Returning to the scene with a full band and a lush new EP
As society gingerly moves toward an exit from the troubling pandemic era, the emotional debris becomes evident. Some artists have channeled the challenges they faced into music; among them is Alaska-born, Western North Carolina-based singer/songwriter Hope Griffin, who just released her latest collection, a five-song EP titled Before We Take Our Leave.
The title of Griffin’s latest release is drawn from the lyrics of “Lullaby,” the final song on the disc. “I like to title my releases with a line from one of the songs,” Griffin explains. But she ultimately chose the phrase because it reflects upon all of the project’s songs. “Each is a different version of leaving something behind,” she says. “Carousel,” for example, is the story of the end of a marriage. “Lullaby” is the story of a quick fling. And Griffin says that “What You Didn’t Say” concerns itself with “the last thing you do before leaving town.”
Griffin stayed relatively busy during the pandemic, performing whenever she could, but one thing she hasn’t done in quite awhile is release an album. “My last EP was a Christmas album in 2017,” she says, referring to And the Lights Will Shine, a collection of holiday classics plus one original tune.
“And I’ve changed a lot since then,” Griffin says. “Like everyone has, I’ve let some things go, and I’ve kept some pieces.” She describes Before We Take Our Leave as “a summation of all of those things that are still left in my suitcase.” She characterizes her current musical persona as “Hope 2.0. It feels like I’ve been though a storm, and this is what has come out on the other side of it.”
Though the project coalesced in isolation, not all of the songs were written during the pandemic. “I wrote ‘What You Didn’t Say’ years ago,” Griffin admits. But during the chaotic interval of COVID, the song got considerably more complex. Her original concept back then was a simple guitar-and-voice arrangement; the finished recording features multi-tracked vocal harmonies and lovely violin accompaniment, as well.
And Before We Take Our Leave showcases Hope Griffin as an even stronger, more confident vocalist than before. The singer agrees, noting that she was “fresh out of classical-voice school” when she recorded “Fisherman’s Life” more than a decade ago. “Fast forward ten-plus years,” she says with a smile, “and I’ve found my own voice, my own style.”
Griffin’s stylistic range and versatility builds upon that formal training, adding in experience singing blues and ’80s rock, along with writing and performing her own material. On the occasions when she hears some of her early recordings, Griffin says it’s “like looking at old pictures of yourself and thinking, ‘That girl’s about to go through some [stuff].’”
But even her earliest songs still resonate with her. That’s likely because they were written in a heartfelt and emotionally honest manner. She says that when one writes a song that way, “You’re capturing yourself in a time capsule; that’s how you were then.”
The songs on Before We Take Our Leave variously employ cello or a full band. And the hypnotic, melancholy “Piece of the Pie” features a jazzy, soaring electric-guitar solo.
Griffin says the full-band approach happened naturally, thanks in part to requests from those who’ve seen her play live. At shows where she appears with her full band (featuring guitarist and frequent collaborator Eric Congdon), Griffin says she has often been approached by people asking, “Do you have anything I can buy that sounds like [what we’ve just heard]?” As refined and subtle as Before We Take Our Leave is, the EP is also a musical answer to that question.
And while Griffin remains a solo artist, at the same time she’s a band leader, one who cultivates the creative talents of her fellow musicians. “When I was writing ‘Nothing to Do Tonight But You,’ I had a vision of who was playing what,” she says. “When we got to the studio, it was like, ‘This is where Jack [Mascari] plays, and this is where Eric plays.” But she left much of the details to her bandmates. “That’s where they shine,” she says.
Hope Griffin performs solo on Saturday, July 2, 8pm at Oklawaha Brewing (147 1st Ave. East, Hendersonville); with Autumnwüd on Sunday, July 3, 2:30pm at St. Paul Mountain Vineyards (588 Chestnut Gap Road, Hendersonville); solo on Friday, July 8, 3pm at Burntshirt Vineyards (2695 Sugarloaf Road, Hendersonville); solo on Thursday, July 14, 5:30pm at “ArborEvenings” at the North Carolina Arboretum (100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville); with her trio on Sunday, July 17, 2pm at Mills River Brewing Co. (336 Banner Farm Road, Mills River); with her trio on Wednesday, July 20, 5pm at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (100 Sierra Nevada Way, Fletcher); and solo on Sunday, July 10 and Sunday, July 24, 3pm at Mountain Brook Vineyards (731 Phillips Dairy Road, Tryon). For more information, see hopegriffinmusic.com.