Alvin Garrett is a Grammy-nominated songwriter/producer who recently stepped out on his own as a solo artist. Having written for an impressive lineup of artists such as Ruben Studdard, Johnny Gill, Trin-i-tee 5:7, and many others, Garrett hopes to duplicate this success with the release of his debut album Expose Yourself. Merging elements of contemporary R&B, soul, and gospel, Expose Yourself looks to bring back the prominence of the male R&B singer.
SoulTrain.com: Now, for those of our readers who aren’t familiar with you, tell us how you got your start. Who is Alvin Garrett?
Alvin Garrett: I’m from the great city of Birmingham, Alabama. The people that do know me, know me as going by the name Kornbread. I’m a bass guitarist. I’ve played with a lot of gospel and R&B acts, and I did a lot of writing and performing with a band called Freestyle Nation. I got my start with PJ Morton, who is now in Maroon 5. At the same time I also had a band by the name of Just A Few Cats, whose lead singer was Ruben Studdard, who of course won American Idol. I moved forward from there as his musical director, and I’ve held that position since he won the show. In the meantime I was working on my production and writing all along the way, and in the past few years I just started having some success in my own right as a writer and a vocalist. I got a Grammy nomination this year as well as a Dove Award for my work with Trin-i-tee 5:7 and Deitrick Haddon, and from there things are just continuing to grow.
SoulTrain.com: What was your first placement as a songwriter?
AG: Well, my very first placement with a major artist was Noel Gourdin. With Noel I actually got 9 songs on his latest album Fresh: The Definition. A lot of people that know him know of his hit song “The River.” After that it was the Deitrick Haddon gospel placement.
SoulTrain.com: Now you’re listed as the A&R for Noel’s album. Do you see yourself more in that role or more as a performer? Or both?
AG: Well, it was actually interesting how that came about. When I submitted the first song [“Not Around”], they fell in love with the song, recorded it, and they asked me for some more music. From that point on, I got in such a zone with them that my writing and production shaped the rest of the album. They pretty much started running everything by me to get a cohesiveness in the project, and it basically was built around my writing and vocal connection with Noel. So they decided, “Hey man you pretty much helped A&R this project.” So they actually just gave me credit based on the influence my writing had on the project. After getting that I do feel that I have that insight that an A&R would have which I went through with my own solo project. I’ve been very pleased to get the feedback that I’ve gotten from people about how well the album flows. I think the mark of a good A&R is not just choosing good records, putting them in a sequence that creates a good listening experience.
SoulTrain.com: Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. Babyface calls it mailbox money!
AG: [Laughs] I know that’s right!
SoulTrain.com: What exactly inspired you to put out the solo record?
AG: You know what man, truth be told, I would always hear people saying, “Hey man, who’s the guy singing the demos?” It was never really an aspiration of mine to be an artist, but I did get slightly frustrated over time being a ghost. You know what I mean? Even with the writing and people recording your song, you sit back sometimes and you want to see people promote it a certain way. But I just felt the inspiration to let people see and know me as an entity. I also felt that everything else that I do would go in my favor if I had a face and a brand that people could recognize outside of me being a bass guitarist. I must say it was a good decision because it has helped open up some doors. It was really refreshing to present myself in this manner, and just for people to see me and to know me.
SoulTrain.com: Is that one of the major factors of you going the independent route?
AG: The reason I chose to go independent is because I feel that the state of the music business right now is just based off numbers and statistics, and big dollars, and one thing I do believe in is building yourself up to have leverage when you’re having that conversation with someone who can do something for your career. At the end of the day it’s all about the fans, and reaching the fans and connecting to them on a level where they’re patronizing your art. A lot of labels, because of the lack of sales, are looking to just pick up the next hottest thing. They’re not necessarily looking to spend a lot of money to develop or promote an artist. Most labels will say, “Hey, we’ll sign you to a 360 deal and we’ll give you distribution.” Which means we’ll lock you down, get your publishing, and we’ll put you on iTunes. That doesn’t mean they’ll spend a significant sum of promotional dollars to help you make an impact, where you can get out and tour. So if I could connect to people that know me as something else and just reintroduce myself to them, that’s a pretty large fan base. Plus, I made so many connections over the years touring and just being in that musical director position, I know club owners, I know promoters, program directors. I put my own band together. There are so many ways I can get on the stage and promote myself that I’m already doing, I said just let me utilize those tools to build up my presentation to the point that when I do sit down with a label, they’ll have a little more interest than just shopping the project.
SoulTrain.com: Ok, I got you. We all know you’re from Birmingham, Alabama which a lot of people regard as the place where America finds its voice. What do you think is holding Alabama back from being at the forefront as a major music market?
AG: I think it’s a lack of development on the educational side/business side. As you know there’s talent everywhere. On top of that [there has to be that] consumer support to where you can sell 10-20k records in a hundred mile radius. You can do that in Atlanta. It’s not unheard of for an artist to break in that city, or LA, other major markets where the industry is developed enough to where the fan base will actually support it. Now I think here we have a lot of great performers, a lot of great singers and talented people, but not a lot of understanding of [things like] merchandising. So we’ll do a lot of great cover tunes, and be great wedding bands, but when we do our projects, it’s not presented competitively with who would come out on the national market. I think that’s one of the exciting things about what I’m doing. I am getting consumer support here because people say, “It sounds as good as anything on the radio. It looks as good as everything on the market. I don’t feel bad about spending my last ten dollars because this looks good.” People see my video and say, “Wow! Let me get behind it and support it.” I think that here, and in a lot of small markets, they say, “Support your local artists.” Well, I tell people don’t support me; buy it because you want it. Buy it because it’s good. I don’t need your support; I’m trying to sell you something. Walmart doesn’t ask you to support them. Walmart sells you things that you want and that you need. I have ten dollars to spend as a consumer, now do I go buy the latest Alicia Keys record, or do I go and buy yours? Yours needs to be as good as hers if I’m going to spend my last ten dollars for the month on a CD, and it’s just that simple. I don’t think it’s fair for any local artist, or any artist anywhere to punish a consumer for not buying their product, but their product isn’t on the level of everything else that’s successful to the consumer. So that’s my frame of mind, and that’s why I put so much time and energy into packaging and presenting my product to where when you lay it next to Jamie Foxx or Chris Brown or anybody else, the mixes are gonna be right, my artwork is right, my website is nice, my video is top notch, and you’re not gonna have an excuse other than you just don’t like the music. If you don’t like the music, don’t buy it. I’m not asking for support, I want you to buy it because it’s good and you like it.
SoulTrain.com: Man you just dropped a pipe bomb! Well what’s your favorite Soul Train memory?
AG: Aww man! My favorite has got to be that introduction. Just that “Soooouuul Train!” You gotta love it when you’re growing up and you see the dances, and the way it hits home.
You can find Alvin Garrett online at www.alvingarrett.com and on twitter @thealvingarrett.
His debut album Expose Yourself is available now via digital retailers and his official website.