Bishop Briggs Reaches For You On “The Way I Do”

The “River” singer talks growing up in Japan and her “tragic love affair” with music.

There’s a mystery surrounding Bishop Briggs. Since the start of the year, the throaty singer-songwriter has exploded across streaming services with her breakthrough hit “River,” just one of two songs to her name. The clomping track, a mix of trap-indebted drums and vocals burning with the fire of Dusty Springfield, has the numbers on its side, nearing seven million plays on Spotify and more than a million plays on Soundcloud.

For an artist whose digital imprint has gotten a substantial growth spurt in less than a half-year’s time (she’s only played seven shows as Bishop Briggs, and just announced she’s opening for Coldplay on nine dates of their fall tour), the Los Angeles-based artist has kept an arm’s length from media and given little insight into her creative process. “We've been really wanting to make it about the music, and if you come to the show, you won't hear me talk a ton,” she tells FADER in her first-ever interview. “It's because our whole goal is to make people really listen to the music and the lyrics and take their own interpretation from it.”

That’s because music has always been the focus for the 23-year-old, whose stage name is inspired by the Scottish village where her parents were born. Born in London, she moved to Tokyo with her family when she was four and then, six years later, Hong Kong, where she remained for eight. When it came time for college, she chased her dream to Los Angeles to attend the Musicians Institute, gigging around town, and building her acumen as a live performer.

It was the cliché of a former A&R and manager, George Robertson, catching her perform at a songwriter’s round to set her career on path. A few days later, she was in the studio with producers Mark Jackson and Ian Brendan Scott writing “River,” the first of many collaborations with them to come, including her new single “The Way I Do,” exclusively premiering on The FADER below. It’s an extension of “River” with a bubbling bass line and gurgling synths, capped with her cutting vocal harmonies.

Briggs talks about growing up in Japan and her name change in her first ever interview below.

What was the inspiration for “The Way I Do?”

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I feel like this is the most vulnerable I've ever been in my writing and this is the most bare I've ever felt releasing a song. I went to a psychic on a random Tuesday evening with one of my close friends, and she happens to also be a musician, and we go to the psychic and the psychic turns around to my friend and says, "I'm getting the energy that you want to quit the music industry and pursue other options." We walk out of the psychic and I turned to her and said, "Oh my gosh, how crazy was that?" And she said actually, “I've been thinking about it, and I think I'm going to pursue other options and I'm not going to do music anymore.”

In that moment, it's really strange but it's kind of like when you're all in this together, and some part of this strange cult decides to leave, in that moment, I just looked at her and felt in my bones and in my soul, if you leave now, you'll never know this pain. You'll never know this love. You'll never feel the way I do. That's where the whole song began and it's just about the ache that comes with all of this, and the whole point is sticking it out. Of course there are moments when you have doubt. Every time I sing this song, sometimes we start the set with this song, it always reminds me of how thankful I am that I keep going.

Tell me about your musical upbringing. When did you first become aware that music was going to be a part of your life?

Living in Japan, there was always a karaoke bar party that was going on. Whenever anyone turned six or seven, you'd be doing karaoke. I saw my dad singing Frank Sinatra, and I just saw this light in his eyes and this joy he exuded and I wanted a piece of that. In my household, it was always a mix of either tons of Motown music—The Supremes, Ray Charles—or a total contrast with The Beatles. I think having those influences just made me so inspired. Along with that, I had this gospel choir teacher in the middle of Japan who taught me so much about soul.

When it came to writing music, when did it begin for you?

That was always something I had a passion for. I was always writing very emo lyrics, emo poetry, and whether I had rebellion in me or not, or tragedy in me or not, it always came out on the paper. I've always been playing piano. That's still something that I really want to incorporate into the set, and it's something I've always used as a tool for songwriting.

What made you want to move to Los Angeles?

I think for me, Los Angeles meant opportunity and to pursue all those dreams. For me, it was a no-brainer and it was something I really wanted to hit the ground running, and made me want to perform every single day and build up my craft. The coolest part about being in L.A. is whether you like it or not, you're really thrown into the real world. I would play to audiences with three people, sometimes five or six. But it's what gives you experience and really makes you appreciate everyone.

The things you sing about seem to be romantically inspired. Is that what you turn to look to for inspiration?

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For me, the most tragic and tumultuous love affair I've ever had has been with music. So if people interpret the music as romantic with a partner or with a significant other, I really appreciate and respect that. But for me, it really has been a lifelong tragic love affair with music.

Your music pulls from a lot of influences, very heavy drums and then a soulful vocal approach. When you go into writing these songs, how do you go about creating them?

It changes every single time, which is what I like about this writing process. No matter what, it always starts from scratch. But I think it's whatever inspires us at that time. One of the songs that we wrote a couple of weeks ago started in the far background is a Baptist choir congregation just getting set up and ready, and you hear the echo of them talking and getting excited and preparing for the service. It became the intro to one of our newest songs that has tons of gospel influences. It changes every time.

You went by Bishop before, and now you're going by Bishop Briggs. What was the reason for that?

I'm kind of learning it's a little bit of a rite of passage to change your name, but this is really how the name originally was on paper. It originally was Bishop Briggs but we thought it would be simpler to just say Bishop, and yeah, that's basically how it came about. We just kind of ran with it and took the name how it was.

So it didn't have anything to do with another band named Bishop threatening to sue you or something?

[Laughs] Well there was no threat of suing, but they did own the trademark, which is so important when you're releasing your music, to both be on your own journeys and respect each other. I think it was the best option to take the name as it was, and hopefully in the long run, wishing all the best to the other band that has that name.

With your third song out, what's the plan on releasing music in the future?

All I can say is we have a lot of songs that are recorded and finished that I'm really excited to share, and I really hope that when the time is right, we can put out a really cool body of work. For the time being, all the songs that are unreleased are heard at the shows. It's kind of exciting building up this little core group of people who have heard the music that's unreleased.

Does it feel like all of this is happening really quickly?

I don't think I'm at the point yet where I feel like I've reached "it," and that's something I'll always keep on striving to reach, to just work my hardest. My whole thing has always just been tunnel vision. All I can say is that I'm just so thankful and hope to keep writing music and being able to share it with others.

Bishop Briggs Reaches For You On “The Way I Do”