By Stevie Connor. Photo Credit: Christine Love Hewitt.
Garret T. Willie is an old soul masquerading as an uncommonly wise, weathered, witty and world-weary 23-year-old. He's about to give rock 'n' roll a formidable 21st -century kick in the ass with plenty of wild, heartbreaking, and hilarious stories to share in true rock 'n' roll form.
Garret T. Willie hails from Kingcome Inlet, off the coast of British Columbia. He’s been through some serious shit and lived through a lot more than most of us have at his age. But while Willie’s back story also gives him more right than most to sing the blues – and at heart, Garret T. Willie is a rock ‘n’ roller – he’d rather that not be the whole story.
Willie is the personification of an open book in the lyric sheet to his debut record Same Pain. Through his songs, there’s a helluva lot of raunchy fun going on above and beyond the occasional exorcism of tragedy and trauma. To listen to Same Pain is to get to know him more than you might be aware, but also to find a friendly, sensitive voice with a gift for transmitting universal emotions. Willie gets himself, and in doing so kinda gets all of us. He also knows what makes the blues tick. And, man, can he rip it up on the guitar.
“I think we’re providing the world with something it doesn’t have right now,” says Willie. “I don’t wanna just be the biggest in British Columbia, I wanna be the biggest in the world. It’s been a long time since somebody’s done it right or been doing it from a genuine place and not just because they admire it. This isn’t, like, an imitation, y’know? If I don’t feel it, I don’t do it.”
What Garret T. Willie offers the world is something it has genuinely been missing for awhile: a contemporary take on hardscrabble blues and the purest and rawest rock 'n' roll to follow its teachings thereafter. He’s studiously schooled in all the right source material, from Howlin’ Wolf, Albert King and Muddy Waters to Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis to The Rolling Stones, Ten Years After, AC/DC, Stevie Ray Vaughan, George Thorogood and everyone else who’s carried the torch into the present, with a little Johnny Cash and Hank Williams thrown in for some outlaw-country flavour on the side. He knows the music – all of it, top to bottom – knows its history, knows its lineage, knows its hottest licks. He’s been studying every inch of that history and that lineage ever since he started teaching himself Angus Young solos as a 7-year-old from the sticks looking to escape, picking up on the common, primal essence behind all the music he loves and channels today. And that’s why, on Same Pain, Garret T. Willie can not only really rip it up on the guitar, but also with the gut-busting honesty of someone who understands that if you ain’t lived it, you shouldn’t sing it. At least that’s the way it is for him.
“In the beginning, I wanted to be like Angus. I wanted to perform. So I was very well-versed in AC/DC, but what I didn’t realize at the time was that, in studying Angus, what I was really studying were variations of Albert King and B.B. King and Chuck Berry licks,” says Willie. “And just listening to what they were all singing about, it started to connect on a deeper level. AC/DC and all that is great if you just want a rush, but when I started to really feel it and connect to it I didn’t really know what it was it was like what Keith Richards, I think, said: ‘I’m hearing a sound I shouldn’t be hearing.
I think that’s the one common ground everybody has who’s into this music honestly and genuinely: it’s that you lived it. You’re living it first and then you discover it and then you think ‘Yeah, I have a way to express it.’ Being genuine about it is a different thing. To be able to sing as hard as I do, from as deep as I do, I’m drawing on a lot of pain. And that’s where it’s coming from. It’s coming from really deep inside. It’s like a cry out, I guess. Even if I’m singing a really good rock song, it kinda comes from the same place, the same source.”
Garret T. Willie is not interested in replicating anyone else’s music. He’s interested in making music that’s entirely his own. And with the aid of producer/co-writer/right-hand man Parker Bossley (formerly of Gay Nineties and the late, great Hot Hot Heat) he’s taken steps to doing just that on Same Pain, an impressively three-dimensional first foot forward that proves Willie as confident and comfortable doing a kickass bar-room blaster like opener “Make You Mine Tonight” as he is doing a wistful, slide-streaked ballad like “What It Means To Me.” He makes you chuckle on the goofy morning-after lark “Rolled” or while singing an ode to his favourite footwear on “Black Shiny Shoes,” then proceeds to rip your heart right out on the emotionally shambled, Sticky Fingers-esque album teardown before opening the tune up into an almost exultantly cathartic coda. Dude’s the real deal.
Garret T. Willie has absolutely no interest in emulating the musical past, emulating his heroes. His interest is only in channeling every ounce of the classic blues and rock 'n' roll he venerates so deeply into something new. Bringing it into the now, hustling it towards the future and maybe leaving his signature on the wall for a few of the bored kids to follow in his footsteps.
“I will bring my culture in once as an example,” says Willie. “I used to carve when I was younger. I’m from Alert Bay, which is ’Namgis First Nation and I’m also from Kingcome Inlet and I’m also a little bit Tlingit, from up in Alaska. So I have the rights to carve those styles because I’m from there. But what I don’t have the rights to do is carve West Coast style – Nuu-cha-nuulth – because I’m not from there. I don’t have the rights to do that. And that’s how I look at music. I really admire Muddy Waters’s ‘Got My Mojo Working’ but I don’t have the rights to do that shit. I wasn’t brought up in Chicago and I’m not from there, y’know? If I was to do it, it would be in clichéd form and it would be disrespectful.
“To quote Lightning Boy’s classical teacher in the movie Crossroads, it’s a cultural thing. Certain things you’re born into and some things you aren’t, and that’s how I look at it. You’re never gonna catch me sittin’ there with a dobro guitar playin’ Son House. I admire it, but I can’t do it, y’know? That’s too deep for me.”
FOLLLOW GARRET T. WILLIE