Singer-songwriter Patty Griffin moved to Austin, Texas, for love. She lost the love, but found a musical home.
Griffin, whose new CD is called Children Running Through, grew up in Maine — the youngest of seven children, all born within seven years. When she was about 12, she realized she liked to sing more than anything, and that she could get lost in music.
"I just started going into my room and literally going into my closet and singing into the clothes" so she wouldn't bother her family, she recalls.
When Griffin composes, she says the music and lyrics come at the same time.
"It's like sculpture and the rock: You have to chip away at it and not think too much and just keep going," she explains.
Griffin's songs are often shot through with a big streak of melancholy — so much so that a friend challenged her to write a "happier song." That challenge resulted in "Burgundy Shoes," a song on her new CD.
Griffin says she went back to a happy memory, and one of the first was waiting for the bus to the "big city" of her youth, Bangor, Maine.
"When you're little, everyone smiles at you because you're cute, so you think the world's great," she says. "Everything's so vivid. You're not clouded out by anxiety and you don't miss things.You see the sun, and you see your mom's lipstick and how beautiful she is."
Griffin's Longing Lyrics Match Heartbreaking Voice
Patty Griffin in NPR's Studio 4A.
While not a household name, Patty Griffin is a well-established songwriter in the music industry. Her material has been recorded and performed by more well-known peers, including Mary Chapin Carpenter, the Dixie Chicks and Bette Midler. Singers — and fans as well — are drawn to Griffin's intimate portraits of the lonesome and often bitter characters she's able to bring to life so completely.
But the best way to discover the true measure of Griffin's talent is to experience it straight from the source. As NPR's Steve Inskeep says, Griffin's songs perfectly fit her heartbreaking voice — they sound extremely personal when she herself sings them, conveying an overwhelming sense of longing.
Inskeep talks with Griffin in Studio 4A about her youth in Old Town, Maine, as the youngest of seven children and the inspiration provided by her mother, who would sing to her children throughout the rainy days. Griffin and her band also perform several songs from Impossible Dream, her latest CD.