Interview on Last Day Deaf - 12/17/2019:
What inspired you to first start making music? And how did you come to be in your current incarnation? Or if you prefer, a brief bio about you.
I recall first starting to compose music around 1995, on a 4 track tape deck. I look back on my efforts to get into recording studios, and the gatekeepers who deemed my music worthy or not- I found out eventually that most of these people were egomaniacs with an inflated sense of self-importance. So I had no choice but to learn to do these things myself. After playing in several bands in the Austin, TX area, I finally released my first solo album, “Instrumentals & Oddities”, released in 2008. By this time, the new digital paradigm of online based music licensing was just beginning, and most of the album found its way onto cable T.V., advertising, and independent films. I then set my sights on doing an album that would stand out compositionally, and with its production values. This became my latest release, “Let’s Get Surreal”.
Provide us with some info about your latest release…
It’s been about 10 years since I released my first album, “Instrumentals and Oddities”, and there was a feeling building up in me that I needed to release something new, when I started this project in the fall of 2013. I remember listening to a James Horner interview about the “Wrath of Khan” soundtrack, where he mentioned that to bring things into focus, he decided to come up with a few main themes and motifs, providing variations on each theme. This hugely inspired me, and was the creative spark that led to my latest LP release, “Let’s Get Surreal”. Compared to my first album, this one is a bit more synth heavy, even though it still has a lot of guitar and bass on it. Most of the main riffs, lead lines, and synth basses are played on an ARP Odyssey, one of my prized possessions. The record is also drenched in Mellotron. I presented the album like a resume’ of what I’m capable of, and that includes engineering and production. It’s been a major learning experience along the way, and I’m really proud of it.
Which ones would you consider your main influences both music-wise & non-music-wise?
Throughout “Let’s Get Surreal”, you’ll often hear a crescendo Mellotron swell leading into a huge chord; that’s totally down to a Genesis influence for sure. In the track “Bak1”, you’ll hear a minimal arrangement that slowly adds concentric layers of instrumentation to the mix, a la Pink Floyd; other Floyd influences are all over the album in the cross fades between soundscapes, and in experimental sound collages. You’ll also hear a funk influence throughout the album on things like “Bak3”, “Avant”, and the tail end of the Overture. Another influence would film composer Lalo Schifrin. Non musically, I’m hugely inspired by Steve Wozniak, sticking to his guns during the early days of Apple. The DIY approach, the obsession and personal sacrifice involved in not giving up your autonomy even if you don’t have a dollar to your name, when you truly believe in what you’re doing.
In what way does your sound differ from the rest genre-related artists/bands and why should we listen to your music? In other words, how would you describe your sound?
I like to assemble music in a progressive manner. Each track flows into the next seamlessly if one lets it play continuously. In this way, the album is presented like a guided tour of what I do. I also wanted to do a great job engineering, and strive for the polished production values of the late ‘70s soft rock period, while presenting compositions that are edgy, psychedelic, and progressive. I practically worship engineers like Alan Parsons and Hugh Padgham. I’m an analog freak, use an Allen & Heath analog mixing desk and tube preamps, so the record has a fat, analog outboard sound to it, sort of like a Stereolab record.
Please name your 3 desert islands albums, movies & books…
Albums: Genesis “Wind and Wuthering”, Pink Floyd “Atom Heart Mother”, and maybe Duran Duran “Rio”.
Books: Carlos Casteneda’s “Journey to Ixtlan”, the poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Geoff Emerick’s “Here, There, & Everywhere”.
Films: Fantastic Planet” (1973), “Flash Gordon” (1980), and Disney’s “The Black Hole” (1979).
Do you prefer studio or performing live and why?
I will say that lately, I’ve been really getting off on the recording side of things, and confess that by the end of this project I enjoyed the production, editing, and engineering side of things as much as the composition and performance! I’m such a perfectionist and often stay up all night trying to get things right, in a very obsessive way. Recordings are like canvasses or films, and these statements will be around long after I’m gone.
