Garrett Zoukis has dedicated his entire life to music, and he’s not stopping until he gets to the top. Hailing from Northern Virginia, the DMV area not too far from D.C., the rising star prides himself in being a lyricist, inspired by the greats such as Mac Miller, J. Cole, and Drake.
Having been rapping since he was 14 years old, Zoukis started putting music out on the internet after rapping at home to his computer. In high school, a few of his songs took off which allowed him to start opening up for local tours.
Garrertt Zoukis states, “As I grew as a person, grew as an artist, now Garrett Zoukis is a pretty full spectrum lyricist. Definitely still a rapper at heart, but definitely more of a songwriter than he’s ever been before.”
Prior to music, Zoukis played Division One baseball at the University of Cincinnati, during a time where he treated music as a hobby. And while he’d eventually hang up his cleats to pursue music full-time, Zoukis took away critical values and skillsets from the sport that he now applies to his personal and professional life.
Most recently, Garrett released his single “Swervin,” holding fans over until his forthcoming single titled “Dirty Laundry,” dropping September 8th.
Sheen spoke with Garrett Zoukis in downtown Los Angeles to discuss his background playing baseball, roots in the DMV, new music, opening for Logic, and more!
How would you describe your sound?
Sonically, pretty similar to a Mac Miller in some of my records. In some of my harder stuff, it’s almost like a teenage angst built up in young adult form. You could hear slightly not angry, but passionate. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve definitely chilled out in terms of my vocal tone and my vocal pocket, and the vibe I’m trying to curate as an artist.
You came to Los Angeles three years ago, what was it like growing up in the DMV?
It was sick, I loved it there. It was a really good place to grow up. It was pretty diverse and eclectic, we got to hang out with a lot of different kinds of people. As far as the music scene went, I was really fortunate in D.C. I didn’t feel like there was a ton going on, not just the D.C. area but the DMV. I had met some people when I was pretty young that were killing shit, and gave me the vision to say okay, this could happen out of this town. There’s not a huge camaraderie in that area for music. There’s not a scene. There probably is more now than there was when I was coming up, but a lot of people would move out here. But a lot of people I fuck with out here still from the DMV.
When did you fall in love with music?
Because I started making music when I was pretty young, I’ve always liked to write. It’s always been an outlet for me. I can’t lie, recently I’ve fell in love with music, or maybe I fell in love with it over again. I really fucked with the potential I heard in myself and saw myself, but I hadn’t really got there yet in terms of the level of music I was making. I was really just rapping on a lot of my shit. But honestly moving out here and collaborating with other artists and producers, getting more people involved in making records was huge for me. When I started playing with the band in live shows and incorporating like all those aspects into my music is when I really like fell in love with that shit all over again.
Who are some artists that you love?
I love Mac, RIP. J Cole, Drake, everyone in Odd Future. On the more modern tip, I really fuck with Dominic Fike. Berlin’s really dope.
Talk about playing Division One baseball.
That was cool. That was really my life up until I stopped. After playing freshman year, it was very sports heavy. Music was just a hobby to me. After the summer of my freshman year, I played D1 baseball and it was so highly competitive. I could look around and tell the kids that were going to play pro baseball. I didn’t feel I was that. I didn’t want it like that. They were the first ones in the locker room, the last ones to leave. I was showing up, hungover like whatever. I wanted to know if I was good enough to do it, then I was cool.
Music always provided me a completely different kind of fulfillment than sports ever did. Playing sports at a high level definitely taught me work. What it takes to be successful as a team, or as a leader or individual. It’s also completely fucked up my perspective of how I think other people should think. Because in music, no one’s ever on time or viable, or does what they say they’re going to do. All the principles of sports that I grew up on, right. I was a little late today, but I’m normally always on time. People are always late for shit. It’s funny, it’s this huge irony in my life that I really had to learn to — I don’t even care anymore. I expect people to not really show up, keep it pushing.
What went behind the decision to stop playing?
After my freshman year, this was before you could get paid to be a college athlete. Now, you can. In the summers, you play in a summer league for baseball. They assign you to go play somewhere. I got to play in D.C. so I was chillin’ at home and making music when I wasn’t playing baseball. I started going to a new studio in D.C., met some people I had known in the area. They’re like “Dude, you’re really nice at this. I know you’re doing this for fun, but you’re OD.”
That was what I was missing at that time in my life, that recognition and validation from a group of people I wasn’t getting it from. Shout out to all my fans or anyone who listens to my music, but it’s one thing to have your baseball team or the frat kids fucking with your music. But when you have other artists and people in the local scene fucking with your music, it made me really want to say alright, let’s see how far we can take this shit. Baseball just faded.
It did fuck with me for a bit. The first couple years, I thought wow, this music industry is way harder than I thought it was. Maybe I fucked up. Maybe I should have kept playing baseball. [laughs[ But looking back on it now, I don’t regret it at all.
What inspired your song “Swervin”?
Super dope song. I made a bunch of records with my homie Casey, he goes by KSO. He had this beat in the tuck, it was seven or eight years old. We’d made some adjustments, but it randomly came on when he was playing shit. He skipped by it, but I said wait, go back. I had this melody stuck in my head, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to say. I have this whiteboard in my crib that whenever people come over, they write random shit on it.
