The second floor at Atlanta’s Silent Sound Studios is an impressive place. If you’re into games, the place is like Christmas morning. There’s a Ms. Pac-Man arcade game, pinball machines and a pool table. Vending machines and a huge TV merely enhance the room’s Toys “R” Us-like feel.
If you peel away from those treats for a second, you’ll happen upon a Whitney Houston platinum plaque, a signed TLC promo poster or a handwritten note from Wynonna Judd covering nearly every square inch of wall space. It’s all quite overwhelming once you quantify the caliber of musicians who’ve recorded here.
But Sean Garrett is too busy to gawk at the décor, and honestly, he’s not that easily impressed. When you’ve written No. 1 singles for Usher (“Yeah”) and Fergie (“London Bridge”) and have Michael Jackson’s number in your “fave five,” it takes a bit more than autographed memorabilia to break your concentration.
“Lionel Richie is like my uncle,” Garrett attests. “He gives me a lot of advice on how to move in the industry. It’s our job to learn from them and take it to the next level. When you go and sit down with Quincy [Jones], Michael or Lionel, that’s pretty much their main message you get from it. They always encourage you to keep on and be all you can be. Michael says all the time, ‘You can be the biggest in the world, Sean.’”
The “be all you can be” part was embedded in Garrett long before he and the King of Pop talked. Sean’s father was in the military. After Garrett, a Georgia native, turned five, his family moved to Europe. Sean was there for 17 years. “I was able to see a whole lot of the world, but I still never lost my roots,” says Garrett, who sprinkles memories of Prague and Germany into conversations. “I was able to learn a lot abroad and incorporate that into what I do as a songwriter and producer. I always knew early that I was gonna do music.”
But saying Sean “The Pen” Garrett, who’s back in Atlanta these days, just does music is akin to saying Batman is kinda passionate about nailing bad guys. One of the most successful songwriters of the MTV age, Garrett claims to have 13 No. 1 singles and 25 top 20 songs under his belt. And the sooner you realize Beyonce’s “Ring the Alarm” and Chris Brown’s “Run It!” all came from Garrett’s notebook, the sooner you’re inclined to believe the guy. (As a small collar-popping gesture, the super songwriter named his record label Bet I Penned It.)
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With so much happening behind the scenes for the Grammy-nominated scribe, you almost wonder why he’d put down the Bic and pick up the mic. Garrett loves addressing the wonderment: “Some people ain’t really ready to see you evolve into another episode of your life. A lot of people are scared of change. I’ve been one of the most dominant songwriters of the last five years, hands down. I’ve been really appreciative of the respect I’ve been given and have earned. But at the same time, I still have plenty of things to do.”
At this moment, in fact, an excited Garrett is in the part of Silent Sound with the mixing desk, rackmount gear and goodies that, while entertaining in their own right, wouldn’t be appropriate for the game room. He’s eager to preview his debut album, Turbo 919. After one song, the Off the Wall-inspired “Come On In,” you understand why. The whispery track has Billboard bullet written all over it. “Girlfriend Ringtone” and “On the Hood of My Car” are friskier and even more head nod-inducing. Watching the energetic 30-year-old sing along and motion to the tracks only heighten the listening session.
“I’m like a kid on the playground,” explains Garrett, the father of a 10-year-old boy. “You could go get on the monkey bars or you could go play catch with your friends or football or kickball. There’s a whole lot of stuff to do on the playground. Music is a playground for me. I could go mess with country if I wanted to. I could go mess with rock. I could go mess with R&B.”
Sean Garrett, the songwriter, is “messing“with everyone from MJ to Whitney to Ashlee Simpson before the year ends. Sean Garrett, the solo artist, might mess around and have himself a hit with Turbo 919. The man sitting behind the wheel of both pursuits appears to be simply enjoying the ride.
“Those people that believed in Sean Garrett as a songwriter/producer,” he adds, “they can be hopeful and appreciative of the fact that I love them enough to put time and effort into an album they can listen to from the beginning to the end. If they are paying for it, they’ll feel like they got their money’s worth. They’ll feel like, ‘Damn, not only is he able to create these incredible songs for other people, but he has a whole other side.'”