Griffin House: From Golf to Guitar
Griffin House went from playing golf to playing guitar, and the rest is history. His songs are heard all over satellite radio (a week doesn’t go by that I don’t hear “The Guy Who Says Goodbye to You is Out of His Mind” on XM Radio) and he tours extensively, playing at some of the most well-known clubs in the country. House calls Nashville home and is widely respected among his music peers. His fans are dedicated and hardcore — it says a lot when fans will travel quite a distance to see him perform. He touches deeply and makes an indelible impression on listeners’ hearts.
Kathy Sands-Boehmer: I understand that you recently released an EP that you recorded live in a prison. Tell us about that experience. Did you do any Johnny Cash covers?
I was invited by my friend/former roommate Jordan Lawhead, who heads up an organization called YouInspire, to sing at the prison. I actually did not want to do it because I thought it would be nothing like Johnny Cash Live at Folsom or San Quentin. I thought, “times have changed, and whatever genre of music these guys like, it’s probably not me, not to mention the fact that when Johnny Cash arrived in prison, a lot of people knew who he was, and probably no one there will know my music.”
I decided to take a chance though, as a service to Jordan, and to have the experience just to take a chance and see what it was like. I thought, if nothing else, I’ll get heckled and it will make me a stronger performer in the long run. I was pleasantly surprised. The prisoners were hooping and hollering and singing along and clapping, they make me feel totally welcome. I was overwhelmed by the energy in the room, and I’m so glad we got it on recording, the best part is just hearing them make a lot of noise and sing along.
Have you done much co-writing? I’m always curious about how two people who don’t necessarily know each other very well can get together and come up with songs. Do you go to the meeting prepared? Do you have a topic in mind? Do you both sit with instruments and throw ideas back and forth? How does it all come together?
All of the above. I haven’t done a lot of co-writing. Just with Dan, and Jeff Trott and a couple friends in Nashville. Most of my music has come out of me just sitting alone with a pen and paper and guitar and a recorder.
When sitting with someone else, usually someone has a little nugget of an idea and we’ll go from there. On one song Dan and I did “If You Want To,” he had the chorus and I just started making up some verses as we sat together, and then we put it all together.
Another time, on a song called “Lonely One,” I had almost the whole song except the chorus and then Jeff started singing “I’m the lonely one” over some chord changes and all of a sudden, he had a beautiful chorus to pop in there.
I wish I was more of a chorus guy, but I seem to be more of a verse guy by nature. My most popular songs barely even have a chorus, more like tag lines. But some of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash’s best songs have no chorus either. I just happened to write a lot of those type of songs. Coming more from a poetry background instead of a musical one, I guess the verses just come more naturally. I’m a sucker for a great pop song though too, so I really strive to make that a huge part of what I do.
Being a part of the Jackson Browne tribute was really special.
I was invited by Kelcy Warren, who put the project together with his record label Music Road out of Austin.
The song was very special to me, because my uncle (my dad’s youngest brother, who I was very close with) introduced me to most of Jackson Browne’s music. He would play “Barricades” over and over and over in his car as we drove around Cincinnati together. And he made it clear how much he related to and loved the song.
So, 12 years or so later, to be invited not only to be a part of the Jackson Browne tribute record, but to be invited to sing that song in particular, felt very serendipitous and synchronistic.
The recording process was really meaningful and felt very connected, and it’s just a thrill and honor to be a part of such a great tribute album.
Are there any other artists who you cover during your shows?
I’ve done Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” I’ve done some Johnny Cash songs, and done some bits and pieces of the Rolling Stones. Sometimes we’ll do more of a bar gig where we play longer and then we’ll throw in a few more covers. But the majority of my shows are cover-free.
Do you keep up with new and emerging artists? If so, have you heard anyone who has impressed you lately?
I usually am more aware of new and emerging artists, however now that I’m a dad (I have a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old) and a husband, I can barely find time to write half of a song. So, music and free time is very limited right now. I’m still not great at time management.
I heard John Legend (who I coincidentally went to high school with) and Pink [do a] cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” last night in the car and it completely moved me. They obviously aren’t emerging, but they are at least close to my age.
Since the music business has changed so much over the course of the last several years, have you discovered that your fans are finding your music in a variety of different ways? Do you see any trends about how they find you (via streaming music, TV, or other media)?
Yes, I think a lot of people hear my music on Sirius/XM radio, so I am so grateful that they play my music on their Coffeehouse station and the Loft. I have heard that I often pop up on other folks Pandora’s stations like “Bon Iver” “Mumford and Sons,” “Ray Lamontagne,” etc. So, I think a lot of people seem to be hearing me that way… I’ve had quite a few film/TV placements too, so I think some folks have been introduced to my songs that way.
We hear that you got cited as being one of Top 100 Musician Golfers in Golf Digest magazine. How often are you able to get out on the course? Do you ever get a chance to play while on tour?
I don’t get to play much. I have some nice spots around the country that I visit and revisit, and hit a bucket of balls. I don’t get a chance to play all that much. I hardly ever play when I’m home because it takes too much time and I’d rather be with my family.
But, when I’m on the road, I’ve been treated to some very nice places like Olympic Club, Waverley in Portland, Winged Foot. I will take those opportunities to play 9 or 18 anytime I have time on the road, even if it’s the local $8 municipal course. I don’t care what the course is, I just love to play.
Were there any surprising musicians on that list — someone who you would never have expected to be a golfer?
Not really. Almost every musician I know plays golf. Some are more open about it than others. I think there used to be more of a stigma that it was un-rock-and-roll to play golf, or somehow it diluted one’s credibility as an artist to be associated with a sport that’s often stereotyped as being only for the rich.
It’s simply not true. Blue collar golf is everywhere, and it’s just as fun and the golfers are just as good if not better than the ones at the fancy spots. I love the $8-for-9-hole municipal courses, I love the country “goat-runs” and man I love the fancy spots too!