I was trying to write in my house. I looked at the whiteboard and started picking off random things that everyone had wrote on the white board. That’s how the whole song got wrote, literally phrases off the board that I would turn into four bars. It’s a song about self-growth. Still understanding I’m far from perfect but we’ve made a huge leap from the person that I was when I started this shit, who I am now and same with all the people around me honestly. It’s a glow up song but in a humble and almost self-deprecating way.
What can we expect from your new single, “Dirty Laundry”?
Definitely talking my shit way more in “Dirty Laundry.” Definitely way more of a rap record. Crazy production also by Casey, my homie Otis, and _____?. This was a super fun song to make. We had a ton of songs in the tuck already, we made this one and it jumped the line. I said, this song’s got to go out. But also a song about bouncing back. The hook is talking about _____?, your dirty laundry. Don’t push me to the side, that type of shit. To the world, to a girl, whoever you feel like it needs to be to. Some of my favorite verses I’ve rapped recently, just had a ton of fun. The beat’s super sick to rap on.
3 things you need in the studio at all time?
Weed and woods, that’s one thing. We’ll make that one thing. I’m trying to chill on the candy, but usually candy. Like Haribo gummy bears. And probably a hoodie, because I keep it dumb cold in the studio normally. I don’t like it when it’s sweaty.
What is it you want fans to get from your story?
I think about this shit a lot. Because everyone always asks, “what’s your brand? What do you stand for?” What I stand for more than anything is #1: you don’t have to do what people expect from you. I could’ve easily kept being a baseball player, gone and got a normal job. That would’ve been cool and I’m very grateful to even have had those opportunities, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
I stand for fun, what you like to do. Commit yourself to it and get good at it. There’s no secret to why I think I got good at making music. I did it every day for years on end. 10,000 hours is real. That’s what I stand for: become obsessed with the shit you love and don’t be afraid to try to do it.
How’s the independent grind?
It is the grind for sure. [laughs] I’ve had some really interesting situations as an independent artists. I just got out of an independent investor situation, which was super eye-opening and taught me a lot. It was almost like having a label, but much more fluidity. I had a lot of control, it just didn’t end up working out. The most important thing as an independent artist, and I’m still working on this all the time, but find people that believe in you and invest in them in return.
Keep a team around you and try to keep that as consistent as possible. Because if you’re constantly changing all the people you work with, this, that the third, it’s very easy to spread yourself too thin in terms of the brand you’re trying to create. When you keep it consistent as far as your homies, your producers, your photographers, your video people, it creates you and people get to know you. That’s super important.
Bring us back to when you opened for Logic?
That was one of my first shows. It was a long time ago. There was a studio in the DMV that I was coming up in and recording at. Shout out Henny at EQT, he was running a Shoebox studio in Merryfield, Virginia. It was a couple rooms. Him and this dude Chris were going to high schools and trying to find kids who make music. Someone showed him my music. He hit me and said “ you can come record here.” Held it down, I don’t think I had to pay ever.
He started booking the shows. Booked me a showcase that I was headlining. I was a sophomore in high school, and did really well. After the show, he said “I want you to do the Logic show.” So I got to do the Logic show with a couple of the other visionary artists. It was super dope. Logic was such a nice dude. There’s things along the way that make you feel like you could do it. Okay bet, I could do that.
Were you nervous?
I don’t get that nervous on stage. Back then, I probably should’ve been nervous because I really wasn’t going like that. At that point. I remember for that show in particular, the outfit I wore was really ass. I wish I’d worn something else. [laughs]
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I hoop a lot, hanging out with my homies. I’m in that phase of this shit right now where I almost am never not feeling like I’m working. I can’t chill out. Even if we’re smoking. It’s immediately yo, let’s start cooking up or something. I don’t watch TV. I’ll wake up and I go for runs in the morning, just because I know I have to. Or I wouldn’t be able to breathe on stage. I hoop a lot. Other than that, I’m writing.
Any goals for yourself at this point of your career?
I need to get better about goal setting. I don’t know if it’s because I hate to fail so bad. I don’t have a ton of things that I want this by this time and this by this time. I definitely want a major label deal at some point, just to say I did it. That’s what I set out to do, figure out what that looks like and make myself feel like I at least checked that box.
There’s a bunch of artists I want to work with, those are checkmarks for me. All the artists I named earlier that inspire me, and a bunch of other people. I really fuck with Ryan Trey is really hard. Westside Boogie, Rex Life Raj, Saba, Smino, the list could go on of artists I would make good songs with. Jack Harlow. It sounds so simple and cliche, but my goal is to put my people on. There’s really a group of people that have been doing this with me for a long time. We feel like we’re very close to it. I really want to say, we fucking did it. To some capacity. I need that in the near future.
Any shows coming up?
To be determined. I might open for a homie coming up in LA.. I did the Peppermint Club and Viper Room recently, it was dope. Want to play Winston House or Aviator Nation in Malibu, I haven’t locked in a day. I usually play with the band so it’s a lot to lock in. I try to do these big shows around a release, or at least a series of releases so I’m playing new music. But definitely by the end of the year I’ll play a show.
Photo Credits: Impulse Artists