By Kenny Berkowitz
Last year, Patty Griffin returned to the studio with Craig Ross, who’d produced her 2013 album American Kid (New West). The result is a new album that sounds worlds away from its predecessor: bluesy instead of lyrical, dark instead of elegiac. Played almost entirely in DADDAD, Servant of Love (Thirty Tigers) is as fine as anything she’s ever recorded, with its open tuning giving the music a new, deeper sense of despair in songs about love, nature, and a galaxy hurtling through space at thousands of miles an hour. I caught up with Griffin by phone as she was heading out on tour.
What makes these songs different?
I’m older. I’m not trying to be flippant, but I’m older. I’m in a different place, and the world is different. Feels different, looks different. And some of the things I hoped would look different don’t. That’s where I start writing.
Why is important that you take on the world’s woes?
It is the work of an artist. We’re not Doctors Without Borders, we’re not out there getting shot at. We’re just making music. But we should be contributing to the future somehow, trying to make a dent in somebody’s heart, an emotional mark that adds something good to the world.
Why did you decide to use DADDAD?
I didn’t decide, it was just what I wanted to do. I was very worried that all the songs were going to sound alike, because I kept wanting to write in DADDAD. But I realized they would feel like little vignettes that were all related to each other, and listening back, that isn’t too far off.
What were the songs like when you brought them into the studio?
Just a bunch of voice memo recordings on my iPhone. For the last 13 years, before I went into the studio, I had everything sewn up, and with this record, I didn’t want to even try to nail those things down. Everything felt very fluid, and now that I’m getting ready to tour, they still feel really different from one time to the next, which is nice. You can’t nail them down—well, maybe you can, but I can’t, and I’ve been at it for a while.
What do the songs have in common?
It feels more like a worldview than other records I’ve done. I feel our species may be running out of time, and maybe that’s part of our natural process, but I feel as though we do this to ourselves, that we can’t evolve away from our self-destructiveness and the destructiveness of just about everything on the planet. It’s a heavy, heavy time to be alive, and it’s definitely affected my writing.
How do you know if you’re denting people’s hearts?
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But you keep writing anyway?
It’s what I do. It’s not the most important job in the world, but it’s the one I have. It’s the one I know how to do.
Is it a hard job?
It’s hard being human. It’s hard to be a human who’s trying to face life truthfully.