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Family tragedies help shape Garrett Hermansen’s heartfelt music

Last May, Garrett Hermansen made his return to the Anchorage music scene after spending nearly five years Outside. A departure from his childhood gigs with Alaskan troubadour Hobo Jim, Hermansen’s comeback tour was a far more humble affair.

Standing on a doormat sized carpet in an empty Saturday Market stall, Hermansen busked for change as tourists clamored for the best deal on Alaskan t-shirts. But their disinterest had no effect on Hermansen. Eyes closed and fingers raw from hours of playing guitar, he belted the words to Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark” with such force one might have thought he was playing for a sold-out crowd.

A year later, a more established Hermansen has upgraded his performance venue to Van’s Dive Bar, but the unbridled passion with which he performs remains the same.

“Music is the biggest skill I’ve got,” explains Hermansen. “I’ve been a chef, and I’ve done a lot of labor stuff, but music has always just been the one thing that has been there for me. No matter how bad of a day I’ve had, I can grab my guitar and make things better.”

Hermansen says that he can’t remember a time when there wasn’t a guitar in his hand and a song dripping from his lips.

“I remember being five, maybe six, and I would perform weekly with Hobo Jim. I bought my first bicycle—a Schwinn Stingray—with the money I made,” Hermansen says with a smile.

As he got older, his musical hero shifted to his older brother, Kenai, who taught him his first substantial chords.

“Kenai lost a hand of poker to me when I was 11, and my win meant he had to let me borrow his guitar for a week and teach me chords. Honestly, I consider him the natural musician,” Hermansen says.

In 2015, Hermansen relocated to Utah and then to Colorado to pursue his music. Then tragedy struck his family—twice.

Hermansen’s younger sister passed away from a stroke. A year later, Kenai committed suicide.

“It was one of those things that shook me to the core,” says Hermansen. “Then losing Kenai—it put a spark under my ass to get my music out there and actually play music and write more songs.”

Three years later, Hermansen’s desire to use his music as a means for healing the deep wounds that have shaped him, is still his driving force.

“I think in the back of my head, I think, maybe if Kenai could have heard the song I wrote for him, maybe he would still be here. If it wasn’t for music, I think about how many other people wouldn’t be here. Music touches people to the core, and I feel that’s my purpose in life,” says Hermansen.

Although Hermansen has been prolifically writing, he has not yet released his original music.

“My main focus right now is getting some of my songs recorded and out to the public. Right now, I’m working a lot with [sound engineer] John Larson of JH Studio. I’m hoping to get an EP out really soon,” Hermansen says.

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