Griffin House has just returned home from his latest “one-off” show and now he’s preparing to embark on a tour that will fill his schedule until early November. But instead of running errands and packing, the singer/songwriter has a more ambitious goal before he hits the road—he’s trying to record a full-length album in an extremely short time span.
“I’m trying to record an entire record in two days before we leave for this tour,” House says in a tone that is equal parts excitement and uncertainty, speaking by phone from his Nashville home. “It’s been busy, but it’s been good and it’s been fun. I wrote a bunch of songs this year from January until now. I don’t know why, but it captured a particular period in my life and I decided that I wanted to go in with some guys and do it really quickly, do it live and leave mistakes and release it that way. It’ll be true to the way we played it—no fixes or anything. I’ve been making records for a few years now and there’s something more special when we just capture a moment. So, I’m just trying to capture good moments and good performances.”
Equally ambitious is House’s target album release date of this upcoming holiday season. Currently, House is touring in support of his latest release, The Learner (Nettwerk Records). On Friday, September 10, House will perform at Workplay with Ponderosa opening the 9 p.m. show. Unlike the material for his upcoming release, House admits that the material for The Learner didn’t come so quickly.
“It’s been almost a year since it was recorded, so it’s kind of behind me—it’s funny how that happens,” he says. “After I did Flying Upside Down—the record before The Learner—I came back to Nashville after almost two years of touring and I had a bunch of demos. I recorded those but I decided not to put them out. I waited a while longer and collaborated with Dan Wilson from Semisonic on a couple of songs and wrote a little bit longer. I had hardly ever co-written with anyone before, but it worked with Dan for some reason. I wasn’t writing then as much as I am now, so it took me a while to get all of the songs together. As soon as I finished the song ‘Never Hide,’ I felt like the album had come together and it made sense to me.”
The Learner also marks House’s first collaboration with Alison Krauss. The Folk/Bluegrass icon lent her vocals to the song “River City Lights.” Though the two artists weren’t able to spend much time together during the recording session, House found Krauss’s contribution vital to the song.
“The song she was on wasn’t even going to be on the record,” House recalls. “It was a last-minute song that we recorded and it ended up being one of my favorite things. It was a happy accident and a stroke of good luck for her to be on the record, too.”
Technology is an inevitable subject when discussing today’s musical climate and House mentions two things that trigger the conversation of technology’s role in music. First, House initially contacted the engineer of his new album—Grammy award-winner Vance Powell (The Raconteurs, Jars of Clay, Martina McBride)—via Facebook. Next, House mentions that his new album may be available for free online for one day only upon its release. While he isn’t averse to technology’s role in today’s music business, House is still an old-soul at heart.
“I think [technology] is cool, but at the end of the day the cream rises to the top and word-of-mouth is the most powerful medium,” he offers. “I think it’s good for people to have things at their fingertips so they are able to create quickly. One of the exciting things about iTunes is that you can put a song out there and anybody is a couple of clicks away from owning it. But I also think that it makes it harder for people to sort through stuff sometimes, and that was part of my idea to record straight to tape with live performances. For me, the music that I make is about getting an emotional reaction to the song, so we don’t need a bunch of technology to do that—it’s counter-productive. It’s better to just sing it and play it and capture it that way.”
With a large catalog of songs under his belt, I ask House how older songs stay fresh and how he selects material for each tour.
“That’s a good question—there are some of them that are harder to play,” House admits. “There’s a song on Lost & Found called ‘Tell Me A Lie’ that was the first song to get people’s attention and I used to play it at every show. I haven’t played that song live in a really, really long time. Then there are other songs like ‘The Guy That Says Goodbye To You Is Out Of His Mind’ that I play at every show and I don’t mind playing it and it doesn’t get old for me. I wonder the same thing for guys like U2 or Bruce Springsteen who’ve been at it a lot longer than I have and have played their songs for longer than I have played mine. It’s hard when you think a song’s great and you want to play it but no one’s appreciating it or vice versa—when they think it’s really great but you don’t like it very much.”
But House never tires of the challenge and wonderment of the songwriting process. Being featured in Esquire magazine’s April 2010 issue proved fruitful as House crossed paths with fellow singer/songwriters including Charlie Mars and Bob Schneider. As it turns out, House gained more than just publicity from the Esquire coverage.
“It paved the way for me making my next record,” House says. “Bob and I kept in touch and I joined a group of writers and everybody writes one song a week based upon a specific phrase. We all try to keep up and write one song a week. If you miss more than one week, then you get kicked out. So, I’ve been writing a song a week and I’ve really been forced to be creative. As I’ve been forced to write, there’s really been some great stuff to come out of it, so it’s been a lesson in staying busy. Bob may be one of the only people I’ve met that writes even more than I do, which is crazy because I haven’t really met anybody that writes more than me.”
Tickets to the 18+ show are $12 - $15 day of the show – and can be purchased at www.workplay.com or by calling 380-4082.
Brent Thompson writes about popular music for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to email@example.com.