Bishop Briggs has wasted no time since unveiling her first-ever album Church of Scars in April. The 26-year-old queen of brooding, fiery alt-pop is already back today (Aug. 17) with brand-new single “Baby,” debuting a decidedly softer, cheekier new sound.
“I’m very drawn to darkness, so the thought of releasing a song that wasn’t so heavy didn’t seem in character,” the singer-songwriter admits while lounging at Billboard‘s New York offices, thumbing a spider tattoo that covers her thigh. “But I felt like it was too honest to not release it.”
While Briggs’ smash debut “River” chronciled falling out of love “faster than a hairpin trigger” to the tune of thunderous hand-claps and gritty bass, the airy, crisp “Baby” professes her crush on a leather-clad heartthrob “chewin’ Juicy Fruit” who’s “so damn good in bed.” At the time Briggs, a.k.a. Sarah Grace McLaughlin, wrote the song alongside longtime producer John Hill, she assumed she was “never going to release” it.
Eventually, though, she viewed the track’s frank lyrics as a way to flip traditional gender roles in music, where it’s more often men who speak openly about sex. “In private, women talk about their sex lives all the time,” she explains. “My whole goal is that men and women are equal, and in the music world, part of making that a reality is all of us doing the same thing, in terms of what we are allowed to share.”
Fans can expect similar openness from Briggs’ future releases — the singer adds that she’s trying to “hide less” behind complex metaphors in favor of bold, clear lyricism.
Briggs will be in town for the MTV Video Music Awards on Monday (Aug 20), for which she’s nominated in the Push artist of the year category, then hits the road again Aug. 25 for a fall tour in North America and Europe.
Listen to “Baby” below, and scroll on for Briggs’ thoughts on growing up in Tokyo, how she plans to follow up Church of Scars and the full story behind her new single.
In April, you put your debut album Church of Scars out into the world. How did that feel?
It has been a whirlwind. It felt so exciting to release something I can reflect on as that time of chaos and excitement and pain all in one album. So I feel really proud of it, and it feels like my little baby. I am my own biggest critic for sure, but I told myself to let it go. From a human sense, I think I’m learning to really let go of perfectionism. I’ve been in a record store and I’ve heard it. Little things like that that I couldn’t have planned for — that’s really exciting. When I hear it like that, I feel really proud and happy. But if I were to hear it in my own headphones, just in my own company, I would be so critical and so scared. [Laughs.]
When did “Baby” come together?
I had a day off of tour, and I went into the studio with [producer] John [Hill], and it really just seemed like one of those songs that I was never going to release, which felt very fun. It’s such a cheeky song, and it’s so light, and it’s so happy. Instinctively, I felt very uncertain about it ever being associated with me. But what I think is so great about being a person in the world is we have so many different dynamics to our personalities, and that [in the lyrics] is how I talk to my girlfriends, when we’re talking about our love lives. I’m very drawn to darkness, so the thought of releasing a song that wasn’t so heavy didn’t seem in character. But I felt like it was too honest to not release it.
This is the year of transparency for me. I’m trying my best to be completely transparent. And if I were to keep this song in a cave, I wouldn’t be doing that justice. Also as a woman, to be talking about something like this feels really liberating.
Explain what you mean by “liberating.”
The contents and the lyrics of the song are talking about my sex life, essentially. Men talk about their sex lives all the time, and people don’t blink an eye. But in private, women talk about their sex lives all the time. My whole goal is that men and women are equal, and in the music world, part of making that a reality is all of us doing the same thing, in terms of what we are allowed to share. I think the biggest thing I want people to take away from the song is that empowerment aspect. Empowered to make their own decisions and sleep with who they want.
Though “Baby” goes in a different direction, the song has that same sense of inner strength that characterized so much of Church of Scars. Where do you think you get that strength from?
I think I was really lucky and privileged that my family was really supportive of me, and encouraged me to be strong. I always had a safe place to speak my mind. My goal is to pursue my dreams with authenticity, and I don’t think I would be okay with doing that if I didn’t have that family background.
How did growing up in Japan affect your sound?
I think [your sound] always has to do with what’s being played in your living room. And I was really lucky that in my living room, it was a lot of Motown music, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Etta James, Janis Joplin. It all happened to be in the backdrop of Tokyo tower. So that was really influential from a musical perspective, and then the accessibility to karaoke bars. It’s literally Lost in Translation every weekend. [Laughs.] It gave me the bug of wanting to perform, seeing how much joy it brought others to hear music.
When you started doing karaoke with your friends, was anyone ever like, “wait a minute, you can really sing”?
No, no! [Laughs.] I think the fun of karaoke is the performance, and being over-the-top. I sometimes do “Bohemian Rhapsody,” like, very over-dramatic performances.
You moved to Hong Kong after six years in Japan. What was that like?
Hong Kong, I was older. So [experiencing] everything a teenager goes through: your first heartbreak, your first time falling in love. In terms of writing material, it was thriving. Japan became the base of wanting to perform, and wanting to make music a part of my life, and then Hong Kong became all about writing and performing as much as I could, and realizing that my soul didn’t feel fulfilled unless I was doing music.
After Church of Scars, how will you approach music differently?
Even with this first single, I’m trying to hide less behind my own metaphors and my own poetry. My instinct as a writer is to write lengthy poems that are dark and heavy, and thinking the worst of every situation, and they’re very emotional and emotion-driven. Although that will always be a part of me in terms of writing, I found myself hiding behind it. It became so much more exhilarating, and it felt so much more honest, to put pen to paper exactly how I felt, exactly what the person looked like, the exact situation as it came.
That all started with “Water,” really. “Be gentle with me, be patient with me” — I was so scared to put that in the song, because I was like, God forbid I show my sensitive side. It felt truly vulnerable. And then the third line is, “’Cause I’ve been in the corner of my mind that tells me I’m not good enough for anybody like you.” That writing experience made me feel such an urgency to release “Baby.” I wanted people to know what was happening in my love life.
How do you approach authenticity in a world where so much content is edited, branded and curated?
We’re living in a day and age where we all have platforms to talk about things, and stand up for things. My hope is that people are feeling more liberated than ever to talk about their lives with authenticity, because I think people underestimate the audience, and they underestimate the listener. We live in a world that you can curate, you can edit, but now everyone knows all those tricks and tips. So when you choose to not do that, it comes across as so much more powerful.