Is there any funny-unique story you would like to share with us, always in relation to your music ‘career’?
I have often set up mics and equipment in the most unlikely of places. I’ve been living up in Alaska off and on for many years, and on a foggy October day a young lady friend of mine who lived in an old historic cabin let me record her vintage Hammond C-3 organ, when she left town for a few days. Strange noises and phenomena have been observed there, and it’s sort of implied that the place is haunted. Later that night, a sudden gust of wind suddenly slammed the back door shut, and I started to feel a presence, as if I was being watched. Just as I felt a chill, looking down at the hair standing up on my arms, I began to hear weird noises, pops, and random notes playing out of that organ… As if whoever was haunting that cabin was using it to communicate from the other side! This is the organ you hear on “The Eternal Laugh”. At any rate, I have a feeling that the ghost approved!
Which track of your own would you point out as the most unique and why?
“Saddam/Espace” is something I’m proud of, and is highly influenced by early Pink Floyd. I remember hearing an old Floyd bootleg from ‘72, where they played the Lord’s Prayer, looped back onto itself, until it was an abstract jumble of words, somehow making an existential statement- brilliant. That’s the approach I wanted to take a step further with this piece, in this case using George W. Bush speeches. This took me days of meticulous work, which I obsessed over. The second half of the track is an electronic soundscape, a la BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
Would you like to share with our readers your future plans?
I’m looking to get more involved in film/T.V. soundtracks. You won’t find me playing cover songs in a bar every Friday night for the rest of eternity! However, releasing albums will always be a passion of mine, for art’s sake. That’s why I still insist on releasing CDs, and hopefully vinyl in the near future- the overall presentation makes a statement. As far as I’m concerned, the licensing aspect can be used to “bankroll” the albums or even tours in the future.
Who produced this album, and who are the personnel?
I did everything. The composition, all of the instrumentation, the engineering, editing, and production. Even the album artwork.
Progarchy Magazine - 06/19/2019:
Webster’s Dictionary defines “surreal” as an adjective meaning “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream.” In other words, something so bizarre that it shouldn’t be real, yet it is. This may be the most accurate name for an album I’ve ever encountered.
Composer, musician, engineer, and producer Garrett N. has a background making music for commercials, films, and documentaries, in addition to a few of his own progressive albums. That background helps explain the non-traditional nature of this album. Garrett performed all the music on the album, displaying wide musical talents. He also sings on the few tracks that have lyrics.
Let’s Get Surreal is extremely synth-heavy in a Pink Floyd sort of way. I’d say Floyd is the biggest rock/psychedelic influence here, and at times it works very well. The first four tracks in particular are quite strong in this regard. There is a sci-fi cinematic feel to some of the synths sounds too, in a sort of 1950s alien sci-fi movie way. With that said, the slightly distorted acoustic guitar on “The Eternal Laugh” is a welcome addition. The next track, “Quiet,” features what sounds like extremely distorted electric guitar… maybe too distorted. Definitely a gritty sound. The blending of different types of synths, drums, and guitars manages to work, however. The bit of flute on “Scorpio/Ramos” is nice, although the song could have used a lot more of it.
Garrett appears to making a bit of a political statement on a few tracks, particularly on “Saddam/Espace.” This song has a remix of former US President George W. Bush giving a speech about Saddam Hussein and all that mess. It is an interesting reworking of the speech, with blurred repetition of Bush saying “terror” playing through the background. The album was recorded between 2013-2017, so this track seems like it is 10-15 years past when it should have been released. That particular moment has passed, making this song lose a lot of its punch.
At an hour and thirteen minutes in length, the album kind of drags a bit because a lot of it sounds the same. There are a few songs that could have had a few minutes trimmed out. The album is at its best when other instruments are mixed in with the synths, rather than the lengthy sections that are only synthesizers.
Ultimately, this album sounds more like a tv show soundtrack than it does a rock album. It is mostly instrumental, with synths dominating the instruments being used. As such, it doesn’t sound like a typical instrumental prog album. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it does feel like we are missing a piece of the puzzle. “Let’s Get Surreal” won’t be for everyone, but those into the more psychedelic side of prog should appreciate it.
