Analogue Music | Griffin House

Griffin House

By Matt Conner

Griffin House starts our conversation by admitting his avoidance of the day's tasks.

A 39-year-old singer-songwriter, Griffin House feels the weight of all he "should" be doing, but lately he says he's not sure how healthy it is to strive to keep up with the Joneses. He's uncomfortable in the tension, an artist at the crossroads of music and marketplace.

For the last 15 years, Griffin has been participating in the necessary cycle of a musician—the writing, recording, releasing, and touring that each album requires. He finds joy in each phase and loves the connection the music provides with fans. It's the rest of the noise that gets in the way—the demands of social media, the comparisons made possible by the digital era.

How much should an artist put himself out there these days? What is the proper balance between living in the present and allowing the drive for more to inform your thoughts and actions?

On the verge of releasing his latest album, Rising Star, we sat down with Griffin for an honest conversation about all of this and more.

Analogue: You started our conversation today alluding to the business of things. What's your relationship with the admin side now as a veteran?

Griffin House: That's such a great question because it's pretty much my life. I am so in that place where I should be doing this but the other part of my brain is saying, 'Forget about what you should be doing. What do you, Griffin, want to do with your life today to enjoy your one life that you have?' I feel it's the perfect moment to talk about this because I don't necessarily want to be doing all of these things.

Today I let myself crack in another interview when they asked what I thought about social media. I said I hated it. I just went on a rant and said, 'I would do away with it immediately if I could.' I think it's a terrible, shallow world of people comparing themselves in a sick way. I'd much prefer to go look at a sunset or play outside or play catch with somebody. But I feel like I should be doing Instagram posts the day before my record comes out.

Rising Star
Rising Star

It's a weird vortex we're all in now where we're all living our lives on these apps that were created by people in Silicon Valley to be completely addictive and it's working. Our whole society is dependent upon these things they can hold in their hand. We can stare at screens all day instead of interacting with each other as human beings. It's crazy. Some days I see it for exactly that, but when you say it out loud, you sound crazy. [Laughs] If I was listening to myself talk right now, I'd sound like a weird conspiracy theorist. But what about nature and all of that. I think it's nuts.

Analogue: The demands to stay in front of fans are more and more these days. Is it then about protecting the impulses that made you get into this job in the first place?

Griffin: Man, that's another thing I ask myself all of the time. In order to maintain a business and be able to create a world where I can make myself viable enough to really continue to make art, it puts me into the position of having to wear the business and promotions hat most of the time. When I started, I was basically an artist 99 percent of the time. I didn't have to worry about the other part because it wasn't available to me anyway. It's definitely something I grapple with on a day to day basis, for sure. I think about a lot and I appreciate the question because it's a very real question. It's hard on a mind to figure out my place in the world.

It's especially hard living in Nashville, because it's not like I go out on a tour and then come home and rest and don't think about music for a while. I feel like I plant myself here and I'm surrounded by comparison and competition all day long. There's no place to hang my hat and say, 'I'm not going to worry abou this for a minute,' because it's so right in front of my face—especially on social media. It feels as if I let up for a second, I'll basically die or something. [Laughs] It's such an intense feeling sometimes.

The thing I'm learning is how little power I have to change any of that. The best thing you can do is to make quality music and go play good shows for people, but I find myself getting tweaked out by all these music business things I have to do. It's just a hard balance.

Analogue: On the verge of releasing Rising Star, you're talking about the difficulty of it. You've been through this before, so there's gotta be something net positive here that has you ready to ramp up the cycle again.

Griffin: Ramping up the cycle is how it feels. Okay, I have to hire a radio person again and hire a publicist. It feels like insanity. This is the third or fourth time I've done the same thing. It's not that it's been bad because I'll go on these great tours and I'll have sold out shows in New York City and play to full rooms as I go. But it's not necessarily the dream that I had in mind when I started and wanted to be Bono or I thought there was a chance that I could at least be David Gray. Fighting to stay out there all the time is a little rough.

