SELLING VERSUS MAKING: When you’re young, says Griffin, “you’re sitting around eating mac and cheese and beans and rice and you want people to pay you money for what you do.”
You can call Patty Griffin a singer-songwriter if you must, but don’t expect her to tell you exactly what that means. “I don’t know what to call myself,” admits Griffin, whose latest, Children Running Through (Ato), entered the Billboard Top 200 last month at #34. Since her 1996 debut album, Living with Ghosts (A&M), Griffin has impressed audiences with thoughtful lyrics, graceful melodies, and a clear, raw powerhouse of a voice. She’s also impressed other musicians, many of whom — including the Dixie Chicks, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and, yes, Jessica Simpson — have covered her songs. Through it all, that singer-songwriter tag has dogged her. So how does she explain it? She doesn’t. “I don’t really care about labels very much. That’s really all I have to say about it.” What she does care about is making music — which she’ll do at the Orpheum Theatre this Friday, April 20, as part of a national tour.
I saw you perform recently at the Lizard Lounge, and your voice sounded better than I’ve ever heard it. Do you feel particularly strong right now?
I’ve been really enjoying the singing part of things, and I wrote some things for this record that I could really sink my teeth into vocally. So, yeah, doing some continuing education on the singing lately.
Your new album debuted at #34 in Billboard, your highest debut ever.
Yeah, it did really well the first week, which was great.
After being in this business as long as you have, does it feel strange to be hitting a peak now?
To me it’s just kind of a miracle to still be getting to do what I love to do. I don’t look at it like I didn’t get my due; I think I’m getting a lot of it and doing really well. I’ve pretty much always felt like that.
I was going to ask how much is about selling records and how much is just about the experience and the process, but it seems it’s mostly about the latter.
Yeah. I think if you’re going to worry about having multi-platinum records, you probably shouldn’t be doing music, because it’s probably not going to happen. It’s pretty rare.
Do you think it’s fair to characterize your music as melancholy?
I do. I think that I have a sad voice. I mean, I know I do — people have told me that over and over again, so it must be true. And I do think I love sad songs, and I spend a lot of time listening to them, and that’s what I’ve written a lot of. There’s a certain joy in writing them, to me. Ironically.
Do you have to feel sad to write sad songs?
It’s definitely a feeling thing. It’s an emotional process, either side of it, happy or sad. The emotion of it has to be real for me.
Then is it fair to assume that you’ve had a lot of sadness in your life?
Yeah. Well, I think that everybody’s life has that, and you know, I sing, which is a really good way to kind of process that stuff. It comes out in my music.