Over the course of a 20-minute interview—a discussion that delves into everything from her experience of singing in a Japanese gospel choir to the quality of British mashed potatoes—there’s one phrase that trap-soul star Bishop Briggs keeps returning to.
“Oh my God—it’s a dream come true,” she says when asked about—well, anything.
And she really means it.
Born in London before spending her formative years in Tokyo and Hong Kong, Bishop Briggs—or Sarah Grace McLaughlin, to her Scottish parents—discovered the joy of performing after frequenting local karaoke bars with her dad. A regular on the scene, McLaughlin enjoyed enough popularity to spark the desire to pursue singing full-time and, after graduating from high school, headed to the mecca of aspiring musicians: Los Angeles. There, the real work began.
“If I saw myself now, talking to you, and being in this moment, I would be so angry if I spent any of it complaining about those early years,” McLaughlin tells the Straight on the line from her L.A. apartment. “But as you can imagine, I met many different characters, not all of them good, and I played at a fair few venues that shouldn’t be called venues. But that’s what made me who I am. In the midst of all that, I had people who supported me—and even if it was just one person who told me that I should keep going at a coffee shop that I sang at, the small gesture made a huge impact on me. I’m just so grateful for all the opportunities that I had.”
Fortune struck for McLaughlin at a small, run-of-the-mill gig, where a former A&R rep for Interscope was captivated by her voice. Paired by the executive with producers Mark Jackson and Ian Brendon Scott, the singer emerged from her first session with a brawny, soulful anthem named “River”, a track that showed off a vocal style that had all of Adele’s emotion and spades of Florence Welch’s muscle. Immediately picked up by radio stations, the spunky, bass-heavy song would later debut in the top 10 of the U.S. rock charts.
After that, things happened quickly. Dates with Passion Pit were arranged, as were slots on the bill with Arcade Fire and Carly Rae Jepsen. Then came the call from Coldplay.
“I don’t want to say it again, but it was a dream come true,” she recalls with a laugh. “I have no idea how they selected me to tour with them. My manager came into the room, and he had this look on his face that I still haven’t seen since, and he told us that we’d got an offer. I was in the studio recording, and we all just looked at each other and started laughing and crying, all at once. Then I called my dad, and he let out a very high-pitched scream. He’s a tall Scottish man, so that’s when you know it’s a big deal. The tour was incredible. And, as a side note, their catering is to die for.”
Despite her numerous successes, however, McLaughlin hasn’t changed the way that she writes—which, by her own admission, often explores the more pessimistic aspects of her life. “Wild Horses”, a soulful trap track selected by Acura to soundtrack its 2016 commercial, was created in response to the inner turmoil of a stagnating relationship, while EP standout “Dark Side” begins with the sultrily sung phrase “Welcome to my dark side.” For McLaughlin, writing truthful lyrics is an important component of a song—as is sharing her bad experiences.
“If you look at the words, you’d probably say that my perspective on life was negative,” she says. “But I hope what always comes across is that I never want to appear ungrateful. I’m so appreciative of everything that’s ever happened to me. I think it’s really important to dive into those moments of pain and darkness, even when things are light and happy around you, because that’s sometimes our true self.”
Self-exploration and spirituality are recurring themes for the singer, who regularly frequents psychics, tarot readers, and those who interpret angel cards. McLaughlin sees those rituals as a way to reconsider the world around her. The bluesy, haunted “The Way I Do”, for instance, was written after a mystic revealed that a close friend was considering quitting music, and McLaughlin often uses her spiritual insights as inspiration for lyrics. But despite her fascination with the metaphysical, the artist’s feet remain solidly on the ground.
“First and foremost, I think whenever you go into music you hope that you meet the right people and get to create songs that mean something to you, and that your output feels authentic,” she says. “It’s only then that you hope that people connect with the music. That’s the cherry on top—but it’s not always what happens. On tracks like ‘Way I Do’ or ‘River’, I was channelling a lot of strength and empowerment. The fact that people can feel those same emotions when listening to the songs means everything to me.”
Bishop Briggs plays the Vogue Theatre on Thursday (September 14) as part of the Westward Music Festival.
Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays