Sean Garrett was already a legendary songwriter, but he’s taken things to another level over the last two years thanks to his work on Summer Walker’s sophomore album “Still Over It” as well as Usher’s new single “GLU”. Sean Garrett aka “The Pen” is no stranger to number one hits as he’s written eighteen Hot 100 number-one singles including Usher’s “Yeah”, Ciara’s “Goodies” and Chris Brown’s “Run It”.
We had a chance to talk to the songwriter about his creative process working on Usher’s new single “GLU’. The song marked a reunion for Usher, Lil Jon and Sean Garrett as the trio had previously worked on the record “Yeah” together. Sean also talks about the new Usher album which is expected to come out very soon. We also talk to him about the work he did on Summer Walker’s recent album “Still Over It” and his experience working with Neptunes on the Summer song “That Girl Right There”. Lastly we touch on his thoughts about today’s era of R&B as well as his own solo music that he’s ready to put out.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Yeah, let’s get into it. First things first, you’ve had an incredible career. If they don’t know, they’re going to learn today. Destiny’s Child, Beyonce, Chris Brown, and of course, Usher. So we’re going to get into this new song for sure. I want to give you your flowers for one because honestly, this song right here, you said it was meant to wake up R&B, and I think you’re doing that. So we’re going to get into.
Sean Garrett: Okay. Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that. So we’re doing our job. We’re doing our job.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Exactly. And we love it. We absolutely love it. So “GLU”, highly anticipated, only a couple of weeks and it’s been getting so many positive reviews. So he (Usher) sang the entire song in falsetto, which he’s hit his falsetto range in a few other tracks before, but nothing for the entire duration of the song. So what was the inspiration for having him sing the entire song in falsetto?
Sean Garrett: Well, thank you, first of all. This song to me, it’s so many things that’s so ironic about this record. The fact that it’s called “GLU”, we’re coming up on the 20th anniversary of “Yeah” basically, and this is the first time that me and Lil Jon got a chance to work together again since “Yeah” and “Goodies”. It’s a bit surreal, and I don’t mean to sound crazy, but it’s a bit surreal because we’ve ended up becoming family. Initially, when Usher and I first met, it was crazy because it was in the middle of a crash course of him thinking or feeling like his album was completed. And then somebody pulled up in this damn car in the middle of his yard with this record called “Yeah”. And it actually changed all of our lives. Having him sing in this in this way was something that I wanted to do. I had been hearing stuff that I really didn’t like. People questioning Usher in reference to him being able to perform and do a Super Bowl. I’m just like, How dare people? You know what I’m saying? To me, Usher is one of the most amazing talent of our generation. I love him dearly. I really support his career, his inspiration, all that he’s been through. You know what I’m saying? As a brother. I took it a little personal. This was one that we wanted to give the world an inflection of just how amazing Usher was vocally. Wanted to set things up as a surprise to give something to the world that people could appreciate, that people could admire and also wanted to remind people just how amazing Usher is and just how amazing we are together. You know what I’m saying? Just want to remind our people, like have we forgotten ladies and gentlemen?
YouKnowIGotSoul: And you know the funny thing is, though, he did an incredible job. I looked at a lot of the feedback from the fans and they were really surprised to see him sing or to hear him sing the song in falsetto. And he really killed it. And even recently, he performed it at the Dreamville Festival. For a lot of people, that was their first time hearing it live. So what was it like for you hearing him sing it live and really crushing the haters like “Oh, you thought I couldn’t sing it? Let me really show you”.
Sean Garrett: I’m not going lie, it was extremely impressive. And he’s always been such an amazing showman. I get such a kick out of it, that’s what I love about being a producer and a songwriter and a hit maker. That was the moment. That’s the moment of seeing him present this record to the world and show the world, that it ain’t too many people that can get on stage and do it like this. It’s not too many people can get on stage and make the women feel like this. That’s another thing, too, that I felt like was really important that we wanted to give the women, the females that feeling again of just love and romance and sexy and sex.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Right. If anybody’s going to do it, Usher is going to do it.
Yeah. You know what I’m saying? I’m talking about passion, that’s what I mean for lack of better words, just that passion, again, of just making you feel good and taking you away for a moment to just enjoy yourself. You know what I’m saying?
YouKnowIGotSoul: Absolutely. I love that. So speaking of, you spoke about working with Lil Jon again, first time in 20 years. So what was the collaborative process like between you, Lil Jon and the Avila Brothers? I saw Usher on the credits as well. So how involved was he in the making of this song?
Sean Garrett: Well, like normal, the way this one came about, me and Jon, I called Jon. We were trying to get in the studio. I actually spoke to L.A. Reid. That’s another point of the idea of “GLU”. L.A. Reed is back in the fold again as well. They just did a deal together with our brother, Larry Jackson, who is another part of the “GLU”. Just our entire career. Larry is such a fixture in the game, and we grew up together, him being an executive under Clive and then going that work with Jimmy at Apple. I’m just really thankful for him as well. But LA Reid, the OG, the catalyst, the super executive he is, came back into the fall and just helping mold this album back together from a perspective of taking some of the weight off of Usher, I feel. He and I was speaking and he was asking me, we were talking about different layers that we felt like was needed. I ended up calling Lil Jon. We went out to Vegas to work and he happened to ask me, Did I know Bobby Avila? I’m like, Hell yeah, I know Bobby Avila, that’s my brother. The Avila Brothers, those are my Mexican brothers from LA. Amazing talent. Those guys are just absolutely amazing. It was so ironic that Jon had been working with Bobby, so we went out there. We just got together and had a little dialog of places that we needed to go for Usher. At the time, I was really, really very focused on it in a way where the guys were looking at me crazy, like, “You really are serious about this?”. We got to talking about different layers and different colors and things of that sort. And I just felt like we needed to give Usher something very organic that also was a touch and respect of what R&B really is. As you can hear, there’s some Prince influence. I really love Prince and have so much respect for just him as just a special talent. Also, there’s a little D’Angelo touch feel in there. You know what I mean? It’s just a feeling and a color that I feel like we’ve never heard Usher in or space. That was the idea. We went down there and just got in there and broke the whole idea down and took it piece by piece and put it together.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Yeah. About how long did it take you guys to really get it from start to what we hear now?
Sean Garrett: That little process, it took a initially, the song was done the first day, but we got this way of coloring. I had to pencil in different colors and shades and stuff. That tightening is always a special thing. We end up laying everything live on the record, live streams, brought in a stream set. Just took our time and really nailed it. And we knew from that point that we had something really special and then presented it to Usher. And man, he was taken aback, actually. He was taken aback. Initially, it was like “Damn Sean, you’re challenging me. You really push an envelope vocally”. I always sing in this space that makes him a little uncomfortable because my voice is, my singing voice is a little bit higher than his. So it always appears, I think, to Usher that I’m actually singing higher, but it was beautiful to see him take on that challenge. And that’s what’s so beautiful about working together and being able to challenge each other to go to the next level. It really came off really good.
YouKnowIGotSoul: For sure. You all have been working together 20 years. What’s been the growth? Working with him back in 2003, 2004 to now, 20 years later.
Sean Garrett: Also “Papers” too. I did “Papers” with him as well. It’s been an amazing ride. It’s been like I said, we’ve become brothers. You know what I’m saying? Just seeing each other grow and having kids. I think us, he just had two new kids over the last few years. Just growing up seeing each other go through different things, the good and the bad, you know what I’m saying? Being there to support him through it all, him always being very supportive of me. It’s definitely been a rewarding relationship. Just to see your brother, we had a chance to have a little celebratory moment at his show out in Vegas. It’s just been beautiful. It’s definitely been rewarding on all levels. You know what I’m saying? But this is the type, for me, this is something like watching a movie. Actually, it’s always easy for people to make you feel great and give you your flowers and tell you’re amazing, call you a legend, and call you GOAT. That’s an amazing… That’s great to hear. You know what I’m saying? But it’s another thing to just have to pinch yourself and not think that this could have been you. You know what I’m saying? I’ve had such an amazing career. I really am just appreciative. It don’t seem like it’s been that long, but it’s really been amazing. What is that? 53 number ones, 18 Hot 100 number ones.
YouKnowIGotSoul: That’s you. You’re The Pen.
Sean Garrett: I don’t know, man. And to think from Beyonce to Chris Brown, I was just watching something yesterday Chris is performing in Europe and he’s performing Wall to Wall. And I’m like, damn, it’s been amazing.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Yeah. A lot of your hit records have really been the soundtrack for a lot of us. So it’s amazing. It really is. So as far as all these hits that you’ve done, you really do embrace that true R&B sound that people like me and a lot of other people love to hear. So what has been your thoughts on what R&B has been in the past few years and what you’re wanting to take it back to going forward?
