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Garrett Kato-2

As singer songwriter Garrett Kato’s website bio explains, he was “born in British Columbia, Canada and started playing music in his teens. At the age of 23 he relocated to Byron Bay”. Kato not only discovered a thriving local acoustic music scene in Byron but also found the love of his life Celeste and is now the proud father of a little girl, Lyla. His new album That Low and Lonesome Sound is a collection of sounds and thoughts about all of the above, his move to Australia, the ups, downs, doubts and triumphs. Garrett’s music comes from his heart and soul. His voice is effortlessly gentle and soothing. Rather than merely entering your ears and being directed to your mind, it envelops you entirely. Australian Musician caught up with Garrett a couple of weeks out from his biggest musical event to date, supporting Pete Murray on his national ‘Yours Acoustically’ tour.

And you may ask yourself – Well … How did I get here?

What diet of music were you brought up on Garrett?
To be perfectly honest with you, my first favourite song of all time was Gangsta’s Paradise when I was a kid. It was from the Dangerous Minds soundtrack. So I got into hip hop and then when I hit high school, I went into metal and from metal I graduated to folk music. That was a weird stage in my life.

Is there one particular album which dominated your teens?
This Ryan Adams record, ‘Heartbreaker’, it changed the way I thought about songwriting and how songs can be developed, so that was a big one for me. That was a blind buy too, I didn’t even know who Ryan Adams was. I bought it at the record store because I thought the cover looked cool.

garrettkatoacous1Prior to living to Australia, what kind of gigs were you playing in Canada?
I did some pretty cool stuff actually. I played the Vans Warped tour when I was over there. I did a few festivals. This all came from a radio station contest. It was useful as far a making contacts. I was doing regular club gigs too.

Why did you relocate to Byron Bay when you were 23?
Well initially it was supposed to be just a holiday, as usual, as most people say. Then I met my partner there. She was the girl living across the hall in a shared house. You know what they say, that you’re not supposed to get with your house mates but it worked out this time.

Did you settle straight away and get into the local music scene or did that take a little while?
I jumped in as soon as I could. I had shows booked before I even got to Byron through a friend who was touring around. So I played places like The Treehouse and The Rails within the first month of being in Byron Bay so I was pretty lucky. When I came to Byron, I guess I just wanted to play as much music as I could and  because there are musicians playing almost every single night, there were a lot of opportunities. I feel like pre-Byron Bay, Garrett Kato’s music chops were not nearly as good as they are now because of the endless gigs.

About Garrett’s new album, That Low and Lonesome Sound

What was the starting point for this album? Did you already have a bunch of songs you wanted to record together? Did you write specifically for the album?
The album was almost like a subconscious concept album in a way. I started writing this album when I was in Australia for about three years. Apparently there’s this thing when you move countries, after three years you get this thing. It’s almost like buyers remorse … if you’re not really sure what you have decided to do and you’re not real sure if this is the right place for you. So the album That Low and Lonesome Sound is more or less all themed around me moving countries and trying to deal with that because it was a big change. That’s what it was centred around and obviously there are songs with different themes but that was a big part of it.

There are 9 songs on album. How many songs did you have prepared?
I did so much pre-production. I have my own studio in my house and this is my first actual album I did in the studio by myself. I had endless amount of hours clocked in on this record because I just could. I think that’s what made it better than anything else I have ever done. Just the fact I could constantly work on it and make it happen. It was a slow meditative process.

garrettkatoacous2You have a distinct way of singing, it’s such a gentle voice. Did it take you a while to capture your vocal in the studio the way you wanted?
No. This is purely because of inspiration but I honestly can’t do more than 5 or 6 takes otherwise I get sick of the song. So I do 5 or 6 six takes and choose the parts of the takes that I like the most and just comp it.

Who are some other artists you like for their vocal quality?
You can probably hear in my voice that I am a huge fan of Ray LaMontagne’s voice. The guy has got everything I like in a voice. The rawness and honesty. I guess even if the singer doesn’t sound that good, I just want to believe them. That’s the most important thing for me. Like Ryan Adams, he can have some pretty dodgy takes but I always believe it and that for me is the most important part. If I don’t believe it, it doesn’t grab me I guess.

It says in your press release that you kept re-recording songs, tweaking them. Was it difficult to let the album go finally and say its done?
Yes it was a little bit. There’s always another banjo part or something you could put in. You’re always second guessing yourself. It came to the point where … when I was listening to it … just sitting down and listening to it, that’s when I knew a song was done. I’d listen and think yes this is good. I think the song Ghost Town, I re-recorded that three times and Headlights three times. There was a bit more to those songs.

The track Thick Bones has some beautiful instrumentation going on behind it. What’s being used to create that?
Those were just like samples basically. The strings and horns were samples and I miked up a piano. It was a pretty liberating thing, if I wanted an instrument, I could just chuck it on and when I sent it off for mixing, nobody batted an eyelid about it.

