Griff: Higher And Higher

Catapulted into the spotlight with a BRITs win aged 20, Griff has spent the last few years ticking off bucket list achievement after bucket list achievement. Now, she’s finally launching debut album ‘Vertigo’, and for the singer-producer, the only way is up.

Griff talks her awaited debut album 'Vertigo' for DIY's In Deep digital cover

For Griff, Summer 2024 is turning out to be a season of childhood dreams coming true. This Saturday, the Hertfordshire-born musician and producer – real name Sarah Griffiths – will open for her longtime musical hero, Taylor Swift, as part of the superstar’s Wembley Stadium Eras Tour run. “At this point, I feel fairly chilled about it,” she says calmly from her home two weeks before. “But it’s gonna be over in a heartbeat, so I just want to enjoy it.”

As big of a deal as the show may be, the 23-year-old has been here before. After a breakthrough in 2020 that snowballed into a BRITs Rising Star win in 2021, Griff became the support act du jour for some of pop’s biggest names. In the span of six months, she opened for Dua Lipa, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay, joining the latter at their own Wembley shows in 2022. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m gonna be shitting my pants on the day, and the nerves never go, but it’s definitely a nice reassurance to know that I’ve done Wembley with Coldplay,” she says. “I think I may be more excited because I know Swifties are just a good vibe. I feel like I’m performing to my own community, almost.” 

Just under a month after her Eras performance, another monumental moment will arrive for Griff: the release of her debut album, ‘Vertigo’. The record has been a long time coming – five years since her debut EP, ‘Mirror Talk’ – but is well worth the wait; a collection that highlights Griff’s knack for seemingly effortless pop hooks, lyrics that can make you laugh and cry, and songs that command you to take yourself to the middle of the dancefloor, no matter how heavy your heart. 

Despite how accomplished and cohesive ‘Vertigo’ sounds now, writing it didn’t come easy for its creator. “A lot of the songs I was signed [to label Warner Music] off of were just songs I wrote without thinking about whether they were going to come out in the world,” Griff explains. “Then the mixtape [2021’s ‘One Foot In Front Of The Other’] was written during COVID, so [the album] was like the first real time I had to write, and I knew that there was an expectation for it almost.” 

Usually, the studio is where Griff feels most at home. “It’s almost like time doesn’t exist when you’re in the studio – you get so hyper-focused on building a song and writing a world that everything else disappears,” she says. But her concerns about making an album made the idea of stepping into a professional recording space feel like the opposite of that “exciting playground”. And so, instead, she got creative and went on a series of trips to AirBnBs around the country: “I just took myself away and told no one to talk to me, and I converted the living rooms and kitchens into studios.”

A breakthrough came with ‘Vertigo’’s title track - a glittering, gasping rush of pop brilliance that captures the dizzying feeling of everything around you spinning out of control. The musician wrote it while staying at Imogen Heap’s house, at a time when the pandemic was finally subsiding and the reality of everything that had been building up around her was starting to hit. “I just felt a little bit out of my body in that sense, and I couldn’t really write,” she says - a disorientating feeling for someone who usually exercises those creative muscles daily. “It was like, ‘Woah, I don’t really know what people want from me and what I’m supposed to be doing’.” However, once she tapped into what she was feeling, the lyrics began “pouring out”.

That song set the path for the rest of the album, which continues the story of Griff from ‘One Foot In Front Of The Other’. If that mixtape was about getting back up after losing your balance, then this record finds her learning how to stay upright and steady in the eye of the storm. The raw, sparse ‘So Fast’ asks someone to stay by her side as a companion through the chaos, and the Mura Masa-produced ‘Cycles’ skips into more electronic territory as it begins to embrace the spiralling. ‘Tears For Fun’, meanwhile, continues to revel in the drama, twisting periods of gut-wrenching heartbreak into crisp, chest-thumping euphoria.

Griff talks her awaited debut album 'Vertigo' for DIY's In Deep digital cover Griff talks her awaited debut album 'Vertigo' for DIY's In Deep digital cover
“There’s such a sense of optimism and beauty at the beginning of a journey. I’m a cynical old hag now!”

Although she points out she’s no “child star”, there are times when she compares herself to her friends and can see experiences that she hasn’t had, like going to uni. “I don’t know if I ever think of it like I really missed out or feel like I didn’t do anything I really wanted to,” she assesses. “But I definitely am aware that the last few years haven’t been maybe a conventional few years for someone at this stage of life.” 

The Griff of a few years ago, she says, is someone she could learn a few things from now. “I had more self-assurance about myself back then," she says, noting that she’s had to “fall in love” with a lot of the job again recently. “There was such a sense of optimism and beauty about maybe being naïve at the beginning of a journey. I’m a cynical old hag now!” she chuckles. “In many ways, [the Griff of before and myself are] probably very similar people, but I think, at the start, your eagerness for the world is maybe a bit stronger.” 

