If you start working on your craft at three years old, and continue sharpening it long into adulthood, chances are you’ll find success. (unless your craft is stacking colored blocks, then finding a career may be tricky)
Such is the case with Grammy and three-time IBMA award-winning fiddle player, guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist Jeremy Garrett, known to some as “G-Grass” or perhaps “Freedom Cobra”.
Garrett is a member of The Infamous Stringdusters, who took home the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album in 2018, and just last Friday he released his own solo project, Circles. While he’s still entirely devoted to his “day job” of performing and recording with The Dusters, Garrett found he needed to explore his own artistic creativity, hence the creation of Circles.
We had the chance to talk to Garrett about his roots in bluegrass music, The Infamous Stringdusters, his latest release, and much more.
Music Mecca: So where did you grow up, and who or what got you into playing fiddle and bluegrass music in general?
Jeremy Garrett: I grew up in the great state of Idaho, and my dad is a bluegrass musician. So he kind of always played bluegrass, guitar, and also sang church-style music and that kind of thing, so we were heavily influenced by gospel and bluegrass. When I was about three years old I got started playing fiddle. I got interested in bluegrass on my own in probably my early teens, and started getting the fire for playing it around then too. So I just kept working on that, then guitar and mandolin, and how to sing the old shape-note songs and that style of singing, and been around all that stuff my whole life.
MM: Your solo album, Circles, came out this past Friday. What is the primary inspiration or influence behind this particular album?
JG: My normal day job is with The Infamous Stringdusters. We have a blast going up and down the road and we’re having great success right now, but as fun as that is, for me as an artist, there’s still a bit of longing within myself to create my own art. I have all these songs in my head. I put a lot of time into them and co-writing and that sort of thing, and sometimes those songs don’t have a home to live within The Dusters. There are five guys and we’re a democracy, but it’s just like, I need a little bit more. My wife and I were actually living in Nashville and lived in an RV and traveled around the U.S. for a time. While I was living in there I had all this recording gear, and was able to do all my song demos, and had so much fun. So I started wondering if it was viable to make it work in a live setting, so I started introducing a loop machine and making it part of what I do. So this is like my first real project as far as putting all this stuff together. And I picked my best songs, and the songs I felt would be strongest for this particular project.
MM: What can fans of Infamous Stringdusters expect with this album? Is it a bit of a departure from your work with the Stringdusters, or is there a similar feel?
JG: Luckily for us we have a fantastic fan base with The Stringdusters, and they have given us a lot of love and support in supporting our side project type things. So it’s given us a leg up to experiment and try some things for those folks. But also it is kind of a departure- and I’m not going anywhere, The Dusters are together forever, but it’s a departure in a way that I wanted my music to be ultimately and fully original and different than what I’ve done with The Dusters. So some of the songs take on a more artistic feel, and some aren’t fast songs, which is tough for The Dusters to do in a live show. So it’s a chance to dive into that stuff. And I’m hoping to take the loop machine and involve it with what I’m doing even further. But I’m trying to be careful with it as an artist because I feel like you can be cheesy or gimmicky with a loop machine. But I feel like in a way, it’s also the future of electronic music, how it’s involving itself in what we do, from the recording process all the way down to making live music itself. And I feel like you can totally marry those two worlds, if you do it right and tastefully, and that’s my aim I guess.
MM: Where did you record the album, and who was involved in its production process?
JG: I recorded it at Billy Hume’s studio in Atlanta. He’s got a great studio and is an incredible engineer, and he helped The Dusters win a Grammy. So I thought it’d be fun to use him again, and we’ve used him a bunch in the studio. We’ve done so many projects with him. Always a great flow, he’s a great dude, and he’s never controlling about the music. He lets the music develop naturally, and as the artists wants it. He’s able to capture the recording part of it like nobody’s business. I love how he captured the guitar on this record. And I’ve been recording in Nashville for years, and this is some of the best guitar sounds I’ve heard recorded, just the way he did it.
MM: While it may be like picking a favorite child, is there a song or songs you’re most excited for the public to hear?
JG: Really my title track “Circles,” which I kind of kept quiet before the release. I played segments of it for the public, and I did it once in a live performance, but that song’s mainly been on the down low. But also one of the most artistically powerful songs I feel like, which is why I titled the record “Circles.” I’m stoked for people to get into that track in particular, and excited to see if they do.
MM: Do you have a tour lined up in support of it?
JG: Well I’m always touring with my Duster brothers, so that’s kind of a nonstop continuous tour, but we all do our solo thing in that band too sometimes. And I have one song in particular I think will work really well with The Dusters, and I feel like people will be able to hear that out there. And I do like 30-40 shows on my own as a solo artist each year, too.
MM: Do you have a particular pastime or atmosphere that aides in your songwriting process, or does it come out more sporadically?
JG: My songwriting process happens in a variety of ways. A lot of times it comes to me as a melody first. I’ll usually just record all these ideas that come to me as a vocal thing as a voice memo on my phone. I have a big huge bank of those things on my phone. If a melody continues to come back to me like a different day, that’s one I’ll revisit and work on, and if it doesn’t, then maybe it’s not a good one. (laughs) I try to capture stuff that’s memorable in that way, and from there I build lyrics. I guess I’m more of a design the music first and bring the lyrics in later kind of guy. And that’s why I like co-writes, especially with females. Like “Circles” was written with a gal named Donna Ulisse, and she’s a fantastic writer in Nashville. Writing with a female is the best man, especially if you’re a guy, because women are way better at words if you ask me. (laughs)
MM: I’m sure each festival and venue you play has it’s own special feel, but is there one or two that are extra special to you personally, and if so, why?
JG: You know, I like the variety man. That’s kind of why I got into this business. Or I guess, I don’t know, did I get into this business? I was always in this business. I kind of feel like, that’s what I love about it. People often ask me, “What’s your favorite song?” and that kind of thing, and whatever it is, it may just be for a season. And then that season changes, and then I’m on to something else. And that’s what I love about the entertainment industry is that it’s never the same on any given day.
MM: Of course with the Grammy’s just happening, I have to ask about your experience winning a Grammy in 2018 for Best Bluegrass Album. Was that ever something you ever thought possible when the band first got going, and would you consider it the ultimate milestone in the band’s history?
JG: I always think that anything is possible. Did we expect it? No, not really. And it probably is the biggest milestone that the band has had, which is cool as far as acclaim goes, and it has put a lot of gas in our tank. We have a lot to live up to now, even more than we did. It’s a lot to even get nominated let alone win, and then the pressure is kind of on, you know? You need to own it and build on it. So we’ve been trying to put the hammer down on all of that, but it’s all fun. Hopefully we can get a few more of those things.
MM: How did you get the nickname “Freedom Cobra?” I also see “G-Grass”, but that one I can put two and two together on…
JG: (Laughs) I don’t know man. They say I look like a snake or something on stage. I guess that’s the deal. “G-Grass” started all because of Garrett Grass, and that’s been kind of my logo and MO for a long time, and still kind of is. Just shortened it to “G-Grass”.
MM: What advice might you have for young fiddle and bluegrass players who are looking to forge a musical path such as yours?
JG: Do what interests you. Follow your heart, and be true to yourself in all those aspects. If you really want to do it, its going to be really really hard. In this industry you have to be your own biggest cheerleader. And sometimes you feel like you’re just going in circles, not to quote my song, but it’s true. You just want to keep forging ahead, and if you do, good things will come. Success will come if you really believe in what you’re doing. Stay original.