Is Bishop Briggs Alternative's Next Big Voice? Singer Talks Debut & Coachella Jitters
Bishop Briggs is trying to explain what it’s like to tour with Coldplay at the age of 24 and before releasing a debut EP, but she can’t help focusing on the catering. “They have vegan treats, catch-of-the-day fish, a selection of smoothies and pastries,” she recalls. “To be sharing a stage with such an iconic band is an amazing experience, but also to have such iconic catering” -- she cracks a goofy grin -- “provides a lifelong memory.”
Briggs had released only two songs when she got the call to open for Coldplay in 2016: “Wild Horses,” which featured in a 2015 Acura-commercial and became a Shazam-based breakout, and “River,” which rode a heart-baring hook to an unexpected amount of alternative radio airplay. Briggs, whose range conjures the soulfulness and startling depth of Florence Welch, is one of just nine solo female artists to crack the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs chart in the past five years.
Still riding high from last summer’s arena run, Briggs has begun to prepare for a pivotal professional stretch. On April 14, she’ll release her self-titled debut EP on Island Records; a day later, she’ll play Coachella, then kick off a 25-city North American trek that will eventually lead to Lollapalooza and Panorama. When Briggs arrives at a coffee shop in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake nabe, her raven hair in two topknots and an o-ring fetish choker around her neck, she is spry and chatty in spite of post-rehearsal exhaustion. “I’m freezing right now, because I was just drenched in sweat,” she tells Billboard. “That’s something you can expect -- energy, and a lot of sweat.”
Touring will give Briggs less time to collect “hippie stuff” -- crystals adorn her Echo Park apartment -- and explore her spiritual-leaning hobbies, which include reading tarot cards and dream analysis. She’s not complaining. Performing has been her passion since she was 4, when her family relocated from London to Tokyo; her father was an entrepreneur whom she secretly believed was an international spy. She was ruling karaoke lounges before she started kindergarten. “It’s a rite of passage that when you [move to] Japan, you go to a karaoke bar the minute you land,” she says. “My dad would sing Frank Sinatra -- I saw how much joy he had in his eyes. I felt as though I found what my soul had been missing.”
Piano lessons and a Tokyo children’s gospel choir helped Briggs learn about harmony. She received vocal coaching as a 10th birthday gift after her family moved again, to Hong Kong. Briggs credits their record collection for connecting her to Western music, as well as having the most influence on her sound, particularly acts like Otis Redding and Janis Joplin. “These singers always sounded as if they were on the edge of tears, or rage,” she says.
When Briggs moved to Los Angeles nearly five years ago to study vocal performance at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, she began singing at bars like the now shuttered Room 5 Lounge multiple times a week. Eventually she was discovered at a gig by former Interscope A&R rep George Robertson, who linked her with producers Mark Jackson and Ian Brendon Scott (Forever the Sickest Kids, Colette Carr). The bluesy anthem “River” was written at their first session. Briggs sat in her car afterward, listened to the voice memo and began crying, feeling she was finally going to be heard.
“I was driving in Los Angeles, listening to KROQ, and was struck by this voice,” says Cold War Kids frontman Nathan Willett of first hearing “River.” Willett recruited Briggs to guest on the song “So Tied Up (Los Feliz Blvd.),” from the rock group’s new album L.A. Divine. “I told her she has a super power,” he recalls, “and she could be a Lauryn Hill, Fiona Apple-level artist if she has good people around her.”
Briggs believes in the instincts of Island Records head David Massey, who signed her in March 2016. Following the success of “River,” which reached No. 10 on the Hot Rock Songs chart last fall but never cracked the Billboard Hot 100, Massey foresees a gradual push toward the mainstream after fortifying Briggs’ alternative base.
“There have been other great female-fronted bands and artists with powerful voices,” says Massey, “but I don’t think there’s anyone out there currently who’s doing what she’s doing.”
Briggs is more reserved about her talents. When asked about Coachella, she says that “a huge part of me is in disbelief -- that people are making the wrong phone calls, or mistaking me for another Bishop.” Yet at a crucial career moment, Briggs appears at ease -- she takes a break from detailing her first album, which she’s recording with “River” producers Jackson and Scott, to discuss homemade Pop-Tarts and Rihanna cellphone stickers.
“If I’m not authentic, I might as well as be dead,” she says. “Pursuing a creative field is giving a piece of your heart, over and over, and it’s not generally appreciated -- nor should it be. It makes you who you are.”