For Griff, Vulnerability Is the Only Way to Cut Through the Noise [Q&A]
Photo: Zachary Chick
Griff may have just turned 21, but for the last few years, her life has been anything unlike the average 20-year-old's. Since releasing her debut EP in 2019, the British singer-songwriter has put out a sophomore effort, won Rising Star at the Brit Awards, and is set to join Dua Lipa's 2022 'Future Nostalgia' tour. Most recently, she released her well-received collaboration, "Head on Fire," which also features the up-and-coming Norwegian artist, Sigrid.
Best known for her reflective yet catchy pop songs, Griff draws on inspiration from her childhood and current experience to create a narrative that one can find meaning in at any stage of life. She candidly writes on themes that are deeply personal, yet incredibly relatable, allowing her music to evolve with her audience. We were privileged enough to sit down with Griff and talk all things touring, vulnerable songwriting, and what it means to come into your own.
Ones to Watch: Congratulations on your US tour! How has your time in New York been so far?
Griff: Thank you! How's it been? Oh my god, it’s so cold here. (laughs) But no, it’s been amazing. I'm trying to remember, so we landed in New York and did a show, and it was amazing. Then we went to D.C. and then went back and did a second show in New York. It feels surreal to be back here. It feels really surreal to be doing my first American tour.
I saw you asked for lunch recommendations the other day. Did you find something extraordinary to eat?
I didn't have loads of time, so I was looking for places near me. I went to Dudley's. It was a nice brunch spot. I went to Scar's Pizza. I've also had Prince Street Pizza.
So, in terms of coming into your career, is there an experience or memory that affirmed your decision to pursue music?
I don't know, I've always loved music. I've grown up in church and that was always a really encouraging space for me to fall in love with music. And I think I always really just liked writing songs. I was always writing songs when I wasn't in school. I was always learning chords to my favorite songs. Yeah, so I feel like I don't have one big revelation moment; I think it's just something that evolved and grew and was always inside of me.
Has growing up half-Chinese, half-Jamaican influenced your creative process and how you approach songs?
I think on the creative side, that’s definitely my Black, Jamaican roots. I grew up a lot listening to Black and soul music. My dad is super musical, and I think that music and soul is definitely a large part of Black culture, so that's kind of bled into what I do. And I think my Chinese side has given me a work ethic. Even watching my mom immigrate to London and going super working class to move us out and building a whole life for the family out of nothing, I think there's something in the Chinese mentality where you do just make something out of nothing and you do work really hard until you see results. I think it's kind of a perfect combination.
During your songwriting process, do you largely draw from personal experiences or do you find that you take inspiration from outside of yourself?
I think it's a bit of both. Because it's not everyday, when you've come to write a song, you feel like you have something really personal and detailed to say, but some days you do. I think the best songwriters can draw inspiration from anywhere and still tell a story that feels very personal. So, I think it’s a bit of both, it really depends where I'm at.
I'm sure it's quite a challenge to be so raw and vulnerable in your songwriting. Was there ever a time when you were hesitant to share your music with the world?
I always feel hesitant to share music with the world. I think if it were up to me, all my music would just stay on my laptop and I'd never release it, because I'm constantly overthinking. I never feel like anything is ready, and I never feel like anything is good enough. Honestly, every single release, I'm incredibly hesitant.
What helps you continue to find the courage to share that more vulnerable side of you?
I think the best songs are the vulnerable ones. There's a lot of talent out there, and a lot of incredible singers and songwriters. I think the ones that move you are the ones that are most honest and vulnerable. It’s kind of not really a choice, you just have to make sure that you're writing stuff that cuts through the rest of it and being honest is the way that you do it.
Do you feel that the creative process differed at all between One Foot In Front Of The Other and The Mirror Talk?
I think it did change, but not intentionally. There were still a lot of similarities, like I think it’s all still this bedroom pop-ish, synth-based honest songwriting, so that front will always be there. What I'm writing about has changed and hopefully my songwriting has gotten a little bit better, but I don't think I've been conscious in making them sound different or the same, it's more up to other people to judge that.
When relistening back to older projects, do you feel that you still relate to the themes that you wrote about, or does it seem like a distant memory now?
I think a bit of both. I don't tend to listen to a lot of the songs that I once wrote, I think I'll probably listen to them and wish that I did things differently or produce them differently. But I think in any songs you can find your own meaning in them and in new ways.
One Foot In Front Of The Other is all about walking through life. Do you feel like there is a certain theme to this particular walk of life that you're in?
I think my headspace is very much that 2022 is looking like a lot of touring, so that’s kind of where I'm at right now. I'm figuring that out, and I've only just started. I feel like that's my next challenge that I haven't really experienced a lot of yet.
I know that you've had to postpone your UK tour, which I’m sure was heartbreaking for you. Now that you're on an international tour, I'm sure it must feel surreal.
It feels really crazy. I think it’s very difficult as well for artists to tour and to say that they've sold out tours and that kind of thing, especially in this climate, so I'm feeling very very grateful to be here. I know that this isn't something that comes by very often. It's just crazy to see people actually show up and to see rooms packed.
Speaking on your Against the Clock series, is there a particular collaboration that you were especially proud of or that has stood out to you?
I loved the Maisie Peters one, just because Taylor saw that one and that really did stick out. This one is probably one of the less popular ones, but I did one with Conor Albert, who is a really talented UK musician and producer. We did Phoebe Bridgers' "Kyoto" and that was really fun. He is just incredibly talented.
Speaking of Taylor Swift, what did it feel like to receive such high praise from someone that you've looked up to since you were young?
Really insane. Like really really crazy. I think the first time that I met her, it was really surreal and she was very complimentary. But you kind of start convincing yourself, like of course she'd be nice, you have to be, we're at an award show, you have to be complimentary, that's apart of what the chat is, but it was when she put my mixtape on her story, because she doesn't post a lot at all. I remember that day because I didn't even expect to see any reviews, but I remember I saw one that wasn't that amazing, but then Taylor Swift put that on her story literally within a few hours after and I was like it's fine because Taylor likes it.
Is there anything that you particularly want to do while you’re in the US?
No, I just want to eat good food, I feel like you guys have good restaurants that are way better than London. I would like to go to what we call charity shops but what you call thrift stores. What else? Yeah, I think those are the top two things.
Happy belated birthday! Being in your 20s is such an exciting time. Is there anything in particular that you want to attract or manifest this year?
I mean, I'm not so much a big manifest energy person, but I think the one thing that I'm praying for is to write an incredible album and to really just enjoy touring. I think you can let kind of the whole music and the whole whirlwind of it pass you by so I think just really enjoying it. And just really praying that creativity will come and that I'll write something really interesting and groundbreaking.