Griffin House Biography
“As soon as I could play a chord or two I was writing songs,” the humble Griffin explains. “If I had something to write about, I would put it down. I wouldn’t really show anybody but I was recording everything. But, I don’t think I really started understanding how to write songs with the acoustic guitar until I started listening to Bruce Springsteen and Woody Guthrie, who I found out about through Wilco and Billy Bragg’s Mermaid Avenue albums. With the acoustic guitar I realized how easily what I was writing could be translated into something else.”
And he has translated his songs into “something else,” something equally evocative and grand, as evident on his Nettwerk America debut, Lost & Found. Griffin has taken the lessons learned from the aforementioned songwriting masters and applied them studiously to a collection of songs that instantly qualify House as one of the most intriguing new songwriters to emerge in recent memory. However, House is not simply another singer-songwriter. Harking back to an era where songwriters’ bands were often of equal importance (like Neil Young to his Crazy Horse or Tom Petty with The Heartbreakers), Griffin’s permanent band (drummer Will Sayles, dread-locked guitarist/background vocalist Paul Moak, and multi-instrumentalist Ian Fitchuk) is a key part of the equation and challenges Griffin’s already burgeoning talents.
The contributions from Griffin’s band are stylistically significant on Lost & Found, from the titanic sweep of ambient guitars and rumbling, leaves-rustling snare sounds, to round, undulating bass tones and dynamically sparse yet theatrical arrangements, all of which perfectly compliment Griffin’s selection of remarkably strong songs.
In fact, Lost & Found was recorded on a shoestring budget, with House, his band, and a few friends doing the producing and recording themselves. Done with a budget that would typically merely cover catering costs for most records, the album was spontaneous, recorded with only one or two takes; Griffin laying down the guitar and vocal and his band filling in the rest.
But before Griffin began his late, yet remarkably quick education on the making of music, he was exposed to an interesting array of influences that began very early in his childhood.
“I had a record player and remember listening to Donovan and Toto and The Beatles and all of these records that my parents had and some of it was really bad stuff,” Griffin laughs. “I was really into rap though when I was young. My mom would come in and try to censor what I was listening to because I had Run DMC and the Fat Boys and the Beastie Boys and I was like eight. And I’m in there like ‘Yo, f**k you motherf**ker."
“The first live show I ever went to was that band Live when they came out with the Throwing Copper album, when I was 14,” Griffin recalls. “At the time I thought they were amazing. Their show completely captivated me and inspired me maybe to sing a little bit. Then I got into the Red Hot Chili Peppers and I listened to them constantly.”
His teenage years weren’t all that different from many other Americans, but Griffin’s midwestern views and mainstream tastes were considerably challenged and changed once he was away at college. This was especially true during his five-month stint on a semester abroad program in Luxembourg, which served as a time of travel and eye-opening experiences for him. Ironically, the one place he didn’t visit while in Europe was Amsterdam, yet that locale later became the subject of the dynamic melancholy travelogue, “Amsterdam,” which opens Lost & Found.
“I was really close to Amsterdam a lot of the time and I guess that whole environment was very much like me trying to find the balance between my faith and being liberated,” Griffin recalls. “It was a crazy time, I think that song is about that, but it’s also about relationships.”
“I feel like a lot of songs that are written are just about relationships,” Griffin explains. “Whether they are relationships with people or they are relationships with alcohol or relationships with God or whatever. And Amsterdam seemed to be a good metaphor for a period of life that I’d been through.”
It was a “trying” time for Griffin: a time of trying to find himself, trying to find his place in the world and trying out new things. It’s an age-old plight that has been famously played out by almost every spiritually- minded rock star from Elvis to Bono.
Yet Griffin proves that he can walk that tightrope with the skill of a circus master. On Lost & Found, House explores conflicting themes of spirituality and desolation, love and pride, hope and pain, divinity and darkness, throughout the album’s eleven songs. These are no lightweight issues. It takes an exceptional band and an exceptionally engaging figure such as Griffin to drive this kind of dramatic and far-reaching material. Without a voice as strong as his, and a persona as rich, tackling these topics and painting with such broad strokes, could easily come off as wishful thinking. But the resonance within Griffin’s tunes resolutely rings true thanks to a style that careens across the influential spectrum from Dylan to Pavement. It’s an all-encompassing approach that shows Griffin’s ability to gather in even the most estranged of music lovers, from Anglophiles to Americana fans to soccer moms.
Unafraid of the big gestures and the difficult topics (race relations in “The Way I Was Made,” spiritual and parental conflict in “Why Don’t You Believe”) and with the capacity for emotional insight that belie his short study as a songwriter, on Lost & Found Griffin House reveals that while some things may have come easy for him, he isn’t taking the easy way out.