Scrapbook: Pillaging the Photo Albums of Bishop Briggs

Scrapbook: Pillaging the Photo Albums of Bishop Briggs

The LA singer responsible for "River" goes deep dives for this lengthy #tbt.
October 6, 2016, 1:50pm

Sarah Grace McLaughlin was born in London, moved with her family to Tokyo at the age of four, then relocated again to Hong Kong when she was 10. For the last five years, she's been honing her craft as a singer-songwriter in LA, and if you heard her speaking voice, you'd swear she'd been living there her whole life. But she chose Bishop Briggs as her recording name because her parents come from the small town of Bishopbriggs in Scotland, where her Granny Kaye and Auntie Emery still live, and Sarah spent many happy childhood summers. "It's a place that holds so many fond memories for me," she explains. "My family's relentless support has been incredibly important to me so it just felt right to acknowledge that somehow."

A candid and super-friendly mix of self-confidence and self-deprecation, Bishop says she "always had tunnel vision" about her music career and admits "there's never been a plan B for me." After paying her dues on the LA live scene, things are really starting to happen for 24-year-old Bishop: her remarkable single "River"—the video for which we premiered back in May—is an indie-blues stomp with a vocal so powerful it could clear your sinuses. It became a sleeper hit over the summer, when she even got to perform it on The Tonight Show. (Watch her perform "Wild Horses" on Seth Myers here.​) "It's a strength song," she says today. "This sounds kind of cheesy, but every time I sing it, I almost feel like I'm pulling the reins on a horse. The song is the horse, and I'm just trying to grab a hold so I can come along with it." Having recently supported Coldplay on the summer leg on their A Head Full of Dreams Tour, Bishop joins Icelandic band Kaleo for a more intimate show at Irving Plaza in NYC tonight. "I can never distance myself from the songs when I sing live," she confides. "If you come to my show, you'll see I'm near to tears after so many of them. But other songs make me feel very triumphant when I sing them because I remember how powerful I felt when I wrote them. My true self is always on stage. That's when I think my emotions come through the most." But as we find out, looking back at old photos with Bishop can make her kind of emotional too.

This was taken in Barking in east London, which is where I was born. My sister, Kate, is taking a Polaroid of me here and she's only wearing one shoe, so it's like, "Even when she's missing a shoe, the photographer always gets the shot!" I think Kate is three here and I'm one, but when we saw this picture again recently we both got a little teary-eyed because it still represents us now. Kate takes all of my photos, so this picture could almost have been taken yesterday.

This photo was also taken in Barking and in a way I think it expresses a lot of what I am today. Like, everyone has two sides to them. You have the side of you that you show in front of people, which is hopefully pretty light. And then there's the side of you that comes out when you're alone. I really like this picture because when I was young I got into this habit when a picture was taken of being, like, "Say cheese! Smile!" But this picture just shows me being myself. I'm not trying to be anything else or put on a smile.

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This photo shows exactly who I was as a kid when I used to sing "The Greatest Love of All" by Whitney Houston with no audience but relentless confidence! I guess my confidence came from the security of having a super-supportive family. My mom and dad always told me I was capable of doing anything I put my mind to. But in a way, I don't know that I had relentless confidence in myself so much as in the music. I grew up listening to whatever my parents were listening to: Motown, soul music, The Beatles, Coldplay, Barry White. It was just always there.

I've picked this photo because my dad is one of my biggest inspirations. He was the one who'd be singing Frank Sinatra at the karaoke bar and I saw the joy and the light that it brought him and that it also gave to others. From day one, he's been my biggest supporter - he actually flew from Hong Kong to London the other week to watch my show there, and as you can imagine there were a lot of tears when I saw him.

This was taken in Japan at some kind of World Fair Thing. I think I was probably seven or eight at the time. If you look closely, you can see I'm handing out sushi to the policemen, which gives you an idea of the little goodie two shoes that was in me! This picture makes me laugh because I had, like, no friends at the time, so clearly I'm seeking friendship in the Japanese policemen. I have no idea why I'm giving them free sushi, though - maybe it was for charity or something?

In this photo I'm holding a worm that I found in the garden and named Fred. It was taken at my Auntie Emery's house in Bishopbriggs in Scotland. Look at my sister's face here: she's very disgusted because I brought a worm in the house. Unfortunately Fred did die soon after and we had a burial in the back garden with a little cross in the ground and everything. We didn't really have pets growing up, actually. We had tadpoles but we released them into a pond and then found out it contained the wrong kind of water, and they passed instantly. So yeah, it was probably a good thing that we didn't have any other pets.

Oh my gosh! So this is when I was 13 and I would wear that shirt to school every single day with tight grey jeans and black Converse. I really got into eye makeup over that summer - I'd also put black eyeshadow over my cheekbones for a dramatic OG contour look. I guess this was during my MySpace and Xanga phase. Was Xanga only big in Asia though? It was kind of like Tumblr, I guess. At the time I was listening to Panic! At The Disco and My Chemical Romance and Ashlee Simpson—I even had her wristbands from Claire's! This photo is so great because although I was a cheery child, my true essence was always so dark, and you can really see it starting to come out here.

This was taken just a few years ago at a little rooftop in Hong Kong. I'd been living in LA for a while at this point, playing a show every couple of nights, and when I look at this photo, it makes me sad because I can see the sadness in my eyes. It's just so discouraging to keep on playing those shows without feeling like you're really getting anywhere. At the time, I was forcing myself to be relentlessly confident because with anything creative, you always have to convince everyone around you that you have something amazing coming up and it's all moving in the right direction. I remember when I put on that wig I said, "This is who I am if my mom wasn't as strict." My gay best friend picked it up for me for a New Year's party; New Year's is always such a fun party in Hong Kong.

This is me now: a lot less eye makeup, and happy! I love 90s style which you can see here, and I've really been getting into ath-leisure too. This picture was actually taken backstage when I was supporting Coldplay at the stadium in Dallas, which was the biggest show I played with them. I don't think I'll ever forget this moment because it was so surreal, but at the same time it was something I always dreamed would happen. I felt myself physically gulp when I first saw the stage and the set-up, but the goal is always the same for me: to connect with the audience, and just to be as authentic as I can be. So I just focus on what the songs mean to me and hope it goes well when I'm out there.

Catch Bishop Briggs on tour.

Nick Levine is a writer living in London. Follow him on Twitter.