An interview with Bishop Briggs before her performance at Mamby on the Beach, a Chicago-based beachfront festival.
In a dark narrow room on the fifth floor of Soho House Chicago, I curl inside the elbow of a deep leather couch watching as cool kids make their way in. Clutching my icy cocktail like the hand of a friend, I remember my own awkwardness — a characteristic so intrinsic to who I am that I’m now afraid to be without it. I’m a spurious speck in this members-only club, equipped with a day-pass and goal: Experience Bishop Briggs before her Mamby performance this weekend.
Looking like the cover girl for Athleisure Magazine, the singer takes full command of the tiny stage and I feel my inner tension dissipate. Someone I know is finally here. We’ve never met but I take her lyrics personally. And so I know her, in a way. Or she knows me.
Also, Athleisure Magazine isn’t a thing. Don’t look for it.
Exclusive Interview: Bishop Briggs
Sarah Grace McLaughlin, known as Bishop Briggs (formerly Bishop), is a performer within whom there is so much electricity, she moves even when still. The listener hears a full chorus when she sings. She needs no intro and rarely talks to the audience in-between songs. So powerful and, most importantly, on-key, her voice is the beginning and end of her show. And it’s enough.
At 23 years old, she seems equipped with all the confidence in the world. Part of this I attribute to formative years spent growing up in Japan, where Karaoke culture cemented her stage persona. I’m only partially right.
“[Karaoke] definitely makes you spontaneous but I was always very nervous before going on stage and to this day I get nervous before I go on. I try to use it in a positive way, changing it into excitement,” she says with a measure of pride.
After her set, we sit to chat inside one of the many quiet rooms of this adult playhouse. This particular room I recognize. I’ve been here before. Am I a serial Soho House guest pass smuggler? My awkwardness creeps back up and I tell Briggs she has a mouth like Steven Tyler — which is true. It’s an attribute I notice immediately during her performance. Like a semi-truck on a dirt road, powerful singers need more space than the average crooner. She could’ve bit down into the oddity of my question, serving me a blank stare and a cue to continue. But that’s not her. “What? That is the biggest compliment!” she gushes. We are now best friends.
Florence or Lana Del Rey may be more conspicuous comparisons to draw, if anyone should need a comparison. Briggs is grateful to be in such good company, “Those are the best comparisons!” But when talking inspiration, she goes back to her childhood. “I have to be honest, when I think of inspiration I think of what I first listened to, which was a lot of Motown. Aretha Franklin. Otis Redding,” she says. Her tutors served her well. However, it’s not the powerful voice alone that took her first single, “River”, to the top (as of May 2016 the song was streamed over 8 million times on Spotify and Soundcloud). Her lyrics are haunting. They linger like old relationships. In this way she’s more akin to Adele.
I ask about one line from “River”:
Cursed is the fool who’s willing
Can’t change the way we are
One kiss away from killing.
“Both big and small events in my life, I channel into music. They are definitely all [based on] personal experiences and there are a few [lyrics] that have to do with ex-people, individuals, ex-bros that have come in and out. But I’m finding you can actually use music and the pain that comes with it,” she admits without the faintest strand of bitterness. Her words aren’t about them. They’re about more.
On stage, she sways to trap beats like a rapper spitting fire. That, combined with her energy, reminds me of Desiigner, a man that can snarl out 10 different words at one time. She laughs at first but then clearly reminds me, “You know, we covered “Panda”!” Indeed. (Find that gem here.)
Raw talent professionally wrapped inside a down-to-earth package is hard to find. Coldplay agrees. The superstar band handpicked Bishop Briggs to open during the second leg of their U.S. tour. No big deal.
“I was in the studio. My manager came in saying he had news. He was so calm but it was nerve racking for us because obviously he had something urgent. When he said we’d been offered [a spot on tour with Coldplay], it was one of those moments where the artist in me was like ‘Ok. This would be insane.’ And then there was the human part of me that was like, ‘OK, I’M GOING TO CRY!’” While on the road, I suggest she challenge lead singer Chris Martin to a dance-off. She’d win. But she won’t be baited by meal-girl quips. “What I love about him is that everything he does on stage is with emotion, with a little ache. Even his happy songs have a little pain in them.”
Catch Bishop Briggs at Mamby Saturday, July 2nd at 2:30 p.m. on Beach Stage.
She will be touring this year with Coldplay and Icelandic rock band Kaleo.