An Ivor Novello nom, a spot on Disney’s Christmas advert – Griff‘s going to be an unavoidable force very soon indeed.
Words: Abigail Firth.
Every now and again, a pop star comes around who’s so buzzing with talent they can barely keep it in their little bodies. Griff happens to be one of those pop stars. At only nineteen, she’s a singer, songwriter, producer, occasional seamstress, have-a-go director, and all-round mind-blower. She’s got the wise-beyond-her-years lyricism of the Lordes and Eilishes before her (that’s earned her an Ivor Novello nomination already) and the world at her feet.
Growing up in a small village called King’s Langley just outside of Watford, she’s come a long way since she started producing her own songs on her brother’s Logic software. Although 2020 has had Griff reverting back to her old ways, making not just music, but videos and performances from her room this time around, she’s on the cusp of something major.
We ‘meet’ Griff in that very room, guitars hanging on the wall and mum shouting in the background (yes, actually), for our chat about 2020, her massive new song with Zedd, and what the future holds.
Hi Griff! How has this year been treating you?
I mean, I think it’s treated everyone pretty rough, but, d’you know what, looking back, I feel like I’ve actually done loads of stuff, like I’ve released loads of music, and I think we’ve just had to adapt. It’s been a fun challenge, like trying to release music and trying to stay creative in this time. So overall, I feel great about this year.
Well, it’s good to hear because it’s been a bit of a shitter really, hasn’t it.
I know, I know. I think we just had no choice but to try and make the best out of it, and still release music and put out good stuff, and it feels like people like it.
How do you feel like the stuff that happened this year has affected your way of working, or anything that you’ve put out?
At the beginning of lockdown, I was really excited because the way I first started writing songs just me here in my music room producing, doing it all myself. Before lockdown came, I was busy travelling so much that I was quite excited to just be by myself again and write where I used to. And then it came, and I just wasn’t creative at all. I think there is something about when crazy things are happening in the world, it’s hard to just write pop songs about breakups because it kind of feels a bit insignificant. But I think it’s forced me to be creative in other ways, like making music videos at home in quarantine or other things like that.
And you put out a lot this year, and which have been your favourite releases?
I actually really love all of them, that’s such a bad answer. Okay, maybe ‘1,000,000 X Better’, but I love them all for different reasons. I think that the Zedd song was definitely like, pretty surreal, and it still feels surreal because it’s just so huge and that’s like such a once in a lifetime opportunity. But then I feel like ‘1,000,000 X Better’ is a real fun uplifting song, and I personally really love that song.
Obviously you did just put out that song with Zedd, what can you tell us about it?
Yeah, how this came about was crazy. I was in LA in February, and it was literally like the second night I was about to leave, his A&R got in touch with our team and was like “there’s this song we’d love to hear your vocals on”, and the bridge wasn’t written and there was a few lyrics I ended up changing, but generally the song was done, but obviously it was freaking Zedd so of course I’m gonna like do it. I’d heard like with ‘Stay’ and with ‘The Middle’, he like gets every girl to sing on it and then he picks who’s the best vocalist, so I didn’t think I stood a chance at all. So I was like, I’ll give it a shot, but I’m sure he’ll probably pick someone that’s like way more established. So to hear that he’d stuck with it and really loved my vocal was really incredible.
Because you always write your own songs, was that the first time that you were singing something that someone else had written?
Yeah. I think when it comes to singing songs other people have written, it made sense because it was with Zedd, and it’s Zedd’s song. So it’s like, however best I can make this really sound good for that.
You recently collaborated with HONNE too, what happened with that one?
I’ve listened to HONNE for years, so I’ve been like a big fan. Around December I just got a DM from them, and they were like “we love your music”, and that was it, basically. I was a bit starstruck, but I didn’t realise they were from London, so I just texted back being like, oh, if you’re ever in town, I’d love to work. And then they were like, “yeah, we’re from London, and we’re not on tour at the moment” so literally the week after, we got in the studio, and we wrote that song. It felt like a really like organic collaboration.
