Just before her exhilarating live performance at the house of smart in Austin, we caught up with the LA-based singer-songwriter Bishop Briggs to talk about her neighborhood, big city life and the influence of technology on her music.
Born in London, raised in Tokyo and Hong Kong and now living in Los Angeles, it’s fair to say Sarah Grace McLaughlin – who goes by the moniker Bishop Briggs – knows a thing or two about international city living. Lighting up Hype Machine and Spotify with the blues-trap stylings of her debut single ‘River’ last year, she recently brought her vocal prowess and electrifying live set to California’s Coachella Festival. We met her at the house of smart during SXSW to talk Los Angeles, technology and music.
What does life in a big metropolis mean to you?
Bishop Briggs: For me, city life is all I’ve ever known, from London to Tokyo and Hong Kong to my recent residence, Los Angeles. When I was younger, I did not consider city life as something special. But now, I think it really is exciting living in these places because they’re all very creative and forward thinking. In a way, cities make you a hustler because you’re always striving.
Very few people can claim to have experienced living in cities on three different continents. Is there a perfect city for you?
Bishop Briggs: I’m very biased. There are places that I have visited that have had moments of perfection, but there are also places that I haven’t visited that I think would be perfect. I’m gonna go with Hong Kong, because that is technically my hometown. It has a lot of perfection in it.
So you are not planning to move to the countryside any time soon.
Bishop Briggs: I’m fascinated with the countryside because I never grew up seeing that. So to me, it’s the most beautiful scenery. I went to Nebraska for the first time and it blew my mind – I had no idea there was this incredible world out there.
When you’re living in a city like LA, is it important for you to have the urban infrastructure, people and culture, or is it just as important to have access to the nature around the city too?
Bishop Briggs: Well, there are so many beautiful and amazing benefits to living in LA, but truthfully, even if the city was a small, tiny room with no windows, if it meant that I could potentially work on my dreams and my passions there, I would do it. The nature and big city perks are certainly nice, but the reason I’m there is music.
Is LA the best city for music in the world right now?
Bishop Briggs: I don’t know. It just so happens to be the city I was drawn to, and where I ended up. It’s very much a positive place for me. For five years, it was very depressing. This year, my career really took off. It’s been great for me (laughs).
Which area do you live in?
Bishop Briggs: I live in Silver Lake/Echo Park – hipster land.
What do you love about your neighborhood?
Bishop Briggs: I love that you can walk everywhere. Also, on the weekend, there are farmers’ markets. You can get a little cactus, you can get some crystals. There’s a whole little world there. It’s a good bubble.
What would be the perfect Saturday off for you?
Bishop Briggs: It generally involves a lot of food. I love to eat. But I’m also gonna throw a hike in there, and I’ll throw in going to a hippie shop where I can, buy crystals and have my tarot card read.
Where are your sources of inspiration in LA?
Bishop Briggs: Everywhere. I always try and draw on experiences that happen, whether they’re big or small. Even this conversation right now – there’s so much to take from it because the personal human experience is very unique and very valid. I think there’s so much to write about that. The feelings you feel in certain situations can be very inspiring.
You combine classic elements like guitar and songwriting with electronic production and beats. Do you think your style of music is so diverse because you were brought up in diverse places?
Bishop Briggs: It’s all about what’s being played in your living room. I grew up listening to a lot of Motown and The Beatles and Janis Joplin. The producers that I’m working with right now had completely different backgrounds. So there was something in combining both of our worlds that created this style of music.
There wasn’t a J-pop or K-pop or Hong Kong-pop phase?
Bishop Briggs: Well, I love all of those and I definitely would dance to a lot of K-pop when I was in Hong Kong. You never know what has influenced you, you can only guess. I think with all these things, it’s a combination of all of this that creates who you are.
How did you like your week in Austin?
Bishop Briggs: I’m enjoying it so much. There’s different music at every corner. I always love exploring and finding new music and finding that next big thing, so this is the best place for that.
Our idea at the house of smart was to have a place where you could recharge yourself and lay low.
Bishop Briggs: I love that idea, that’s why I’ve been in here for the past two hours when I was only supposed to be here for ten minutes! I’ve just been hanging out and wandering around, it’s very Zen. There’s a great mix of discovering technology and smart in general, but also of feeling very relaxed. I love that mix.
SXSW started out as a music festival 25 years ago, and now it’s the biggest tech conference in the world. How do you combine these two elements in your life?
Bishop Briggs: I think when it comes to innovation, entrepreneurship and technology, it can only aid the creative – if it’s used wisely. There are so many different platforms now that really coincide with creating music. And even just music programs in general – we now have access to incredible string orchestras where we maybe wouldn’t have before – that’s something that I really appreciate and admire about the worlds of technology and music mixing.
Does technology add to your creative process or is it rather distracting?
Bishop Briggs: When I grew up in Japan, I realized how quickly technology advances, and how it can affect your everyday living. And I saw it happen at such a fast pace. So I’ve always seen it as a positive development, but when you’re creating music and you’re writing, you have to be in that raw state. You have to turn off the phone, you have to write from your soul. Still, I’ve always been a huge fan of technology – maybe because of the way I was raised.
These days, computers know a lot about you, they anticipate what you want to do – is that something you love or fear?
Bishop Briggs: Maybe it’s healthy to have a little bit of both love and fear (laughs). I guess my biggest hope with any creation of technology is that it’s working towards building a better world. Health is number one for me. We have a lot of clever people in this world, so the hope is that they create something that will stand the test of time and eliminate diseases, or any roadblocks that aren’t allowing others to be happy.
You were playing Coachella this year – were you excited?
Bishop Briggs: I’ve been very excited. I wish you’d seen my face when I found out the news. I couldn’t believe it at all, I thought it was a mistake and that maybe they were thinking of someone else. Huge dream came true!