We just got done making a movie about all of this, so I talk about it a lot in the movie. The movie is hard to watch sometimes because it's so honest and vulnerable about basically what we're talking about here.

In terms of ramping it up another time, first I think this record has some songs on it that really deserve to be heard. If I hadn't been beaten down a little bit by the music industry and this was my first record and I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I'd be like, 'Oh my gosh, the world needs to hear this record right now! It's amazing!' I just know when Thom Yorke of Radiohead says releasing a record is like throwing a pebble in a waterfall, that doesn't give me a lot of hope that a lot of people are going to hear it.

All I can do is hope for the best, though. You can't have something great happen if you don't try to put it out there. So maybe my favorite song from the record can get into a movie or something like that. Maybe our movie will take off or get picked up by Netflix or something. We made a fantastic movie with this filmmaker Shane Drake. It was his idea to make this documentary and we were able to pull it off really quickly in a very natural way. It's a beautiful documentary because, much like the conversation we're having now, it's an honest look at the successes and failures of trying to make it in the music business and navigating that world.

Analogue: How did the documentary end up happening

Griffin: One of my good friends in California introduced us. We went into this meeting in the middle of the day. He was speaking and then I spoke and afterward, we made a connection. We exchanged phone numbers and then texted me later and said, 'I think I know your music. I bought your record Lost and Found at Amoeba Records in Hollywood in 2004. I thought it was a band and not a guy, but now I've put things together.' I was sending him songs from my new record a year later and we'd talked about doing a music video. As I continued to send him songs, he said, 'I think this is a documentary. I want to do a full movie with you and tell your story.'

I got tears in my eyes because I thought, 'Holy shit! Someone wants to hear my story.' I feel like I have a story worth telling and I was prepared to tell my story in that moment. I felt like I had so much to say about this very topic. So we set out to make that movie and we did. It involved a lot of my catalog and asks some really poignant questions about what it's like to come to Nashville and get a strong start and have some really surprising things happen in the very beginning and then have to grapple with sticking it out when hardship and disappointment came down the pike.

Analogue: When was the last time you felt the visceral sense of, 'Oh, this is why I do what I do'?

Griffin: It was the last show of my last tour. I was on stage and I was just soaking it up. I was in this cool room from the turn of the century and it was a sold-out show. They were all listening to me play my songs, and I was having a blast playing for them. I was thinking, 'What a special moment.' I would be really sad if I didn't get to do this and yet so much of my time is spent feeling like it's not enough. I can't figure out where that comes from. Why do I not feel like I'm enough when I'm playing for a sold out crowd in Ohio? I come home and think unless I get to that 1,000 person theater, I'm worthless basically is how it feels.

It's really crazy how that flips because when I'm in the studio, I love being in the studio. Then I come home and listen to the songs and they make me cry. It feels good but then we don't get the right amount of recognition that you think something deserves and it all fades. In the movie, I have someone come up to me after a sold out show in New York at a 300 person club and they say, 'We really hope you make it big one day! We hope you go far!' There's a part of me that's like, 'Wait a minute! You're at a sold out show in New York. You are my fan. You came here to see me. What does it mean to make it?'

That's the mindset with this profession. If I don't get to the level of John Legend, who I went to high school with, then you haven't made it. But then my dad sends me a Father's Day card that says, 'Success is about what you do with the gifts you have, how you take care of the people you love and who you are on the inside.' That was so cool to get that from my dad. It was almost saying, 'Hey it doesn't matter how many people come to a show.' Of course I know that. Of course, I know it's about those things, but we lose sight of that so easily when we're on auto-pilot and trying to compete and get ahead.

Analogue: When it comes to the songs on Rising Star, is there something you're most proud of?

Griffin: The opening track, "Rising Star," I was playing that the other day and just thinking, 'Man, this is really a fucking good song.' It was written as a joke to poke fun at the cliches of country music but it turned out to be a story about a guy who moved to Nashville with a guitar and a dream. The song starts as a comedy and the drama reveals itself later. People are laughing at the shows but then they end up crying. I think it tells the story in a real way.

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