The playwright Tennessee Williams once said, “There is a time for departure even when there’s no certain place to go.”
This oddly serene notion is something quite familiar to musician John Garrison, his life having served as the muse to his brilliant new work, aptly titled DEPARTURES. The most notable of these life changes was the transition from an established life in London to starting anew in New York. The City, replete with its clichéd dreams of life and love and open-endings, agreed beautifully with Garrison, even if his leaving London was at first uncertain.
DEPARTURES is as multi-dimensional as New York, a tapestry of song and emotion, its true artistry apparent when experienced as a whole. Garrison’s haunting voice and raw lyrics backed by the equally lingering instrumentals affects each and every listener in some way, everyone being able to relate to loving and losing.
We first heard Garrison’s signature vocal quality on his band BUDAPEST’s 2002 debut release, TOO BLIND TO HEAR (out through Universal Records in the USA and Sinnamon Records in Spain), and later on their album HEAD TOWARDS THE DAWN (out through Sinnamon Records in Spain). The single “Censored Memories” off of TOO BLIND TO HEAR was the second most played song in all of Spain in 2004, the year the album released.
Despite critical acclaim for his work with BUDAPEST, a new music scene was calling out to Garrison. Heeding that call required great sacrifice – it was during this period Garrison made the decision to uproot himself in favor of New York. “When I first moved to New York, I really left it all behind…my friends, my home country,” he explains. “It was like being a little boy all over again in this big city.”
Indeed the move allowed Garrison to regroup, to grow and discover, and proved to be the catalyst to a whole new beginning artistically and personally.
Garrison’s first stab at solo work was released in his typically unassuming manner on his own label. Titled ABOVE THE COSMOS, the album won critical acclaim and became immensely popular both abroad and in the U.S., where over 300 college radio stations picked it up.
During this time, Garrison performed in and around New York City, and soon he acquired residencies at intimate clubs playing to rapt, loyal audiences. Between those shows, the multi-instrumentalist (guitar, bass, drums, piano) picked up some session work, famously backing artists such as Leona Lewis, for whom he played bass on the song “Run.” Never one to be confined to the studio, Garrison also supported live acts; most notable was his embarking on a world tour with James Blunt.
All these ventures prompted Garrison to evaluate the idea of mobility. Being grounded has its benefits, but the nomadic and spontaneous life of taking on new and different projects and hopping from one city to the next elicits a certain emotion. He wrote on the road with Blunt, and he wrote at his new home in New York City between sessions – in the park, in his apartment, walking around the streets of the City. “Once Around The Block” is Garrison’s portrayal of “that feeling of being all on your own in a big, scary place,” he explains.
Though the vocals on DEPARTURES are markedly less subtle than on TOO BLIND TO HEAR, Garrison has not lost his love for subtle wordplay. One change he did make, however, was his decision to work with a producer. Grammy-winning engineer/producer Matt Shane (Flight of the Conchords, Elvis Costello, Roseanne Cash, Dashboard Confessional) provided Garrison a fresh new perspective on putting an album together. “It was great to bounce ideas off someone. He pushed me,” Garrison says. “You can hear it on the record.”
Another major change was Garrison’s decision to invite other artists to contribute musically to the album, among them the renowned cellist Natalie Clein, Karl Brazil and Paul Beard, both of whom play with James Blunt. Prior to DEPARTURES, Garrison rarely collaborated on his own work. “I was a control freak with TOO BLIND TO HEAR. I played 80% of the instruments on it,” he says. But with DEPARTURES Garrison moved in a new direction. “The more people that have input the better. I learned that from my session work.”
While the DEPARTURES release looms, it is hardly the end of an era for Garrison. One point he stresses on the album is life and the firey passion for it being an endless cycle of discovery and re-discovery, movement, change and growth, despite ones location. Garrison perfectly frames this idea on his single “Let’s Run.” Up-tempo and uplifting, “Let’s Run” reflects the contrasting concepts of the need to be idle with the need to start fresh. While being still lends itself to helping one feel settled, starting fresh, whether it be a move to a new country, involvement in a new project or travel from place to place, can be just what one might need to find himself. “The search is all over,” Garrison sings, yet he continues “Let’s tear down the walls of this old town…let’s run and never look back.” Still, the chorus concludes with “this fire inside, while it burns so bright, it feels so right.”