This past week, the Paradise Rock Club was host to Griffin House, a singer-songwriter in the midst of a national tour. The Ohio native, Nashville transplant is best known for songs such as “The Guy Who Says Goodbye to You Is Out of His Mind” and “Better Than Love.”
Though with a style reminiscent of Ryan Adams or Elliott Smith, House is in a category all of his own. He ties up loose ends. Rather than reveling in lyrical ambiguity (think Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes), his words are simple. He sings of themes such as love, family and homecomings without a hint of the disaffection often inherent to the acoustic singer-songwriter. House’s music is blatantly honest and so relatable, that it’s nearly impossible to not feel as if you know the guy just by listening to him for a while.
This past summer, House released the The Learner, his fifth record to date. The Quad got a chance to chat with Griffin about it, as well as his current tour behind the album before his show at the Paradise Rock Club on Thursday.
Quad: Welcome to Boston!
Griffin House: Thanks.
Is Boston one of your first stops on the tour behind The Learner?
We’ve done nine shows so far.
And how’s the tour going?
It’s going good. I think the economy is having an effect a little bit in certain places. We’ve had surprises in a couple places, like Charlotte, and it seems like tonight there’ll be some people showing up. We’ve had some good stops, for sure.
How did you first get into music? Did the college scene at all have any influence?
Yeah. I joined my first band there, actually. I got roped into that by a couple of guys who just invited me and I kinda joined, but it wasn’t really my idea and we were just doing it for fun. After a while the band was breaking up, but out of that experience I knew I still wanted to sing. I started making my own music so that I could play my own shows, and it just went from there.
Was there any particular moment then when you knew that music was what you wanted to do?
It came later when I made my own little record after that band broke up. There was some interest from this guy in Philadelphia who’d been in the music business. He worked at a company called Rough House Records with Lauryn Hill and other bands like Cypress Hill. He gave me a production deal and I moved out there for a little while.
Did living in Nashville influence you at all? You have a southern sound, but it’s not necessarily straight Nashville-style country.
Nah, that’s probably comes from the hicks in Ohio!
True. I get the feeling that your songs are all part of some loose collection of life experiences. Is there any one thing that you’re most inspired by?
I think the songs are written less out of a place of inspiration and more out of just a necessity to deal with whatever crap is going on in my life. It’s almost like my own therapy session; it gives me a chance to just get it out.
How would you describe your sound to someone who had never heard you before?
Johnny Cash meets The Clash.
Cool. What could a new listener expect to hear on The Learner?
Um… that’s a great question. Johnny Cash meets The Clash, I hope! I don’t know.
How did that sound develop? Your first album is quieter and softer and The Learner is so much more upbeat. How did you make that shift?
Definitely playing live a lot. You realize that there are certain moments where it wasn’t going to work to be completely quiet all the time. There’s got to be some sort of dynamic to hold the crowd’s attention for an hour and a half. Now it’s nice though, ‘cause our shows have really evolved… there are ups and downs.
How long did it take to produce the album?
It was pretty quick. We recorded the bulk of it in three days in a studio in Nashville at a studio called Sound Eporium. Most of my records are like that. We get in, and try not to think too much; just play the music. I had most of the songs figured out beforehand.
And how do you feel about the end result?
I’m really proud of The Learner. It’s kinda weird though, because it’s been a year since I recorded it. I’ve already recorded another record since then.
How does the album compare to your previous releases?
It’s different. I think the fact that the song “She Likes Girls” is on there is a really different thing for some fans. It’s definitely hard to swallow for people who had been fans for a while and fans of previous records. I think they’re used to me being really sincere and genuine and actually meaning what I’m saying, so when I was telling a joke and sort of ripping on Katy Perry, they thought I was trying to be Katy Perry and totally misread it. But the fact that there’s a song on there that’s ironic is a first.
Is there any one track on The Learner that means the most to you or hits home the most?
The song that Alison Krauss sang on, “River City Lights,” was pretty great. That was one that almost didn’t get put on the record, but the guys eventually convinced me to do it and she ended up singing on it. It was cool to work with her.
How long does it usually take you to write songs? I feel like you have such a huge catalog for someone who hasn’t been around for that many years.
It’s always different. This year I’m part of a songwriting group with another artist named Bob Schneider. We write a song each week and mail it to each other… I’ve been able to keep up with that, so I end up writing one or two songs a week. Before that, whenever I felt like writing I would just do it. I think I’m able to be pretty prolific in that sense, yeah.
So you definitely write them faster than you’re able to record them?
Oh yeah. I also don’t have the budget to be constantly recording. It’s a big deal, you know, when we make a record. Part of the process is taking those forty songs or whatever and picking the best thirteen to record. Sometimes you’re wrong… I never know whether the songs I write are good or not until other people hear them. Like, “The Guy Who Says Goodbye To You Is Out Of His Mind” is one of my most popular songs and when I wrote it I was like ‘eh, just another tune,’ but its gotten more response than anything else. You just never know, I guess.
So this is a much more general question, but what is it like being a full-time musician? I mean in terms of making a living, trying to stay on the radar.
Well it’s changing a lot this year. I’ve been doing it for a while now, pretty constantly since 2004. I think I’m going to have to start taking a different approach to it instead of piling in the van and going for two months at a time. I think I need to stay at home, and maybe fly out for a week and then come back. The road is fun for five years, but it’s time to be at home more.
Yeah. What would you say is the best part about all of it, though?
Playing the shows! That’s the reward. We probably take it all for granted a little bit, too. We sat down by the water today and just looked out at everything, and if I kinda could get my mind to turn right I think ‘well, I’m actually on vacation right now.’ I get to see all these cities. It’s pretty great.
So I have one last question. Since the Quad’s audience is mainly college students, what advice would you give to an aspiring musician in college?
I don’t know if I have any great advice. The way I did it was I got myself as many shows as possible to play, so that I could get up in front of people and get some experience and get comfortable in that way. I made some recordings and pressed up some copies and really got out there. When people start talking and if they really like it, they tend to do all the press for you. So when it comes down to it, you really got to just make the music.