Bishop Briggs talks about the circle of life, the power of music and sharing new songs
Everyone has their COVID stories about things that happened to them and how it changed them. Sure, millions of people have tragically lost family members to COVID, but others have had life changes that happened during this time of great transformation.
Alternate star Bishop Briggs was one of those who went through the full cycle of life in recent years. She tragically lost her sister and best friend, Kate, to ovarian cancer last year, a struggle Briggs bravely shared publicly. And now, just over a year after that devastating loss, Briggs recently announced she’s pregnant with her first child, due this summer.
The exceptional Briggs, a powerful singer, has channeled all of this into her two new singles – “High Water” and “Art Of Survival” – which have just been released. Briggs will perform both songs at Coachella this Saturday (April 16) and the following Saturday (April 23).
As she prepared to hit the desert in Indio, California this weekend, I spoke with Briggs in a powerful and moving conversation about her sister’s pride, what these new songs mean to her, the songs that helped her through times of trauma and tears on stage. at the Red Rocks.
Steve Baltin: Talk about how all of this, the baby and your sister’s death, permeates your music because the new songs are so great.
Bishop Briggs: Aw, thank you. It was really important to release both because I feel like I couldn’t have one without the other. So “High Water” really felt like the depths of it all, and then “Art of Survival” was where I think my sister would want me to be.
Baltin: And what is “the art of survival” for you when you go through that?
Briggs: Oh! “Art of Survival” is the reminder to keep going and step into the light, that’s the point with this one.
Baltin: Do you feel your sister’s imprint on the song when you hear “Art of Survival”?
Briggs: Oh, wow, wow, that’s really layered. The joy that comes out of “Art of Survival”, of course, I feel in his presence. But I really felt it with “High Water” because even our home videos are in the background, and a lot of the little details in the production were part of our journey together as sisters and best friends.
Baltin: How far were you in age?
Briggs: Two years, but we were raised as twins. And she played a big role in my upbringing. Yeah.
Baltin: The music is, as you say, therapeutic, but it must be interesting to go back and revisit those songs, because talking about the emotional roller coaster of losing your sister and getting pregnant…
Briggs: And even in rehearsal, it’s a journey.
Baltin: Have you ever done the songs live?
Briggs: I repeated them. Coachella will be the first time to perform them. But I think with all these things, especially because these songs are so personal, all I can really do is just put my soul out there and lead with authenticity and just be present in my vulnerability. That’s all I can do.
Baltin: After going through so much, I imagine the role of music in your life is changing. Is it as important?
Briggs: Music will always be that core force, and I think with songwriting, that allows it to be as therapeutic as possible. And so these have always remained consistent. And you’re right, I think the focus as a human always has to be other humans, that always has to be the priority, that’s the love we have for each other. So it’s very true. And then I think what’s great about music, especially music that I’ve been writing lately, is that it’s been able to be grounded and healing.
Baltin: Do you feel less pressure now?
Brigg: [Laughter] I was going to ask you, do you think there’s less pressure because I don’t necessarily feel that. Now I got the weight to make my sister proud [laughter].
Baltin: You can only speak for yourself, and maybe it’s because you’re playing the songs for the first time this weekend at Coachella, and so you’re excited and anxious about going out and to do them. But don’t you think your sister would be proud that you continued?
Briggs: It’s interesting because it depends on how you see it. Sometimes it can actually feel like more pressure, because depending on how your music was perceived at 19, you may now feel like you have something to do. Maybe you feel that. But again, I try to really keep it separate. I try to keep songwriting in that precious little bubble of self-expression that’s contained. I feel pressure. This is my second time playing Coachella, but I think the pressure is more based on the excitement and the impatience to connect with the people in front of me.
Baltin: Some people also find the pressure exhilarating, and they like the rush and the challenge. So, is having new music and taking advantage of these opportunities also a time of great excitement for you?
Briggs: It’s a very exciting time. I think in terms of pressure, there is a hum that is constant. But luckily, I think the motive behind the pressure is really based on making sure I want to send the right message, and in honor of my sister.
Baltin: Did you write a lot or were you focused at that time on being with your sister?
Briggs: I think writing has been a constant thing in my world, but I’ve made time to be present with my sister, for sure. [So] I have a body of work that feels like it’s coming together. There were songs that were written about completely different situations that I can now connect to in a completely different way. It’s interesting that you bring up the subconscious, because I think that’s what writing has always served me.