— Bryan Morey
MLWZ.PL Radio Show, Poland - 03/06/2019:
It has been exactly 10 years since the release of Garrett N.'s debut album "Instrumentals & Oddities". Apparently, you can still hear fragments of this album on American television, in commercials, and even in several independent films. After nearly five years of composing, recording, editing and producing, we have the second Garrett N. album, "Let's Get Surreal" in hand. We hear it electronic, ambient, progressive and multi-species and in total difficult to classify productions filled with an amazing amount of sophisticated details that are revealed at each subsequent listening. Garrett's production, editorial and engineering skills are at the highest level here.
"Let's Get Surreal" consists of up to 12 musical themes, the length of which ranges from barely two minutes ("Sinister", "Quiet", "Scorpio / Ramos") to about ten minutes ("Overture", "The Eternal Laugh", " Reprise / Bak3 / Unknown ”, Avant4 / Outro / Epilogue”) compositions. Although, as I mentioned, the album has a wide stylistic range, I get the impression that each song is performed with considerable momentum in a very progressive way. And this applies to both recordings with an extremely ambient character, themes such as glove matching film music, through tones of electronic rock, various sound collages reminiscent of early Pink Floyd productions, to hard rock, often collided with surprising funk interludes. Garrett also often uses various non-musical means, such as dialogues, volleys of laughter or persistent repetition of certain sung or spoken phrases. And also sings. Although traditionally understood singing is not on this album. And compositions that have the character of regular songs, almost at all.
Despite this huge variety and eclecticism lurking at every turn, the whole album sounds quite convincing. It has thematic coherence with recurring musical themes, which makes us feel as if we were listening to one great epic soundtrack lasting well over an hour ...
— Artur Chachlowski
Dutch Progressive Rock Page - 02/17/2019:
Garrett N is a solo artist, instrumentalist, composer and producer whose work has featured extensively across assorted programmes across US television networks. Let's Get Surreal is his second solo album following on from 2008's Instrumentals And Oddities album, although I first came across him several years earlier when he contributed a track to a collection of fan-based Pink Floyd tributes None Of Us Is Pink curated by a friend of mine. His musical mission is a stand against low quality, compressed streamed music by restoring the hi-fi production qualities of yore.
There is no doubt that the album is a soundtrack from a film that's yet to be made. The rich soundscapes, menacing synth attacks and audio inserts, primarily from George Bush Jr on the terror threat posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction (and a speech that, despite its inaccuracies and audio manipulation, is still more eloquent than anything the current US president utters) on Saddam-Espace and Michael Caine reminiscing about historic slurs on gay men on Avant3 / Ahip1 / Caine.
Although the core music is delivered by a variety of synths, organs and even Mellotron, the presence of electric and acoustic guitars and some heavy bass can be heard throughout as well, although generally distorted through a variety of effects, as well as some simple but effective drumming. There are certain nods towards Pink Floyd and even a, probably coincidental, recurring riff from the Tears For Fears track Change while Middle Eastern textures are cleverly blended in to the mix.
There are so many layers to the music that not much space is left in the sonic spectrum but despite that nothing seems too overwhelming, in fact when more minimal sections appear they seem almost barren. With the exception of the aforementioned vocal inserts and the song Avant, arguably the least impressive moment on the album, everything is instrumental with each part meticulously crafted to add to the tension, mystery and sinister nature of the proceedings.
One cannot really separate individual tracks as out of context of the whole work their power is somewhat diminished. Sure, tracks like Overture and The Eternal Laugh do have an inherent integrity partly due to their length but timing is not a sufficient marker as both Ahip2 / Reprise / Bak3 / Unknown and Avant4 / Outtro / Epilogue do not really stand alone and require the listener to be familiar with what has gone before to make sense of them. One can speculate that this is part of the kickback against modern listening experiences where in many cases the 'album' has ceased to exist but essentially it is just effective composition.
