The Anti-Diva: Bishop Briggs stays down to Earth even as her career skyrockets

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A typical tour day in the life of Bishop Briggs always starts with coffee.

“Basically, my sister and one of my best friends, who happens to be a photographer, we sit in the front end and have coffee and we talk about the world on the bus,” Briggs says over the phone from Asbury Park, New Jersey, hours before taking the stage on the fifth stop of a 35-date summer tour in support of her new blues-pop album, Church of Scars, released in April on Republic Records.

After coffee on the bus, Briggs says, they “wander around a little bit” to “hopefully find a really cute coffee shop to drink more coffee.” Then she’s off to do a sound check at whatever venue she’s performing in, have a pre-show meet and greet with fans, and oh yeah – “there’s some food sprinkled in” her day, “and then the show.”

And what a show it is. Anyone who has seen the 26-year-old singer-songwriter perform live can attest to her energy and stage presence. Though she stands around 5-foot-2 and probably weighs in at 110 pounds soaking wet, Briggs has the command of a Viking Opera singer. Her set at the Innings Festival at Tempe Beach Park in March left quite an impression on onlookers, one of whom described Briggs as having the vocals of an R&B chanteuse or gospel singer and the energy of a punk rocker.

What Briggs does not have – at least when it comes to her feelings about performing – is a nonchalant attitude. Nor does she have a single iota of rock star ego or a hair of party animal aspirations. Regarding her regular pre-show meet and greets with fans, she says, “It’s just such a different way to connect with the people that are the reason that I even get to tour, and I get to hear what’s been happening in their lives and I have the honor of hearing what some of my songs mean to them, and then at the end of it we get a photo together, which is so great.”

She has a strict regimen for maintaining her vocal prowess. “I warm up for an hour before the show. I drink a lot of Throat Coat tea. I don’t go to loud bars or anywhere where I would be potentially threatening my voice,” Briggs says. “So it is definitely a full-time job and I do take it very seriously.”

Born Sarah McLaughlin in England to parents from Bishopbriggs, Scotland (which inspired her stage name), Briggs grew up in Asia – first in Tokyo, then Hong Kong – where she started singing karaoke at age 4. It was a family pastime. “It was kind of the thing to do,” says Briggs, who has lived in Los Angeles for the past several years. “My whole family went (to karaoke clubs) and we sang all the time, really every weekend and every couple of days,” she says.

What were some of her favorite karaoke songs?

“Well, it was the ’90s, so there was a lot of Backstreet Boys. There was a lot of Britney Spears,” she says. “But I loved Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ My go-to was ‘The Greatest Love of All’ by Whitney Houston.”

Of course she’s humble about the fact that her two favorite karaoke tunes are among the most vocally challenging songs to sing. “I didn’t do it justice,” she says. “I did a terrible job. I do a very bad rendition.”

In addition to karaoke, Briggs’ childhood was filled with household music. “I was obsessed with Motown music and I was really lucky that my parents would play it in the living room growing up,” she says. “And so it was a lot of Aretha Franklin, Etta James — just these iconic female vocalists.”

Briggs channels such icons in her songs, including “Wild Horses” and “River” from her eponymous 2016 debut album, both of which landed in the top 30 on Billboard charts. She says her songwriting process “generally starts pretty dark, whether it’s dark chords or dark poetry,” and much of the mood throughout Church of Scars is heavy, even with the glut of soulful gospel-choir backing vocals and danceable, dubstep-like beats. But the unifying factor among the songs on the album, Briggs says, is a life lesson.

“The biggest lesson that I learned during the making of this album is that if any aspect of your life is a lie, you can’t truly be happy,” she says. “And I feel like that’s something that seems so simple, but I really learned that through the process of making this album, that you have to truly be authentic in and out and in every aspect of your life. That’s really the only way to get close to any sort of happiness.”

Though she’s only one year into her late twenties, Briggs has been making music her entire life and says she never saw herself doing anything else. For her, music is a way to not only connect with others, but also to connect more deeply with herself. “I am learning so much about myself and really feeling as though I’m fulfilling my sole purpose,” Briggs says. “I really hope I can help others feel less alone just by writing and I hope that I can start conversations about important issues. It really is so much bigger than me.”

Bishop Briggs w/ Joywave, The Van Buren, 401 W. Van Buren Street, Phoenix, 480.659.1641, thevanburenphx.com, 8 p.m. Sunday, September 9, $24-$74.

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