attention is paid to my words, I guess because tomes and tomes could be written about the character arcs of a sentence or the unusual use of alliteration, but with music there’s only so much you can do with it - identify the genre then move on,” the words, soft like melted butter - funny considering that room temperature in this joint is sub-zero and butter, in this current climate, would do anything but melt - land on his lap and end. Complete. That’s why serious artists like Goldfrapp have frog-marched to the front of sold-out ventures at London’s Slaughtered Lamb? To witness the incarnation of Johnny Cash’s soul burrowed somewhere in the throat of a modern-day Sufjan Stevens? “I guess my music - which is written as plays first, then turned into songs - is different from other music out there, which piques interest in the industry.”
The hype - and yes, there has been hype - probably boils down to the collaborations. Collaborations evident from the initial hearing of Garrett’s EPs. Ex-Clor guitarist Luke Smith lends his producing touch - most noticeable in the plonky-tonk electro keyboard underscore in The Ides and Olive Eyes. The Bees Paul Butler loans his rousing musical gifts to Garrett’s EPs, no doubt aiding the myriad asides to melancholy life as a loveless poet. But it is Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan’s vocals that have caused the most headlines. His mere participation has garnered Next Big Thing status on Garrett’s curly head before the samples were even available for download. If Gahan’s on board it must be good, right? Though, to ensure longevity, it was never about celebrity status, more about quality of product. “If Gahan’s vocals weren‘t good, as regrettable as it would be, we‘d have to lose them. It‘s about quality.” Doyens of the musical ode aside, it is, however, another collaboration which has stolen the hearts of hot-footing club kids the world over. It is a collaboration between Garrett and his grandmother. HappY sees Grammy Garrett warble about war, Pascal’s wager, politicians and the concepts of good and evil. The reason? “It was cheaper, we didn’t pay her. I just whipped out the laptop and we were done between dinner time and desert.”
The Ides EP and Perfidy EP are out now, FrYars’ debut album Dark Young Hearts comes out March 2009.