Baltin: When you go back and listen to “High Water” and “Art of Survival”, what surprised you in there? And does that indicate where the rest of the new music is going?
Briggs: Great question. I think my hope with these two songs is that they illustrate where I’ve been and where I hope to go. That’s really the goal.
Baltin: What is it about “High Water” and “Art of Survival” that you are particularly excited about when you watch Bishop in 2023, 2024?
Briggs: I’m just thinking about full transparency. I think with each record, I looked for more and more transparency, and I tried not to hide behind metaphors and just to be more direct. And so my goal with the writing that I do now is to be transparent, to be direct and honest. So I hope I can continue to do so.
Baltin: When you think of the songs that have the most transparency or vulnerability that really inspire you, which pairings come to mind?
Briggs: Etta James, “I’d rather go blind.” And the lyrics are, “I’d rather go blind than see you walk away from me.” This frankness and this pain. And the same with Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. One of my favorite songs is “Try a Little Tenderness”. What if you changed the way you interact with the world? And if you were more tender with? At least that’s how I perceive it. But I think a lot of the Motown music that really shaped who I am was about these artists who were completely straight forward. Also, “Piece Of My Heart”, by Janis Joplin, a different genre. But just say, “Take me whole and take me as I am.”
Baltin: Whether it’s Otis, whether it’s Etta, whether it’s Janis, they’re vulnerable lyrically, but also vocally. These are some of the rawest songs you will ever hear in your life. Talk about how it inspires you as a singer.
Briggs: Yeah, and that’s really the take you hear in “High Water,” it’s just me crying and singing into a vocal booth. It is exactly what it is. Yeah.
Baltin: Does it become almost difficult to bring these new songs to life because of what they represent?
Briggs: It’s difficult. But I really try to stay in the mental space that “Art Of Survival” was written for. So I think even when I sing “High Water” now, I can go to this place. But knowing that there’s a song in the set called “Art Of Survival” that exists and will come, is a sweet reminder to look into the light wherever I can find it.
Baltin: Have you done any gigs since all this happened?
Briggs: I actually got to play Red Rocks, opening for Dermot Kennedy, and it was quite a spiritual experience. I think energetically it’s just a spiritual space. But I got to really cry on stage, and we all cried together, and we collectively shared the grief of the past few years, this disconnect.
Baltin: Do you find that in the response to the song, people can relate to it, although you went through something that is so personal to you?
Briggs: That was the biggest relief, was writing this thing that was taken from my journal, basically, and I don’t know if anyone could get anything out of it. And for those real, specific details to create a response where people can share their own specific details about the people they love is totally a dream. Hearing about each other’s relationships and what they get out of it turns out to be something that means a lot to me when people can share that.
Baltin: What did it mean for you to finally have these songs and share your experience musically? Because it’s one thing to talk about it in interviews and on social media, but first and foremost you’re a musician.
Briggs: I’m not a fan of secrets. They kinda devoured my insides [chuckle]. And so, while this is a crash course in vulnerability, I appreciate that now I can be completely honest and say exactly what’s going on. And even when I was in the hospital with my sister, it didn’t feel authentic to keep posting. It wasn’t the reality of what was really going on in my life. Having a double life was pointless, and I think we’re all starting to realize that too. We start to realize, “Wow, by being fully myself or by saying exactly what’s going on, I actually get a lot more help.”
Baltin: Who are the greatest performers you’ve ever seen?
Briggs: Great question. OK. First of all, my instinct is Brittany Howard. Yes, it’s right away. And then pictures of Whitney Houston? These two just stop you in your tracks.
Baltin: Was there that moment when you were the person in the audience who was crying with the artist?
Briggs: Oh, I saw Sam Smith and Adele, so yeah. And I got to see a little Lizzo. And so, yeah, all three of them, of course, shake me to my core. My favorite LA story that I can quote is when John Legend played the Troubadour, and it was just him on the piano, and then he asked Common to join him on stage and freestyle during a song. And yes, I think whenever the emphasis is on singing and I have that intimacy with the crowd in front of them, I will always cry in the front row, full of joy for that moment.
Baltin: Do we know when there is more music coming out?
Briggs: Very soon. I always saw myself doing both, being a mom and releasing music and touring. So I can’t wait to do that. There is always an album being written. And I feel like there’s a really strong body of work coming together.