Making sure she’s still able to love what she does means not letting herself get too consumed by the industry. “I actually don’t really have any friends in music," she begins, quickly catching herself and backtracking. “Oh, that’s a lie! My friends in music are gonna read this now… I’ve got a couple of people I’d consider friends, but outside of that, I don’t really. I think that helps you put everything into perspective.” 

Given she doesn’t technically use her real name, just a contraction of her surname, as her musical moniker, you might think there is at least some separation between Sarah, the 23-year-old who loves making her own clothes and is currently figuring out the responsibilities that come with living on your own for the first time, and Griff, the rising star who’s won the love and attention of peers, fans and critics alike. “I think that would send me insane,” Griff cackles at the suggestion. “There’s something so overinflated about being like, ‘Right, now I’m a pop star!’. I almost try to do the opposite, so that it just feels like maybe I’m the same person across the board.” 

She concedes there are some slight differences between what the world sees on stage and on magazine pages, versus who she is at home. “I can explore things and be more expressive than I would in my normal day-to-day. I can wear more fun, expressive stuff. I can do crazy things with music and the way I look. It’s just a bit of an elevated expression of me.” 

“[Female producers] get the same stereotypes and probably have the same misogynistic stories. It’s almost like trauma bonding.”

“The first 10 minutes was awful,” she recalls, face haunted by the memory. “I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, my whole body cramping up. By the second song, he was even like, ‘You have to chill out a little bit…’” During the listening session, Griff played the frontman 30 songs. “I didn’t intend to! I think he could see my screen – I had a Dropbox folder open, and I was skipping past songs because I didn’t want to take up too much of his evening. So I thought, ‘Five songs and we can head out, it’s not a big deal’. But he would take over my mouse and be like, ‘What’s that one?’ It was a lot, but it was really amazing. He really helped shake up and break that wall of anxiety when it comes to showing my music.” 

As they were listening, Martin kept returning to ‘Astronaut’ - now a piano-led, sharp-tongued gem. When Griff played it to him, though, it lived “in the same world as ‘Vertigo’ and [‘One Foot In Front Of The Other’’s] ‘Shade Of Yellow’”. “Because I’d had it for so long, I just kept adding to it, so it was chaotic – there was a lot going on.” The Coldplay singer’s advice was to strip it all back to what it is now; a fresh perspective that Griff needed at the time. 

Martin’s input aside, ‘Vertigo’ was largely made with a small, tight-knit group of collaborators, including producers Congee, Lost Boy and Siba. Keeping the list of production personnel short was something she had to fight for. “I think people liked the idea that I was this producer girl, but when it comes down to it, people [in the industry] panic and go, ‘Just go in with this person because they’ve written this’,” she says. “It’s almost like an insurance policy – if the project flops, at least it was made with the big hitmaker.” 

Griff, as she hints, is an accomplished producer in her own right, having taught herself how to use Logic when she was first making her own music. Although being the artist and a producer has allowed her to be taken more seriously by those she’s worked with, she says she’s still felt disregarded a little along the way. “If I want to take the stems home at the end of the day to work on, there isn’t a lean into that [from the other producers],” she says. “Or even just producers being shocked that I’m the one who produced something.” 

It’s rare that she gets to work with female producers or engineers in the studio, but when she does get the opportunity, the energy changes. “We’re so used to working with blokes that it takes a second to gearshift, but there’s almost a sense of relaxedness and not having to prove yourself. There’s just an unspoken understanding of, ‘Everyone here is girls in the industry; we get the same stereotypes and probably have the same misogynistic stories’. It’s almost like trauma bonding.” 

She hopes that more women will understand that being in these positions in the studio isn’t “this crazy, unattainable thing”. “Working Logic is just like figuring out Photoshop,” she suggests, adding that there is a responsibility on the industry to change its thinking when it comes to women. “You’re pushed into being an artist more because there’s something to be sold there – female talent is more of a product, and there’s not the grace for it to grow and develop. So I think it’s down to gatekeepers, A&Rs and label heads to actually think about what they’re investing in when they’re signing someone.” 

When she first broke through, Griff often spoke about a time when she never thought she’d be the pop star in the spotlight but a songwriter behind the scenes. As she stands on the cusp of her debut album, she says she’s still getting used to many aspects of the job. “It depends what day you ask me,” she laughs. “It will never feel normal pursuing a career as an artist, but it’s amazing and super fun. I really love being in the studio and writing songs, but everything outside of it feels really terrifying.” 

As she pushes through the fear, she has some simple aims to make all the scary bits worth it. “I just want to be an artist that people connect with and feel like, when they listen to this album over the years, that they’ve grown through its different phases and connected to all of the songs,” she says. “And then for me to eventually write huge classic songs that move people!” 

‘Vertigo’ is out 19th July via Warner Music.

Tags: Griff, Features, In Deep