Raised on a steady diet of Jimi Hendrix, John Mayer, Alice In Chains and The Black Keys, Tacoma’s Nolan Garrett is just as accomplished as a fiery axe-slinger as he is an ambitious songwriter. A mere moment’s scan of his unique artistic amalgamation suggests an artist on the verge of something extraordinary as personified in his gutsy blend of timeless rock n’ roll, sophisticated pop, elements of grunge and garage rock, doused with just the right of amount of blues on the fire.
For an artist of any age, it’s surely an electrifying dichotomy, but considering Garrett is a mere 15-years-old, it suggests he’s nothing short of a modern day prodigy. Yet even with youth on his side, the versatile performer is already a veteran of sorts who first started playing at age 8, took to the professional stage a year later and is currently criss-crossing the Northwest as a weekend warrior while he maintains a straight A average at the highly coveted Tacoma School of the Arts.
“I wasn’t very good at sports, so I decided to try music and picked up the guitar, but when the day of my first lesson came around, I didn’t even want to go,” he lets out with a laugh of those pre-teen beginnings. “But after my first lesson, I was hooked, and besides having a knack for it, I was able to get instant results where there wasn’t any competition. I basically began playing all of the time, constantly striving to get better and improve, and wound up in front of 200 people within six months at a Relay For Life charity event.”
Aside from blowing away the crowd with his maturity, professionalism, and perhaps most importantly, playing chops well beyond his years, Garrett hit the open mic/jam night circuit with abandon. It was there that he met a slew of seasoned musicians at least twice his age, which led to further introductions of past and present greats spanning Stevie Ray Vaughan through Joe Bonamassa.
“From the moment I started, I’ve loved the feeling of being on stage,” he observes. “It’s such an adrenaline high and it’s the one place you can start going crazy without anyone yelling at you. It’s the place where you can really let loose, have fun and feed off the people cheering back at you.”
Smaller shows soon blossomed into prestigious area accomplishments, like sweeping “Kids Got Talent 2010” (where he scored “Best Solo Artist,” “Best Band” and “Audience Favorite”), bringing Seattle’s lauded Paramount Theatre to its feet and winning 2012’s local International Blues Competition, which ensures him a slot at the national contest in Memphis. Along the way he’s also shared the stage with world renown Hendrix emulator Randy Hansen, Grammy Award winning zydeco great Chubby Carrier, plus fellow area favorites like House of Bourbon, and The Randy Oxford Band.
“I usually have at least one gig every weekend, sometimes two, and I have band practice twice a week,” he shares of his somewhat tenacious schedule considering he’s still simultaneously a full time student. “I love performing live and I try to make my songs and set list like a constant roller coaster: build it up, drop it down, build it back up and end on a climatic high that leaves people wanting a little more.”
Aside from that strategy paying off across the typical clubs, bars and theatres, Garrett’s performance aptitude also made major waves at one somewhat unexpected location. During his trip to Los Angeles the weekend of 2012’s Grammy Awards, the burgeoning troubadour set up shop poolside at the celebrity packed Sunset Marquis hotel, earning a full-fledged fan in the always eclectic Cyndi Lauper, who introduced him on the spot to producer friend Jeff Kossack (of San Fernando Valley’s Other Hand Recording).
“I didn’t want to be super pushy or even play too loudly, so I just made a home at a little couch by the pool and played for pretty much eight hours straight,” he remembers of the destiny-filled day. “Cyndi and Jeff listened to my song ‘Don’t Criticize Me,’ told me the song was definitely very cool, and in the case of Jeff, it opened the door to us working together in the studio.”
Adds Kossack: “Working with Nolan in the studio only confirms my original belief that he will be a guitar role model for his generation and his music will someday be heard worldwide, with all the accompanying recognition. He's a true artist, unaffected by vanity. His musical instincts and studio chops are amazing given his youth. I only look for big things from him in the future. ‘People get ready...There’s a train a-comin’.”
Besides heading to L.A. quarterly to work with Kossack on songs for his forthcoming debut album, Garrett is also slated to include contributions from mixer/engineer/producer Marc Desisto (U2, Pink Floyd, Don Henley, Joe Cocker) and producer/mixer Darren Bowls (Red Hammer Records’ Dreampilots). Thus far, the sessions have been both productive and liberating, never confining the switch hitter to a single genre and seamlessly blending his contemporary stylings within the framework of those seminal old school influences.
“I love the old stuff and it definitely needs to be brought back, but I want to put a modern twist and flair on my songs,” adds Garrett. “So far, my audience is really a combination of everybody. At my last show, I saw young kids in the crowd, a lot of people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, plus some older people as well. I definitely want to be a successful touring musician and dream of playing at big festivals in front of several thousand people. I watch a lot of concerts on YouTube and always think it’s so cool when a band stops playing and you can hear everybody singing their song.”
As Garrett continues to shape his already incendiary sound, chances are that objective will creep closer to reality with each recording session and concert date that passes. But more important than simply CD or ticket sales, the newcomer has his feet firmly planted on the ground with an even more lofty goal in mind.
“A lot of artists just yell into the mic and talk down to their audience, but my purpose as a musician is to connect with the audience,” he sums up. “When they come out to a show, I want them to get a feel for who I am as a person. I want them to see that I have a passion for music and that I’m a down to earth guy as well. I’m not a guy with a huge ego or someone who thinks they’re better than everyone else just because they’re a musician. I’m just like everybody else.”
Very true as a person perhaps, but after playing a single note, this hopeful certainly stands in a class that’s entirely his own.
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