Belfast singer-songwriter Garrett Laurie emerged from lockdown having crafted a new music career, something that’s been an odd experience for them. With their new single. ‘Mississippi Jesus’, they address issues of queer identity and shame, merging religious iconography with personal examinations in a deeply personal piece of music.
“”Mississippi Jesus’ is about being queer & feeling guilty about everything,” they say. “Recorded in Start Together Studios and co-produced with Ryan McGroarty of Beauty Sleep, ‘Mississippi Jesus’ explores queer sexuality and feelings of guilt surrounding it through cinematic instrumentation and 90s style beats.”
I spoke to Garrett around the single’s release…
The mix of themes around religion and gender identity is an interesting one – did you combine them because of the contradictions?
Definitely- I think there is something beautiful about the dichotomy between iconic religious themes and imagery and the more recent movements being made toward looser gender expression. Pairing religious themes with romantic ones feels taboo just because it’s not something you see a lot. It’s a little eerie because it’s so open ended, and I wanted ‘Mississippi Jesus’ to reflect that.
How does the track link into your personal experiences?
I think that coming from a religious family, it has been the backdrop of my life up to this point. In the past two years or so I have tried to challenge some of the shame I think I subconsciously had for a long time as a queer person, navigating their identity in such a small city. By challenging that and the unofficial rules that come with it, I was surprised at how quickly my life began to make more sense- I felt a clearer sense of purpose. ‘Mississippi Jesus’ is about facing shame head on, while acknowledging the strange comforts of settling for being an altered version of yourself for other people.
How do you feel about the general status of queer identity in music at the moment – what are the core issues?
Honestly, I think it is exciting that a queer person can even have a successful music career at all nowadays. I used to think I would have to hide my sexuality while trying to break into the industry, and if I didn’t have some popular queer artists to refer to now, I would probably still think that. I think one real issue is that queer artists often seem to be reduced to a label, and a responsibility to be an articulate voice for an entire community. Being queer is not a job or a career move, so I wish people could identify us by more than that.
How have you found the process of trying to break into a music industry during the pandemic?
I began seriously releasing music just a month or so into the first lockdown of 2020. It was frustrating to have such a limited knowledge of the industry, while itching to get my work out there at a time when everything was shutting down and I couldn’t learn from other, established local artists. I think the social limitations may have pushed me into taking more chances, and trusting my own approach to writing and producing as I had less opportunity to ask for opinions on things I was creating, and overthinking people’s mistaking of my stylistic choices as mistakes or flaws.
Is there a lot more material ready to go, and if so, how do you hope to release it?
I have two confirmed singles lined up for the coming months, and I’m in the process of wrapping mixing on my EP. One of the singles is heavily inspired by the Scream films, and the horror genre in general. I’m developing video plans for that one right now, and the other single is actually a 2.0 version of the first single I released in April 2020.
Your influences seem to be quite 90s – is that your favourite era of music?
I would say so- I have such a soft spot for the film and music of that time. I think the 90s captured Hollywood golden age glamour the best through film alongside the grunge era of music, and the independent movies like ‘Kids’ and ‘The Basketball Diaries’. I think it’s cool how that time found a way to aestheticise normality and everyday things that would have been seen as unattractive before then. With music, I’m obsessed with the use of samples artists like Mariah Carey used in the 90s. The Stacy Lattisaw sample in ‘Heartbreaker’, the Genius Love sample in ‘Fantasy’ and the Mobb Deep sample in ‘The Roof’ are really inspiring to me because they are so subtly sad. I try to implement a 90s Rnb feel into my songs, and I love how fun and easy it is to wrap your voice around those looped choruses.
What can you tell me about the EP that’s on the way at this stage?
The EP is called ‘Can I Play Too? Or Is It Just For Boys? It’s about being young and angry and wishing not to be. It’s a pretty visual project as much of the music makes reference to or is directly inspired by film. I see each track as its own set of colours and mood within the larger visual world of the EP, so the upcoming videos will showcase that.
What are you listening to at the moment, and specifically, who is impressing you in the Belfast scene?
I’ve been listening to ‘The Greatest’ by Cat Power and ‘I Thought’ by Brandy on repeat lately. A very close friend of mine, Niall McDowell is one of the most promising song writers right now in or out of the local scene. I’ve seen their progress as an artist over the past four or five years and I think they have something really special. I like Laytha and Beauty Sleep also. I’ve played with / worked alongside both of them within the past year and have seen close up what they have to offer and I think they have really confident, distinct styles.
What are your hopes for the future?
I would love to tour- travelling with my music is a major goal as I’m so inspired by such a range of genres and cultures. I would love to continue releasing music consistently too, as the songwriting and producing process are very gratifying to me.