Sean Garrett: Well, evolution is real. I think a lot of the things that I rely on is a lot of the values that my mom and my dad, my parents, my family instilled in me. Number one, just for women, I love my women. I love our women for sure. Just from a place of strength and love, whether it’s sometimes a little bit toxic or perfect because it all contributes to, I think, I like to look at it in the end, it all working out. But I’m inspired by it. I’m inspired by being whatever it is because I know through evolution would grow. If it ain’t right, we’re going to get it right. I think all the different inflections tend to enhance our music for good or bad. I got a chance to work with Summer Walker on the Still Over It album. My brother’s loving my brothers and LVRN and thanking them for giving me the opportunity to executive produce Summer’s album and thanking Summer for giving me the opportunity to executive produce the album and be a part of so many records on that album. To me, it was a classic album. It was definitely something that I was really proud of. But even working with Summer, that was such a great experience because to me, Summer Walker is such a hybrid of so many different things, but at the same time, the new. It was really interesting. You know what I’m saying? When you think about one of her mentors is Erykah Badu. I’ve always been a fan of Erykah Badu. I never got a chance to work with her.
YouKnowIGotSoul: She had her doula for her twins recently.
Sean Garrett: Yeah, exactly. She delivered her first child, too.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Oh wow!
Sean Garrett: I think she delivered Bubbles as well. Like I said, it’s just the experiences are just very… They’ve just been amazing. To answer your question about today where R&B is, I wanted us to get back to I felt like there was a loss of respect for our music, especially R&B for a little while. I think that I was a little disappointed over the years, like the last four or five years because I felt like, yeah, there was a lot of great artists out here that was putting that work in. But at the same time, I just felt like the respect from the people I felt like we were letting it slip away. And we all know that the root of all music is R&B music. You know what I’m saying? I just felt like we needed to check ourselves, you know what I’m saying? And get back to the essence of understanding what it really is and what it really should be and also just holding ourselves accountable. I think that’s the biggest thing. Even me myself, you know what I’m saying? Just pushing the envelope. That was to get back to the point of “GLU”. That was one of the thoughts that I had in my mind that, you know what, it’s time to stop talking about it and just do it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Be about it.
Sean Garrett: Just be about it. It’s all about the people. It’s all about you guys keeping it gangster with us and letting us know when you all appreciate what we give you. And that’s the part that I got to admit that’s the biggest pay off. Seeing us should get on stage and go crazy and do his thing or hear you guys write about the record or give you opinion about it. And we know you’re going to keep it gangster for sure. So that’s the beautiful thing to see a woman smile like yourself, gushing a little bit from the perspective of the appreciation of the music is really the biggest pay off. Music is my heart. It really is.
YouKnowIGotSoul: If I hear good music, I’m going to let you know. And if I don’t like it, I’ll also let you know.
Sean Garrett: That’s right.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Actually, speaking of Summer walker, what I do like is Summer Walker really, I mean, her voice is heavenly. So I do want to ask you a little bit about working with her, specifically her track “Dat Right There” she did with The Neptunes. What was the process process like? Because that sound is really that R&B sound that a lot of people are loving.
Sean Garrett: Man, it’s so funny you bring that up. Well, first of all, I want to say happy birthday also to our brother Pharrell, to the GOAT, to the greatest ever, one of the greatest ever. Pharrell is such an inspiration in so many different ways from just being a fashion icon to a musical genius. I had a really great time working with Pharrell. Man, every time I get a chance to work with him, I’m always wanting everything he has to offer. Him and Chad are just so amazing. But we went down to Miami to work, and that was a really interesting meeting. We had a lot of fun, got a chance to push a little bit. And I wanted to do something, of course,I’m always trying to push outside of the comfort zone. I felt like that was what Summer has… She has this, like you said, this heavenly voice, but I like to see her get out of her comfort zone sometimes. I felt like she’s so talented and she has a funny ass personality, too, sometimes outside of what people may think. You know what I’m saying? She’s pretty funny. I wanted to just see her happy. That’s one of the records that I felt like was really cool that was a fun time. She could pop up and talk shit a little bit. Working with Pharrell, that was just a fun ass record. Someone brought that up to me yesterday. It’s funny you say that, but that was a stand out to me. And that’s the one thing sometimes I don’t like about today’s music. It’s like when music comes out, you don’t really get a chance to really enjoy it with the fans, like with everybody. You know what I’m saying? It’s almost like I think people are like, yeah, it’s just so many records come out all the time, like 40,000 records in the world come out a week. But it just takes away from me. I feel like it just takes away from the enjoyment because it’s not just… Music ain’t just for yourself. You know what I’m saying? It’s to enjoy with the people. It’s to enjoy with the world. And that’s what I do miss. I miss that about us all enjoying the album together. You know what I’m saying? That’s what used to make music so damn cool. Not only this shit come out and we all hear it at the same time, but we all can enjoy it at the same time. We can share. And that’s the only thing I don’t really like about today. It’s just like, we don’t really enjoy it as much together. It’s funny you say that. I now realized what it was that was making me feel different about our music now versus maybe 10 years ago, 10 or 12 years ago. I love the fact that we can enjoy and talk about different songs and actually hear those songs on the radio and share those songs. You go five songs deep into an album on singles versus just one single, maybe two. It’s funny you say that, but I did really appreciate working on that record with Summer and the Neptunes.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Awesome. I actually have an idea. We’ll have to connect on that later, but we’ll talk about it.
