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Country outfit Heartbreak Orchestra plays songs of husband and wife

Heartbreak Orchestra, a Mingo Town Music artist, is fronted by husband-and-wife duo John and Jill Garratt. Credit: Courtesy of Mingo Town Music

Heartbreak Orchestra, a Mingo Town Music artist, is fronted by husband-and-wife duo John and Jill Garratt.
Credit: Courtesy of Mingo Town Music

In an attempt to shine light on local music, The Lantern“Columbus’ Own” is a weekly series that will profile a new Columbus band every week. 

While many bands typically have a story behind the names they choose, Columbus-based band Heartbreak Orchestra has two.

“Twelve years ago, we were all trying to come up with names, talking about how sad our songs are,” said Jill Garratt, a member of Heartbreak Orchestra alongside her husband John Garratt. “We had a cello, we did sad songs, so the Heartbreak Orchestra seemed to fit. It was kind of a joke, but it stuck.”

John Garratt’s story was different from the one his wife recalled.

“We had to pick a name, so we had a choice between either ‘Heartland Orchestra’ or ‘Hayseed Orchestra,’” John Garratt said. “Someone at a bar misheard us and wrote ‘Heartbreak Orchestra’ on the board and that stuck.”

Regardless of which tale might be more truthful, more than a decade later, Heartbreak Orchestra is still putting out original country songs.

Lead singer and songwriter Jill Garratt said the style the band plays is the result of her upbringing and her initial inability as a musician.

“Frankly, country songs are a little easier to write and play on guitar and when I first started, I was a terrible guitar player. So that’s why I decided to start with this music,” Jill Garratt said, before giving another reason for the band’s sound. “My family listened to a lot of country music when I was a kid. I didn’t like it growing up, but it was around a lot. Sad country songs are kind of what I gravitated towards.”

John Joseph, the head of Mingo Town Music, Heartbreak Orchestra’s record label, said it was Jill Garratt’s songwriting ability that tugged as his heartstrings and initially made him so fascinated with the group.

“The songwriting is really phenomenal,” Joseph said. “I think the songs are beautiful, the way that Jill sings them and the storytelling that she does.”

John Garratt echoed Joseph’s sentiments. He said Heartbreak Orchestra is all about the songs his wife puts together.

“It’s all in the art of the songs,” John Garratt said. “Can you hum it around town? Can you take it to a campfire with a ukelele? That’s where the appeal can lie and that’s the area we try to mine.”

Jill Garrat said Joseph and John Garrat give her more praise than she thinks she deserves.

“I don’t think I have a very interesting method of songwriting, I’m more of a tinkerer,” Jill Garratt said. “Some people come to it (songwriting) with a more artistic inclination, I probably have more of a formulaic approach. I feel like I could sit down, ask me to write a three minute country song with a three verses, a chorus and two bridges, I could do that no problem.”

John Garratt has been classically trained as a musician since he was six years old, has earned the distinction of most musically inclined in the Garratt household.

Sometimes, Jill Garratt explained, their musical relationship can be strained because of the divide in their experience and expertise.

“My husband is an incredible musician,” Jill Garratt said. “We’ll be working up a part and I’ll say ‘try to make it sound like this’ and he gets frustrated because he doesn’t understand what I mean and has to play it 20 times before I get it the way I want it. Sometimes I wish I had a better understanding.”

John Garratt said he has taught her a thing or two about playing music.

“My wife had never really had a musical background, but in college I showed her a few guitar chords and exposed her to music,” John Garratt said. “She just kinda sniffed it out from there, putting together her first stabs. She figured out what she liked and didn’t like.”

Ultimately, however, both said they feel incredibly lucky to be playing music together as husband and wife.

“It’s something that we have in common,” Jill Garratt said. “Its something that we’ll always have in common. Who wouldn’t love to play music with their spouse?”

Rounding out the rest of the band, Jeannine Hetzler and Kristina Emick add vocals and percussion, while Keith Manecke plays bass.

Jill Garratt said she meshes well with fellow vocalist Hetzler.

“From the moment she sang on the first song, I knew that I really wanted her to stick with us. She’s just a great, great singer,” Jill Garratt said of Hetzler. “We’ve been good friends for a long time. My kids love her and it’s great to have not only the musical relationship, but the personal friendship as well.”

Adding to the amount of time the five bandmates spend together, Heartbreak Orchestra is currently in the process of recording its second album and, as Jill Garratt said, the experience has been completely different this time around.

“Our last album, ‘We Belong Apart,’ was self-recorded in our basement and — considering we took that approach — it came out OK, but it’s nice having someone else doing the recording,” Jill Garratt said. “Only two songs had drums on the last album. This album, we’re recording with the drummer from (other Mingo Town Music artist) The Wells,so that’s a big change. Also, we probably will only have eight or nine songs on this album. We won’t have 13 like last album.”

Jill Garratt said she hopes the album is a bit stronger musically than the last and from what Joseph has heard, he expects that to be the case and even more so.

“I heard a couple of the songs and I’m really impressed with where they are at,” Joseph said. “This is going to be a more Heartbreak Orchestra album, and that’s a good thing. The songs are really great. I’m actually thrilled.”

Joseph said he wants others to feel his excitement and hopes to promote the album enough to send Heartbreak Orchestra on a regional tour.

“I’ll do everything in my power to get stuff out there,” Joseph said. “You won’t see Heartbreak Orchestra on tour in L.A., but you may see them regionally. We’re going to try to get them out there.”

There are currently no tour dates set, nor is there a release date for the upcoming album.

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