March 21, 2013 by Jay Minkin
I have a confession … I’m a homer. I love my sports teams almost as much as I love the singer/songwriters that come from Ohio. A story on Griffin House back in 2008 during the Flying Upside Down tour took me behind the music and the life of the Springfield, Ohio native. A college degree from Miami of Ohio in 2002 in English Literature and Writing, his thoughts were to enroll in graduate school, but his poetry professor gave him the inspiration to channel his creativity toward being a songwriter rather than following in his footsteps. The passion and determination in House’s songs have since been filled with personal, richly detailed snapshots of his life and Flying Upside Down received my “Best Album of 2008” award. A lot has happened since for Griffin House including the highs and lows along the roller coaster of living life that all of us encounter. But as hope springs eternal, House has returned with a beautiful new record titled Balls that not only should please old fans and new … but the artist as well.
House was signed by Nettwerk America in 2004 and his label debut was the critically acclaimed Lost & Found. After the rousing success of Flying Upside Down with hit singles “One Thing”, “Live To Be Free”, “Waiting For The Rain to Come Down”, and “The Guy That Says Goodbye to You is Out of His Mind”, House was looking for a huge follow-up. “When I was in my early twenties and moved to Nashville, I had a taste of success very early on. And I think, like many people I liked the way it tasted and I become very hungry for more of it. The problem was that I was becoming more concerned with notoriety and success in the eyes of the music business and other people, and I felt very estranged from the genuine and naive (in a good way) artist that moved down to Nashville in his early twenties and was really only concerned with making music he loved. In a nutshell, as time went on, I felt myself worrying more and more about the business and less about the music. Looking back, I believe I was really getting off track.
House released The Learner in 2010 and had some radio success with songs “If You Want To”, “River City Lights”, and “Standing at the Station” that timelessly hold up against anything in his catalog. But maybe there was a tell-tale sign in the gaze of his eyes from the album’s cover photograph that revealed more. “The Learner turned out to be just that for me, a learner” explains House. “I hired a publicist and a big radio team and I finally decided to try to go for it with a single and the one we picked was “She Likes Girls.” And it totally tanked. At the time, I was very proud of the song and was trying to venture into new territory and see how close I could walk the “pop” or “mainstream” line and still be true to myself. But ultimately what I realized was going on with me was something much bigger. I was approaching 30 and I was feeling like I really needed to “make something happen.” Some fearful voice got in my head that I needed to make the Learner very successful or else I wasn’t ever going to accomplish the goals I set for myself when I first began music. So, I ended up making some choices for the wrong reasons. And the time period of making the Learner and touring the Learner and releasing “She Likes Girls” as the song that represents Griffin House in 2010 marks how lost I had become in my own eyes. However, it taught me something very valuable. And I do give myself credit for having the courage to put the music out there at the time, because at the time, it’s really what I believed in.”
Taking some time away for House from music after The Learner was the best prescription as he had recently married and became a Father. “The time in between The Learner and Balls was a time for me to really (for the first time) do some major work on my insides. I started to see that I was not very emotionally, mentally, spiritually or physically healthy. And I needed a massive overhaul. So I went to work on that. And the music became hardly important at all. If I didn’t truly know what was valuable to me anymore, I didn’t want to put music out there. I started the journey of finding out what was valuable. Turns out that I started to see that my mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health were a precursor to me being able to enjoy any level of worldly success I might ever achieve or not achieve. So, Balls marks the beginning of all of this for me.
Just as Ray Kinsella and Terrence Mann heard a spirit tell them to go the distance in Field of Dreams, Griffin House describes his own revelations about where his life has placed him and that a change needs to be made with the first song on the new record titled “Fenway”. This is followed by the toe-tapping “Vacation” and the deeply moving ballad “Go Through It” which continues House’s mental cleansing journey. The lead single is a jangly song “Guns, Bombs, and Fortunes of Gold” that tips a hat to the spirit of Bob Marley and Gandhi. Two storytellers are a murder ballad about the “Woman With The Beautiful Hair” and another song about a man infatuated with his love for “Colleen” that will surely get a concert crowd singing along. The album’s ninth and final track is a gorgeous song that the troubadour signs off with as he chooses a path at the crossroads called “The Passage” that was written for his beloved Grandfather’s eulogy.
Produced by guitarist House and multi-instrumentalist Nick Trevisick, other musicians lending a hand on the project include Gary Burnette (guitar/dobro), Justin Loucks (percussion), Spencer Cullum (pedal steel), Tommy Hans and Jeff Irwin (bass) along with Jake Widenhofer (electric guitar). The now indie artist House, whose nickname coincides with the album title, received help from his longtime and cherished fan base through a Kickstarter campaign to fund the new record project. “Kickstarter was a huge help in taking the pressure off of me and giving me a budget to work with. I wasn’t having much luck with recording for a couple years, and that was something unusual for me, because my first few records seemed so easy and fun to record. Most people don’t realize that Kickstarter is also a lot of work. They just think it’s an artist asking their fans for free money, but that’s not the case. My management team and I spent a lot of time getting the rewards together for folks who contributed to the making of the album and I still have work to do with concerts to play to fulfill the rewards for people who pledged money for the campaign. But it has been totally worth it and very cool to feel supported by my fans in such a huge way.”
So as the seasons change, Griffin House is back and in full stride with a wonderful new album that represents the artist and the man behind his music. Hopefully, you too will feel that Balls clears the fences and that the batter got his pitch and truly crushes one over that dreaded green monster. Click onto www.griffinhousemusic.com for his updated home and away tour dates.