Sean Garrett: Let’s do something. Let’s get it going.
YouKnowIGotSoul: For sure.
Sean Garrett: Let’s go viral.
YouKnowIGotSoul: We could. We absolutely could. I think it’s a great idea, but like I said, we’ll talk about it. We will. But if there’s any artist, newer artist that you would love to work with, is there one?
Sean Garrett: Yeah, I got to say I am a huge fan of SZA. I think SZA is really unique. I love the fact that she can paint. For me, I feel like she is a gem to this generation. I don’t even know if they realize just how amazing she is from having the ability to… I mean, her palette is so diverse and so unique. And me being a person from Atlanta, but also growing up internationally, it’s just a really beautiful thing to see someone who has that much talent, whose tone is so crazy. She has a very incredible pen. Her pockets are really good. She’s really good. But I love her. I think Doja Cat is really amazing as well. Just thinking of some females that I think that are great for males. And there’s quite a few. Of course, I really love with Drake. I think Drake is getting better with time. He’s good. He’s really good.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I understand what you mean by that. Yeah.
Sean Garrett: You know what I’m saying? He’s really good. He’s really good. That reminds me of myself. I’m a unicorn. You know what I’m saying? When it comes to creating, to me, I feel like there’s no limits. You know what I’m saying? I will dig in the crevice or dig as deep as I need to for the fans, you know what I’m saying? To satisfy the fans. I get such a kick out of that. But I’m in a good space. I’m in a good space to think creatively like I’m excited again, you know what I’m saying? I don’t know. You can see my smile on my face. I’m excited.
YouKnowIGotSoul: It’s joy for sure. Honestly, you are a songwriter, but you’re also an artist. Outside of producing and writing for other people, are you getting to fill your own cup for your own self? Do you have any plans?
Sean Garrett: It’s that time. It’s really that time. Just in the gym, you know what I’m saying? I feel like I have been looking at… I’ve definitely gotten that bug, but just getting in the gym and making sure that I’m feeling when I make that presentation, I want to make sure that it’s perfect for the fans and for myself as well. Just getting back on stage, performing. I’ve got quite a few requests internationally to do some stuff, doing some different collaborations. It’s on the way. I get a joy out of working with other people and creating for other people at the same time. I think the way I think now is when I make certain presentations, I feel like I want them to be perfect. So it puts a lot more pressure on myself, I feel. But I’m definitely getting ready to present you guys with something very soon. I’m excited about it. But I always get that, too, and it makes me really appreciate you guys for appreciating my artist side as well.
YouKnowIGotSoul: For sure. You got to see all sides. It’s important that people recognize that you are not just a songwriter. You have your own set of gifts and talent that need to be celebrated just as much. The fans appreciate you for all aspects of it.
Sean Garrett: Thank you for that.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I’m not going to hold you too much longer. I absolutely appreciate you sitting down and talking with me. Honestly, it’s been a pleasure. We’re looking forward to everything that you have coming up. Two quick questions. Are you in the studio working on with Usher’s new album, or is that done? What’s the status of that?
Sean Garrett: Yeah, it’s on the way. It’s on the way. I actually have been feeling that pressure on the back of my neck to finish these last couple more records that we got on the stove. Yeah, Usher is just trying to wrap it up. L.A. Reid is definitely trying to close it out, too. So, yeah, we’re almost done.
YouKnowIGotSoul: We’re ready. I know. No pressure, but a little pressure.
Sean Garrett: I normally don’t have no pressure, but then there’s Usher, then I feel the pressure.