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In Conversation: Bishop Briggs Breaks New Ground

Where does Bishop Briggs draw inspiration? “Sometimes when I write, I start by taking a piece of my diary,” she reveals to me while we chat over the phone. “It’s my therapeutic tool.”

Her deeply emotional approach to writing bleeds through in her raw style with gospel influences. She wrote CHAMPION, her most recent record, to cope with the difficult breakdown of a relationship. The songs document the stages of her grief, ranging from the bold and defiant title track to soul-bearing vulnerability in SOMEONE ELSE.

Since 2019, Bishop has reached a place of acceptance and happiness. But 2020 has hardly been void of tension. “There’s just so much to write about. Usually when I experience any kind of tension, I head straight to the studio.” The coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest and social activism have punctuated the year with intense highs and lows. Song writing has been her only constant, her means of working through it all.

That means new music to come. Bishop talks me through her creative process, from recording casual voice notes to drawing on musical influences from her childhood.

You’re based in LA at the moment, but you were born in England and grew up in Asia. How does your international heritage influence your music?

I was born in Barking, so I could have been an Essex girl! But then I lived in Japan and Hong Kong until I graduated high school. Both of these places are super electric and there’s just this energy about them. There’s also a love for individuality. Karaoke bars in Japan were a big influence on me – they were the place to go after school. I’d go to watch my dad sing Frank Sinatra.

Sounds like fun! Which other influences do you draw upon?

Writing music is 100% personal to me. It's the thing that gives my soul the most amount of relief. I find that, on a day-to-day basis, we put up so many barriers to how we’re really feeling. When I go to the studio, I peel back those layers and lean into those situations that I don’t want to look at, the experiences that hurt me.

You wrote CHAMPION following a difficult break up. Do the emotions you felt then still resonate with you?

Oh my gosh, yes! Imagine singing about one of the most painful moments in your life. When I perform CHAMPION, I still feel angry. But now that I’ve found a resolution with him and seen him make completely different life choices… these things have led me to acceptance. But sometimes I still feel that ache. One of the songs that always gets me and catches me off guard is I TRIED – DEMO. It’s the same with SOMEONE ELSE.

These tracks are both so emotional. What was your writing process like?

Heartbreak is an incredible gift. The level of vulnerability you feel when you’re experiencing heartbreak makes for a very different writing experience, because you’re completely raw. You’re naked before you’ve even begun. But when you’re feeling those things, you want to capture them. Heartbreak might be your most difficult time, but it’s also your most relatable. Putting how you’re feeling into words and music can make people feel less alone.

How does CHAMPION compare to the writing you’ve been doing recently?

Thankfully I’ve been writing about different things, but the process has been the same. It’s never calculated. It’s only when I finish that I take a step back and see how it all comes together. Voice memo app has been a live saver. I also put my keyboard into the centre of my room, so I can just play and record myself later.

Have you experimented with any new styles or genres?

I still have my keyboard set to ‘rock organ’. That’s how I’ve always started my songs – it has this great Alabama-shake feeling. And I still work with the same influences. Growing up, I had a brief stint in a gospel choir and studied a lot of gospel music, which means I love stacking vocals. I also started listening to Motown when I was really young. There was a lot of Aretha Franklin, Etta James. When I got older, it was Janis Joplin.

How has gospel and Motown music influenced you?

Both have consistently inspired me to be honest. I’ve always been fascinated by the transparency of Aretha, Etta and Janis – you can feel the pain in their voice. You feel like you’re hearing a part of their life that they don’t usually share. It’s the same with my music and it always will be.

Interview by Emma Short, Music Editor

All image credits - Eric Ray Davidson

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