Audiences were introduced to Patty Griffin’s intimate songwriting and compelling voice in 1996 with the release of her debut album, Living with Ghosts, a raw acoustic record that remains her best-selling to date. It was the beginning of an illustrious career that has seen Griffin collaborate with such musical icons as Emmylou Harris, Robert Plant, and the Dixie Chicks. She’s also garnered accolades in the music industry that include a Grammy Award and an Artist of the Year title from the Americana Music Association.
In 2013, Griffin released two records — American Kid and Silver Bell. While Kid comprises all new material, Silver Bell was originally recorded in 2000 as a follow-up to Flaming Red (1998) but was shelved due to record company red tape. Legendary producer Glyn Johns remixed Silver, stripping away some of that era’s musical context to great effect. I recently spoke to Griffin by phone from Waco, Texas, where she was kicking off the tour that will bring her to Santa Barbara on November 2.
The material on Silver Bell is more than a decade old. Is it odd to have work you did 13 years ago just being released? Well, it’s not exactly new to a lot of people, because somebody had [put a pretty good] bootlegged version of it out there, so a lot of people already have it. Some things are rerecorded, some things are covered by people — a lot of it has made its way around. But some of it I’d forgotten about, and that was kind of nice. I didn’t really want to go back and listen to it. Once I’m done, I kind of move on, but it was Glyn Johns’s mix, and I think he did a really great job sort of peeling back the ’90s and finding a lot of beauty in it. It forced me to listen to the music, which I hadn’t listened to in a long time, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. [Laughs.]
American Kid seems like a very personal album. Well, in a way it’s all kind of fiction because you’re making up stories, but hopefully the emotional stuff is true. A lot of it was written around my father passing away. … He was a major portion of my life and still is.
I think American Kid is one of your best albums. Did you feel like you nailed it with this one? I don’t trust it when people think they’ve nailed it. [Laughs.] I never feel like I’ve nailed it. I think it’s good enough. I think it’s got a lot of heartfelt, much-labored, much-loved-over pieces of music on it. … I’m not ashamed of it at all.
Has your songwriting process changed throughout the years? You know, what I find discombobulating is that writing is just as hard as it’s ever been. It’s hard work. [Laughs.] And it’s very time-consuming, and it’s a lot of your life energy that goes into that. The older I get, [songs] feel like a bigger undertaking, but they also seem an important way for me to sort out the truth from untruths in my own life, so that’s not a bad thing.
The end results seem effortless. I think also for a lot of writers they have a thing they do — like they have to take a nap at 2 p.m. and work in this room with this typewriter. I don’t have anything like that. However it works, writing is a moving target for me. That being said, we will be in the studio in January to start [a new project].
UCSB Arts & Lectures presents Patty Griffin with special guest John Fullbright at Campbell Hall on Sunday, November 2, at 7 p.m. Call (805) 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu for tickets and info.