Photo: Luca Venter

Following the Sound that Won’t Echo then Die




Griffith James has lived many lives for a 27-year-old: they grew up in a cult wrestling teachings of a militant Christian movement, moved 17 times by the time they were 18, were married and have since been divorced from an open marriage, and that’s only skimming the surface. All of these emotions come to a head in their debut album Comfortably High, released September 17th.

The whole tale of how Comfortably High came to be is quite serendipitous. Seeking a drummer to hop on some songs, Griffith sent demos of “Comfortably High” and “Any Day” to their now-manager David Barnes in the early months of 2020. Around the same time, the famed indie pop duo Tennis’s 2020 tour was cancelled due to the novel coronavirus, leaving it’s members Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley with plenty of free time and an urge to find a new project. Barnes sent Griffith’s demos to the duo and Alaina and Patrick were immediately taken by the two tracks. By the odd graces of pandemic-fuelled divine timing, Griffith began recording with Alaina and Patrick and eight gloriously poignant songs became Griffith’s debut album.

Griffith describes their sound as “sacrilegiously delicious” and they’re pretty spot on. After a couple of listens to the album, the dreamy melodies and catchy lyrics set up shop in my auditory cortex and I have no plans to evict them. The joy of hearing the album over and over is finding new facets of each song, new shades of emotional intelligence in the lyrics I may have missed on the first go-around. Griffith’s storytelling is unique, moving from the bouncy single “Comfortably High”—written after they met their current partner—to the sultry yet devastating “Bloodletter,” a product of their self described “hot, toxic relationship” with their ex-spouse. Alaina Moore joins Griffith on vocals for the somber “Market and Black,” a gorgeous ballad that urges its listeners to go inward to find their truth, to “seek all the winters deep in your thorns.” The easy listening “Sunbather,” the swaying, tropical “Islands 666,” and groovy “Obscene Boy” round out the album by featuring more of Griffith’s musical range while maintaining the same caliber of captivating lyrics. I especially enjoy the music video for “Comfortably High” (directed by Charlotte Ercoli), which showcases Griffith as “Griffy,” a character who has a clear issue with partying and drug use but thinks the world of themselves, and is occasionally flanked by supporters wearing “I heart Griffy” shirts. The music video gives off the energy of a Hal Ashby film: a dark comedy that ends with a question mark: will this character change? What happens next? Much like Griffith’s music, the viewer isn’t left with a comfortable conclusion at the end of the video, but rather the ongoing witnessing of human emotion: the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

Comfortably High dives into vignettes of Griffith’s past, both painful and beautiful, to create this musical quilt of memories. “In order to move forward as an artist, I need to pull all the different pieces back together under the same roof and sit them down like family therapy, like, ‘It’s time to talk everyone!’” they remark over our Google Meet call. In gathering all of these stories and processing the wild ride of their life thus far, you can imagine it’s a boisterous meeting of the minds. Griffith shares, “For so long, discussing religion was such a trigger for me and now I’ve made a song discussing Jesus.” Griffith, of course, is referring to the bass heavy, devilish single “Jesus Honey.” For Griffith, the mere act of writing the comical lyric “Sex money and Jesus honey” shows that they have reached the other side, a more accepting and even playful side, of their healing. This album is their come to Jesus, their cathartic musical reckoning and peacemaking of who they are: “The alchemy of this record was pulling in all these pieces of me and realizing it’s enough, I don’t need to be more than I am.”

Photo: Luca Venter
Photo: Luca Venter

There is such conviction in all of Griffith’s songs because they know themselves—there isn’t any fear in trying to protect their stories anymore. With the intimate subject matter of the album, there is a risk of sounding too cringy or “too much,” but there is a deep beauty in Griffith’s lyrics, knowing they are grounded in truth. Coupled with Alaina and Pat’s deft production, the album is an opening of the heart and an acceptance of who Griffith is: someone who has lived through their worst days and instead of denying them, accepts them as part of the fabric of their life. “We’ve heard ‘just be yourself’ our whole lives and it’s incredibly hard to just do that,” Griffith muses. “I played a show recently to promote the album release, a little house show with 40 people, and it was the easiest thing I’ve ever done. I felt like I had a Lazy Boy on the stage and I went up and sat on it and that was the show. I stepped into what was the most inherent thing and I felt like it was the best show I ever played.” As Griffith sings in “Market and Black,” “Please be yourself / follow the sound that won't echo then die.” It is not about where they’ve been, but rather the emotions they still carry that they were afraid to face before.

After discussing Kim Kardashian, Greek mythology, psychedelics trips, and everything in between, Griffith shared a telling story about a russet potato that I feel is a major selling point in their creative process: 

“I worked at this restaurant, the best restaurant in LA I think, and we had this potato dish, it was just a russet potato and it was so fucking divine. It was the best potato I’ve ever had in my life. People would ask me about the dish and it’s so fucking simple. We just quartered it, drizzled olive oil and thyme on it and baked it. You don't have to change the potato to make it amazing, in fact you just elevate what it already is and bring out what is already there. People overlook a russet potato: we cover it in toppings and cheese and shit but at the core, a russet fucking potato is immaculate. I realized the approach of this record is I need to bring out the thing that’s inherent and that’s going to be enough. This whole album is that potato!”

I’ve never met a person who hates potatoes and I firmly believe that anyone who says they do is a liar. Judge me all you want, but like this famous russet potato dish, Griffith's album is well worth the decade-long incubation period it demanded.

Griffith wrote the tender Beach Boys-esque ballad “Any Day” around 10 years ago, and Comfortably High began as an effort to find a home for the song. Finding a home for a song turned into finding a home for themselves, a rite of passage they consider necessary for their next project. When I asked Griffith about what’s next, they gave an all-knowing Cheshire Cat smile and said, “I’m already working on the next album and I know exactly what I want to say.”

While you wait with baited breath, you can listen to Comfortably High on all streaming platforms and watch the videos for “Market and Black” and “Comfortably High” on their Youtube channel.