Getting to Know Garrett Phelps

Music has always played a big role in Garrett Phelps’s family. His father and brother, Drew and Nathan Phelps, are upright bass players whose notoriety has extended past town. His mother Esther has a bachelor’s degree in music education. As a kid, Phelps did not share a leaning towards musicianship as a career, preferring instead to build Legos.

“I was idealistic for a while. I guess I still am idealistic, just in a little more pragmatic way,” Phelps says.

Now Phelps is a member of country-inspired folksy duo PurlSnapShirts, bluegrass outfit Tallgrass, blues band Son Slim and the Gems, and dark rock group Swan Diver. How did he get involved in four such different groups? He was simply asked to. His involvement came from being friends with someone in each band and being asked for his support.

Phelps took to the guitar around the age of 12 after his father bought a guitar one Christmas--not for anyone in particular in the household. Phelps is now primarily a bass player, both upright and electric. He writes songs as well, but finds that he is constantly learning for each of his musical projects. As he and his brother discussed one day, songwriting is either like fine dining or fast food: “You can write a bunch of shit and come out with two really good songs, or you can take the time to only make good songs.”

“That’s part of being a good bass player, knowing how to figure a tune out really fast and remembering shit and knowing all of these little cues,” Phelps says. “With all that data, I don’t put out quite as much.”

In addition to his artistic output, Phelps hosts the open mic nights every Wednesday night at Midway Craft House — again, the byproduct of a friendship, this one with Midway manager Rahim Dewji. He is also a sound engineer at a church, where he works at least once (if not twice) a week. That means that in his life, music can either be a job, a need, a role in society, a time machine, a fun time, or any combination of the five. Because of this, Phelps finds himself constantly needing to switch between being at the helm of a musical project and playing a supportive role — that is, being someone who can focus more on the music and less on whether the crowd is digging the output. He is capable of riffing and jamming with friends on the fly, and giving up a little creative control for the ultimate good of the immediate musical experience.

“Sometimes as a bass player I’ll wind up playing something where it’s like, ‘I don’t really like how this sounds, but it’s not my song and the thing that I wanted that I think sounds better doesn’t fit what this is,’” Phelps says. “And honestly, usually giving up that little jump of faith actually works out better. You just gotta let the music do what it does. Everyone knows what the fuck is going on, as far as the band goes.”

Phelps wants to tour with multiple bands that he’s in, but understands ultimately that getting nine people in a car will be a challenge. He laments that the year has gone and he didn’t tour at all, though he planned on doing so during the summer. Touring and getting out of the city is on his agenda for his foreseeable musical future. A born-and-raised Denton resident, Phelps has obvious ties to the city and finds that currently his “arts community is fluxing at the moment, in a way that at the end of the day I can profit off of.” Phelps is about to enter a slower season performance-wise, but open mic will take place every Wednesday. He also encourages fans to look out for a surprise this coming year.

For Phelps, sometimes music is a job. But when it’s fun, it’s a really good time.

Header image design by Brittany Keeton