Bringin’ it Backwards: Interview with GRIFF

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We had the pleasure of interviewing GRIFF over Zoom video! 

At the pivotal moment before the release of her first full EP, Sarah Faith Griffiths – GRIFF to friends and fans – had an epiphany. GRIFF’s music has an elemental feeling all of its own. You can trace the genesis of her blistering, sparse, emotional songs, condensed on first bow into perfect, three-minute pop moments to her deeply individual aesthetic. Though reminiscent of a more user-friendly FKA Twigs or even back to the ground-breaking sounds captured by Nelly Furtado and Timbaland, the robust, singular five tracks have reminded GRIFF of one key detail to her work. “I’m running the show here,” she says, with an infectious laugh. “Am I even allowed to say that?”

Why shouldn’t she? GRIFF is a one-woman production, song-writing and performing powerhouse, set to unleash her full future-pop powers and own 2020. On the one hand, GRIFF is your textbook good girl next door. She’s just out of school, an 18-year-old straight A student from just outside Watford. On quite the other, on account of the mastery she’s shown so far in taking complete control of her career, there is a touch of the young unicorn about her.

When the realisation hits that this is all your own handiwork, it hits hard. For GRIFF it came as she sat down to talk about the treatment for the video for Didn’t Break It Enough, the captivating electronic slow-jam which cuts straight to the core of semi-masochistic young heartbreak. Because she was used to exerting complete control of her music (“I didn’t realise how rare it was for women to produce their own stuff, until people started telling me”), why couldn’t she do it with the styling too? For GRIFF, a beautiful, striking young woman with Chinese/Jamaican heritage and the most fabulous, signature, outsized bubble pony-tail, the visuals count just as much as the music.

“I said to everyone, it’s one outfit, do we really need a stylist?” she recalls. “It’s going to cost us how much? I may as well just go to Dover Street Market and buy myself a dress with the money.” GRIFF’s big fashion awakening were the romantic dresses of Molly Goddard “Before Villenelle,” she notes. “But I always just find designers inspiring. I’m used to making clothes out of nothing. My favourite shopping is thrift.” In the event, she didn’t even need to shop for herself, taking to her sewing machine and creating a whole look in one week. “I thought I’d buy some stuff in case everyone at the label thought what we’d made was a bit shit. I brought it all out and everyone loved it.”

We shouldn’t be surprised that a young woman, left to her unfiltered imagination can write and produce material of the mesmerising quality of ParadiseSay It Again or the two tracks which have already debuted to deep public approval, Mirror Talk and Didn’t Break It Enough. After all, Kate Bush was 16 when she wrote The Man With The Child In His Eyes, Lorde 17 when she hit global number ones with Royals. That she has taken the reigns of the visual representation of herself is just a pleasing addition to the freshness of GRIFF’s mission statements.

If it feels like there is something of a happy accident to the nascent musical life of GRIFF, that’s because there is. “It just seems to have found me,” she says of her astonishing early promise. Griff was born the third of three in the “super white, super middle-class, super suburban” garden town of Kings Langley. “London was always teasing you in the distance,” she says of growing up. The first album she loved and bought was Taylor Swift’s Fearless, which she dutifully learned to play, back to front. “There was such a simplicity to the melodies and chords, you could do it very young.” Would she still be able to do it now? “Every. Single. Word.”

Looking back, there was something more to the appeal of Taylor than her basic boy/girl, in and out of love stories that appealed to the little GRIFF. “I had the most horrendous growth spurt in primary school, I was HUGE. I looked different from everybody else anyway. I think I must’ve looked at life for a blond-haired, blue eyed girl with a ponytail and thought it looked so easy.”

It didn’t take long for GRIFF to begin embracing her difference, in music and in life. A rotating cast-list of foster children passed through the Griffiths household, where she still lives, probably fifteen in total. “It teaches you something about selfless love,” she says of having so many foster siblings. “The first is and always was going to be the hardest to say goodbye to when they went to be adopted.” She was eight years old. “And I was the only girl, and the youngest. You learn not to be the focus of attention, really quickly.”

There is something in the music of GRIFF that speaks of a wisdom far beyond her years. Though Mirror Talk addresses her generation’s anxious relationship with self-perception, set against a spinetingling spider’s web of beats, she is pleasingly devoid of neuroses. “That doesn’t mean I haven’t been around them, though,” she says. GRIFF could not wait to get out of school. “Teenage girls can be hard to be around all the time,” she says, “I found my place but eventually, by the time it came to leave, that was just me and my best friend, who is now at St Martins.”

Being mixed race left her, she says “kind of not feeling like anything. I’m used to being around white girls but I’m so obviously not. I am a bit of a white girl but I never will 100% be because I look so different and I am so different. The Chinese family would come around and I’m obviouslay so westernised and removed from that. Then the black side comes round and I’m not really in touch with that, either. You’re always in this weird limbo.”

All these esoteric emotional states would be parlayed directly into the quizzical nature of her music, married to a natural ear for a pop hook. GRIFF’s production and song-writing skills were honed at home, utilising her brother’s computer software and the family piano after school. “It came naturally,” she says. “But writing music, actually, is kind of a ridiculous thing. Every day you’re expected to reinvent eight notes and marry them to a new concept.”

She found her well was deep for conjuring new worlds in song and soon attracted the attention of a family friend who began encouraging to her seek contacts in the industry. Her only worry, on signing a deal just prior to heading into the big bad world from school was that something so beloved, such a safe space for her, would now be swallowed by the machine. “My biggest fear was that music was a hobby before and it was so exciting to do, especially when school was awful. It was such a relief to go home and write. My fear was that it suddenly wouldn’t be a hobby anymore. Would the ideas still be there.”

As her debut EP merrily attests, there is so much more to come from GRIFF. “When you are doing it, you realise how much there is to say about the world and to say about yourself,” she notes. “I feel so much bigger when I am on stage.” With creation comes new ambitions. “I don’t want to be an artist who’s around for five minutes and people forget about,” she says. “I want my music to be remembered in ten, fifteen years to come.” GRIFF is making music to be played forever.

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