Portrait by Etienne Gilfillan
Interview by David Newton
I was in a little boat with some of my friends, and one of them pushed me out of the boat into the water. The water was very deep and, as I submerged into it, I opened my eyes and I saw three sharks coming towards me. I swam up to the top and shouted to my friends, ‘Help, help, I need to get out!’ but they didn’t help me…”
Singer Bishop Briggs is relating to me a disturbing dream, which she feels was a warning about the people she had around her at the time. “My subconscious was saying: ‘Are these the people who you want to be in your boat with you?’ Because I almost felt more comfortable in the water with the sharks!”
Born in London to Scottish parents (who hail from the Glaswegian suburb of Bishopbriggs), Sarah McLaughlin moved to Tokyo with them at the age of four and then, when she was 10, to Hong Kong. It was during these Far East years that she discovered her love – and talent – for music, singing in karaoke bars and airing for the first time the nascent power of her vocals. In the olden (ie, pre-millennium) days, her voice would have been described as “bluesy” or “rocky” but the singer describes her style as “Trap Soul” and it’s no surprise she gravitated towards LA to study music and become the performer Bishop Briggs. It’s a great nom de plume, as, even in the pronunciation, it evokes a guttural, no-nonsense honesty, whilst simultaneously betraying its owner’s sensitivity and nostalgia for her roots. Indeed, the sweet, thoughtful person I meet two days after her very sweaty, intimate gig in London’s Hoxton seems miles away from the tightly coiled performer I witnessed onstage. She’s passing through London for a few days, having recently supported Coldplay on tour, and is treating her new-found British fans to a close-up taste of her intense stage presence.
Wylde: What does your name mean to you?
Bishop Briggs: That’s where I spent every single summer, growing up. I left London when I was four, but I was always coming back and visiting. And it was exciting to be able to tip my hat to people who have supported me from the beginning. They were so supportive, always encouraging.
Who are your musical heroes?
Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross…
Lots of soul singers; I was expecting rock names!
...and Janis Joplin! The minute I got introduced to her, it all made sense for me. For one of my final school projects I had to sing a song of my choice and I chose Piece of My Heart by Joplin, and in that song there’s a scream. You know, you have to commit to it and it was the first time I really felt like I now feel on stage. I had tried doing the whole “soul” thing before, but then began to incorporate a bit more of my personality, especially in terms of writing… that’s when it changed too, when I started writing.
Has the writing always been consistent?
Yes, it’s always been very dark, even from a very young age.
I noticed at the gig that, despite the intensity of your performance, there was very little chat in between songs. Is it stage fright, coolness, or something else?
Well, as you can probably tell from meeting me, I am very chatty! But on stage it has been very exciting to make it about the music, and it’s been a little goal of mine that people walk away thinking about the music.
You had quite a hysterical audience and you seemed to be quite taken aback by the screams happening at the end of each song!
I’m never expecting screams to happen! I guess the best way to explain it is when I’m singing those songs I’m definitely expressing the more aggressive, darker side of myself and then the minute I stop singing I am who you’re talking to right now, which is a completely different person. But in a way they are the same person, they’re just expressed very differently. The best way to describe it (and this is how I am when I write): it’s who I am when the door is closed. I feel that we all have that person, who you actually are when you’re alone. It’s quite different from who you are when you’re in front of others.
Where do your lyrics come from?
I take inspiration from anything and everything that I can, but I think there are some visuals in dreams that are so beneficial to writing that you wouldn’t normally think of. Like the thought of opening your eyes and seeing a figure coming towards you.
And maybe some figures in a boat, in shark-infested water?
So what do you reckon that dream was about?
There are so many different people who come into your life, and when I had that dream there was a specific group of people that I was around then, and I had to make an assessment based on that. Obviously, it was my subconscious telling me: “Are these people who you really trust?”
Talking of people you trust, did Coldplay give you any advice?
Yes, I feel that their best advice was to stay true to your path, because then you can do no wrong. And to remain authentic.
And what advice would you give your five-years-ago self?
I wouldn’t give myself any advice. Because all of those decisions I made led me to speaking to you right now!
Good answer! How would you define your style?
I love sneakers, they’re a huge passion of mine. I also really like playing around with androgyny; I love the different unisex styles that are coming in now. And I like doing a little nod to the Nineties; it was cool time. I was born in ’92, so I didn’t really get to enjoy it because I was so little.
Is there a Mr Briggs?
There is not! There is someone, but he’s not a Mr Bishop Briggs!
Oh I didn’t mean are you married! God, I sound like a bloody teen magazine!
I love it!
OK, on that note: what’s your favourite colour?!