There is a saying that "familiarity breeds contempt" but that is unreservedly disproved by Let's Get Surreal as the more one becomes familiar with its components the greater the understanding and appreciation. Garrett N is without doubt a meticulous producer and although it has taken a decade to arrive, perhaps making the GW Bush inserts rather dated, it's quality and dynamism are not easily ignored. Give your speakers and your ears a workout and listen to this album and see just how surreal things get.
— Mark Hughes
Monolith Cocktail - 01/21/2019:
Channeled into an eclectically blended opus of a showcase, in a sense a purview of Garrett’s tenure as a composer and sound designer creating incidental music and soundtracks for a litany of American networks, the pun-tended riff entitled Let’s Get Surreal runs through the full gamut of its creator’s skillset and tastes. In the decade since his first and only other album thus far, Instrumentals And Oddities, there’s been a hell of a lot water-under-the-bridge, and Garrett’s album at times seems like one out-of-sync with its time: Leitmotifs and themes, including a growing cacophony of multiple George Bush Juniors reading out his infamous address to a nation speech on the eve of the second Gulf War (overlapping and twisted until the word “terrorism” echoes like a broken mantra), are evoked on the WMD condemnation, undulated by a Kubrickian menacing drone, ‘Saddam/Espace’ – just one example of a subject overtaken by a catalogue of equally destructive and important events; the incessant hunger for stimulation, reaction and validation of 24-hour news feeds quickly replacing world events at such a rate as to make anything longer than a few years back seem ancient history.
The sound quality indicates a talent for production: Garrett N. is attempting to bring hi-fidelity and a verve of polish back to music production; arguably a lost art in so many ways, especially in an era when availability and convenience is valued above audio quality, and when music is accessed, predominantly, through compressed digital streaming platforms on smartphones. If nothing else, Let’s Get Surreal sounds good in its bombast; loud when it needs to be, clean and crisp when more thoughtfully meditative and ambient. It makes a refreshing change to hear it.
The music itself is epically framed, following a concept that errs towards progressive rock and beats opera; there’s even an ‘Overture’ to kick things off, part of a triple suite of tracks that (surreal indeed) morphs Michael Caine’s anecdotes about gay slurs and allusions to a changing musical landscape of 70s Floyd, ethereal synth work, hues of heavy Muse prog guitar gestures, brighter shades of MGMT and psychedelic pop and Todd Rundgren. Continuous with recurring hooks, bridges and fades connecting each track on this hour plus filmic soundtrack, Let’s Get Surreal blends lofty noodling with longing composure as it confidently zaps and fuses the cosmic with Hip-Hop instrumentalism, library music with 80s flange rock, 8-bit robotics with conga funk, and low-riding RNB with the psychedelic.
A curious album from an obviously talented music producer and musician, this ambitious suite does seem like a home-studio project from a bedroom maverick, dressed-up as a resume, yet remains an impressive expansive astral oddity of constantly progressive and twisting musical tastes: An album where nothing, quite literally, is spared!
— Dominic Valvona
Sea of Tranquility - 04/10/2019
Following on from his Instrumentals And Oddities album, Let’s Get Surreal is the second solo endeavour from Garrett N., who is probably better known for his TV music, although he is also a skilled composer and producer. As you might have surmised from its title, Let’s Get Surreal is no easy listening fare, an electronic base used as a jumping off point into all manner of ideas. From the off, it’s clear that you’ll need to grip on tight to keep up, as spoken word segments from vintage films and interviews (including Michael Caine) compete with huge, dirty riffs for supremacy as keys gate-crash the party. This is merely “Overture”, which ‘welcomes’ you into proceedings.
“Avant” is rolled into, themes continuing the journey, before an almost funky beat sideswipes and rewards, but with phased vocals and an intentionally fuzzy sound, don’t think Garrett is offering you the chance to groove for too long. Each piece pretty much segues into the next, as it does with “Avant3-Ahip1-Caine”, where that beat evolves into a synthed surge. More Caine audio overlaps into the track’s outro, a questionable theme of attitudes gone by (you’d hope) playing out uncomfortably.