Is there anyone else that you want to work with in the future?
You know what I get asked this, and I always have no idea and like, my mind goes blank. I’m up for working with like so many people. I don’t think I have like a dream end goal. I always think like an old like icon, like Dolly Parton or something would just be like so fun. You know? Something like that would be great.
You’ve been writing music for a very long time, did you always know that you wanted to be a musician?
I always knew I loved music, but don’t know if I ever believed I could actually make a living off it. I think I was like, trying to be quite realistic about it. I was writing new songs loads, just in my spare time, but I think up until I signed a deal, I thought I was gonna go to uni and study geography or something. It’s always been a passion, but I think it still feels surreal that I’m able to, like, pursue it. You know?
Who were some of the artists that you really looked up to when you were growing up?
I guess I just listened to what my parents played and a lot of the CDs that were around was Stevie Wonder and Mary J. Blige and just like old R&B and soul. And then I completely fell in love with Taylor Swift when I was around eight. Her album ‘Fearless’ was the one for me. I’ve always looked up to her songwriting. And then Lorde, I love Julia Michaels, I love Banks, Haim, that kind of world.
How would you describe your songwriting in three words?
I say honest, emotional, and hopefully, uplifting. Those are the three that I think subconsciously I try to achieve in every song.
You’ve talked a lot in the past about how you don’t want to sound like anyone else, or like be like any other artists, what has it been like finding yourself and standing out when the pop landscape is so saturated?
I feel like it’s the only way you can do it, when no one knows who you are, it’s so much harder to grab people’s attention when you look and sound like everyone else. It’s always a challenge to try and think, what is everyone else not doing? Or what can I do that’s a little bit different? Because it would be so easy to just do more conventional, commercial sounding pop and like, look the same as everyone else. So it’s always a challenge, but it’s quite fun embracing, like all the unique things there are about me and throwing them into the music and all of that.
Was there a point where you sort of started embracing your own individuality?
I think it’s been quite a journey. I’ve always stood out like a sore thumb because I’ve grown up in this tiny village called Kings Langley, which is like very, very, white middle class. And in my school, I was probably like, one of the only people of colour. So I think there’s always been that sense of like, being a little bit of an outcast, I guess definitely in the way I look, and then also just being from a family that’s not British and middle class. Over the years I’ve just had to get used to it and had to embrace it because otherwise, it’s just exhausting. Music was definitely something that helped me express myself and just throw myself into something and make myself feel like creating something good.
You’ve written about how you grew up with your parents being foster carers and specific things like that. How do you weave that into your songwriting while making it kind of a universal concept?
I’ve never been through heartbreak. There are so many types of heartbreak, but the conventional ‘a boy broke my heart’, that’s actually never happened to me, so I kind of had no other choice but to draw from other experiences that I’ve had, where people have left my life or that kind of thing. It felt quite natural to just tap into feelings that I feel like I can relate to, but maybe it’s not exclusively about love. That’s what ‘Good Stuff’ is about, and like a few other of the songs that are sad actually aren’t about like, ‘oh a boy broke my heart’.
Is there anything that happened this year that made you feel 1,000,000 times better?
What made me feel a million times better? I mean, to be honest, releasing that song did. What else made me feel a million times better? I’m really excited that I’m going to do a show in the Tate Modern [this has happened since our chat]. That felt like a real win because all the conversation around live shows is that it’s just dead in the water and no one’s going to do anything exciting for a while. So that feels like a real breakthrough, and it feels like we’re still doing something cool with live events.
And, ideally, what will 2021 look like for you?
Ideally, I’m gonna release loads of new music and write even better music than I’ve released already. Ideally, I’m going to be able to do shows and do them around the world. And yeah, I just I hope more people discover my music because I still think it’s like super early days. So I hope we get a bit of momentum now. And then in the new year, we just like really take off and loads of people discover what I’m doing.
Taken from the December 2020 / January 2021 issue of Dork, out now.