Who are you singing with on I Wonder Why and Sweet Jane?
Those are two different girls. On Sweet Jane, her name is Hayley. She was just on The Voice and luckily didn’t get through thankfully. I am not a huge fan of that show. My brother was visiting me and they’d kind of gotten together, so she was just always around the house. I knew she had a lovely voice and I was tracking this stuff in my studio and asked her if she wanted to sing and she sounded great on it. And the I Wonder Why singer… there was girl singing outside the Byron Bay Woolworths. Her name is Mimi Gilbert. I think she was singing a Ray LaMontagne song. I stopped and turned around and bought her CD then walked to my car, stopped again and walked back to her like some crazy person and said I am recording this song and I really need you to sing on it and I had a studio just up the street. So believe it or not she actually did it, which I thought was crazy. So the first time I really met that girl was when she sung on the last track of my record. That track is pretty special to me for that reason.

garrettkatoalbumTell me about the album cover photo.
Sometimes I just look on Flickr and look at cool photos and I have been a fan of this one photographer. I can’t pronounce his name, he’s Hungarian but he has these amazing photos. Basically I just sent him a message saying I loved this shot and would I be able to use it for my record. He looked me up and said sure. We are both young fathers and he thought it was a cool parallel we were living. Two artists across the world collaborating, so he let me use the image.

Did you have a bunch of album titles in mind?
Yeah. I had some really bad ones, like ‘Young and Helpless’ but I thought that sounded too much like a daytime television drama. I think how I came up with the name is that I was listening to an interview with Justin Townes Earle and he was talking about that high and lonesome sound. I thought, well my voice is really low and maybe a little eery sounding. And then the theme is about me moving to a new continent and possibly not seeing my old family for more than once a year for the rest of my life, so the lonesome sound is definitely in there.

A stalky look at Garrett’s Facebook page reveals he has some pretty sweet gear

Looks like you have a nice  Epiphone  ES339 as your main electric guitar, tell me about the gear you used on this album.
Yeah I’ve got that and I have a Gibson J45. I have a Martin, I think a 1960s model. I love those guitars for tracking. I have a Neumann mic and an AKG 434. For vocals, I use a Shure SM7B, I just love those. They are great mics for everything. I also have 2 Neve pre amps which are beautiful things and that’s kind of what the album is made of, those two preamps.

garrettkatoepiphoneWhere did you pick up your Epiphone?
I just stumbled into Byron Music one day. I saw this guitar and just thought, I love this guitar. I bought it but knew my partner Celeste wouldn’t like that so I told her I bought her a present, so I left the guitar on the bed for her. I said here you go honey! She knew the guitar was for me.

What amp do you play through?
I’ve got a Vox AC30 but it is such a heavy amp and I hate carrying it around but I love the way it sounds. Maybe one day I will have some sort of roadie

Are you a big pedal guy?
No I don’t get into pedals too much. My main instrument on stage is acoustic guitar. I did just pick up a Fishman Aura pedal and I love it. It has some samples in it for live acoustic guitar sounds. Normally when I hear a plugged in acoustic guitar, it doesn’t sound like an acoustic guitar it sounds like a plugged in acoustic guitar! This pedal really makes it sound like their is air in the room and the guitar is being miked and I just love it. I recommend it to any singer guitar player who does country ballads or something like that.

Are there any other instruments you played on the album?
I did a lot of bass lines on a synth, MIDI keyboard. I played a lot of banjo on it too.

Garrett is about to embark on a 33 date national tour with Pete Murray

I imagine this is most extensive tour you’ve ever done?
Definitely. I am actually kind of freaking out about it. It’s such a huge thing to organise. Obviously I am feeling pretty lucky going on Pete Murray’s tour and play some beautiful rooms. It’s such a treat and yes, the biggest thing I have ever done in regard to the amount of shows and travel. I am more than excited. It will just be me playing solo on acoustic guitar maybe stomp box. I think what I am most excited about is to build a show and singing my songs in their most vulnerable state, which is acoustic guitar and vocals. It is what it is and you either like it or you don’t. I am excited to do that because sometimes with bands, you can get a bit of smoke and mirrors happening. People can like things for different reasons I guess but I like songs, that’s my main priority, to write good songs.

What’s Garrett Kato’s grand plan?
In a perfect world it would be to comfortably tour, not have to do gritty festivals and just play theatres and halls and live in that world of elegant music … have a lot of control over sound and over the listener’s experience. One of my biggest battles as a young artist is control over sound and lighting and the feeling of a show. I find it so hard to deal with some pubs and things to create the right mood for your fans. You don’t want to give them a show which is sub par because of where you booked the venue. It’s a big priority of mine.

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