“Bak1” picks up a gritty groove and then spits it out through “The Eternal Laugh”, where giggles, guffaws and what sounds like birds cackling is looped over a wash of sounds. Until now things have hardly been bright, breezy and accessible, but running at over 14 minutes, the patience is tested for the first time proper here, even if the latter stages are more music based. And that for me is the challenge. What has been crafted is undoubtedly skilled and intriguing, with “Quiet” anything but living up to its name and “Scorpio Ramos” an almost Blacksploitation piece of grind. But the 7 minutes 25 of “Saddam-Escape”, which provides a couple of minutes of George W Bush Jnr offering his inimitable babble regarding the ex-Iraqi leader, before sliding into a dream-like avante slither, may be excellently put together, however for me, one listen to this type of thing is undoubtedly enough.
If you’re looking for a rough ride with some unavoidably exciting pay-offs and a cinematic feel, then maybe you’ll welcome the invite to Let’s Get Surreal. Just don’t be too surprised when its welcome embrace somehow manages to keep you simultaneously at arm’s length.
— Steven Reid
Music Street Journal - January 2019:
This isn't a slam-dunk into progressive rock, but it's clearly progressive music. There are parts that are decidedly rock oriented, too. I love the unpredictable nature of the set. At times you'll find yourself in electronic territory not far removed from the Buggles. At other points this wanders near stoner rock with heavy (but still odd) musical elements. Some might have an issue with this because of the production. Other than sound bites only one song here has vocals. There are segments that feel DIY oriented in terms of production. I think it lends to the charm of the set, though. I would recommend this only to those who like adventurous, unpredictable music, but I would recommend it.
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2019 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
Track by Track Review
Rising up trippy and dramatic, this quickly becomes powerful electronic space music. An ominous laugh emerges before the minute and a half mark. Then a sea of voices emerges as this gets almost claustrophobic. After those drop away the music continues the weirdness as it evolves. A heavy guitar based sound emerges as this approaches the two and a half minute mark, bringing an almost stoner metal element to the mix. From there different space textures take it while the harder edged thing still returns. A different guitar texture threatens to take control. Then this shifts to a more rock based jam that has psychedelia, low-fi and electronics in the mix. It drives onward in that vein with an oddity that is strangely compelling. In some ways this resembles Hawkwind at times. This continues to shift and evolve. It becomes a real powerhouse jam with some melodic textures at one point. Then it shifts to something like weird metal meets electronica.
More pure electronic textures bring this into being. It seems to bring a bit more lighthearted vibe in contrast to the darkness that preceded it. This gets some vocals landing it perhaps in the vein of something like The Buggles, but in a DIY way. There is some noisier, harder rocking stuff further down the road here.
This comes in feeling a bit like a continuation of the previous cut, but it's more of a melodic rocker. There are some pretty cool melodies. We get a clip of a voice later, and I think it's Michael Caine. Some electronic weirdness comes in with that. The cut drives forward with more of a rocking techno edge after that. The keyboards soaring over the top lend some real magic. The voice, or a sea of them, really, returns after the music takes it out.
There is an almost middle-Eastern element to the keyboard textures that lead this track out of the gate. It drives forward in an almost EDM meets space way from there. The electronic space rock rises up and drives this tune. It's another that makes me think of Hawkwind quite a bit. I dig the guitar textures that emerge later. This drops back to just keys with laughter to segue into the next number.
The Eternal Laugh
Continuing sounds started at the end of the last piece, an intricate guitar pattern emerges as this moves forward with a moody sort of prog, space motif. It powers upward from there and starts rocking for a short time. Then it drops to just keys with laughter for a time. There are some intriguing melodies that ensue after the laughter leaves. It shifts toward decidedly heavy and ominous around the two and a half minute mark. As it drops back to mellower electronics again, laughter ensues. That along with some wind carries the piece for quite a while. By around the five and a half minute mark the sounds of crows have joined and more or less replaced the laughter. Then keyboard textures more than notes are heard amidst mostly just the wind. The keyboard elements hold the cut after the wind has gone, bringing a bit more of melodic texture. This continues to build in intensity as it makes its way forward. Around the eight and a half minute mark guitar and other textures bring in more intricate melody. The piece evolves as it works onward from there. The guitar and keyboard textures work together to create some intriguing textures. It eventually works out to something heavier and more distorted. Yet there are some hints of early Pink Floyd at the same time. That part takes it to a keyboard section (with another sound bite) to end this (or more accurately segue it into the next number). At almost 14 and a half minutes of music, this is the epic of the set, and that space really allows for a lot of variety.
Coming in from the previous number, this is anything but quiet. It's distorted, hard-edged and driving. It has plenty of both psychedelia and space rock in the mix. It works forward in a rather straight-line way, but there are still plenty of little twists and turns and variants on the theme. A sound clip of President Bush ends this, or rather links it to the next one.
Bush's voice holds the opening of this with varying layers of clips that are echoey. It is a weird, but cool, found sound kind of creation. In fact, in a very artsy format, that by itself makes up a bit more than the first three minutes of this. From there we get some science fiction oriented stuff that is quite trippy. It definitely gets very spacey and makes me think of some of the more electronic sounds Hawkwind has done. A voice talks a bit about hallucinogenics as the music seems to replicate the effects of them. Another voice talks and then echoes off. There is another sound bite later that feels like it comes from a science fiction movie.
This powers out of the previous number with a real techno, driving groove. It's quite electronic and also has some science fiction and space elements on display. Providing some variety, this is also tastefully strange and very cool. The swirling computerized voices on it are pretty trippy.
Electronic melodies bring this into being from the previous cut. At over ten minutes long, this is another epic piece. It rises up with a driving kind of EDM groove from as it continues. By the time it approaches the two minute mark it has turned into a driving prog jam. That quickly drops away, though. The next section has an almost hip hop meets the Middle-East vibe to it. It's both rhythmic and melodic. Further down the road as it drifts to trippier stuff we get all kinds of voices as sound bites. This is very science fiction oriented in terms of what they are saying, and some serious space textures emerge after they are gone. Trippy music takes over from there with a real electronic space rock texture at its heart. Early Pink Floyd is a valid reference point in some ways. It gradually begins to rise upward from there as it shifts toward a more traditional rock band approach. Still, it's in terms of instrumentation as this remains mellow and very Pink Floyd (psychedelic era) in style. We get another sound bite over the top before this rises up into more pure rocking fashion. I love the bass lines on it, and the keyboards over the top are cool, too. There are some almost jazzy Pink Floyd elements that emerge as the piece continues to grow. It gets pretty funky before it drops back. The cut essentially ends and a reggae styled groove joins to create the concept of the next track.
A reggae meets jazz and space rock sound that started at the end of the last number makes up the basis of this cool jam. This gets some sound bites and has some odd proggy shifts. The closing section is a sea of sound bites that echo around one another.
A rocking electronic texture starts this and makes me think of King Crimson in some ways. The track gets decidedly heavy as it drives onward. Yet electronics are built all over the outskirts of this thing, too. It's like stoner rock delivered by an electronic prog band. Computer voices join after a time and along with weird effects take control of this piece.
Trippy electronic elements emerge and drive this number as it starts and builds outward. This has some of the most melodic, mainstream rock textures of the whole album at its core at times. Weird sound bites and driving electronic sounds bring it outward from there as this drives forward. It works to more melodic electronic prog after that, and then shifts toward a more mainstream prog rock sound to continue beyond that point. As this works to more of a space rock jam with hints of both Hawkwind and Pink Floyd we get a sound bite from earlier on the disc on a return visit. After that ends around the seven minute mark some space textures take over before a new rocking element emerges. That doesn't stay around long, though, giving way to more space textures. Working through a few things, electronics hold the number until the end.
— Gary Hill