With the title track of his critically acclaimed new album “Rising Star,” veteran singer-songwriter Griffin House shares a tale about an aspiring artist who opts to take his chances in Nashville, only to be kicked to the curb, literally punched in the face, ridiculed and rejected.
While House takes the tale to an extreme, it manages to echo both the dreams and disappointments that can accompany any individual pursuing a path to stardom.
Fortunately for House, he had no such trouble when it came to securing his own success. When he moved to Music City in 2003, all he had was a guitar and a few songs to kick-start a career. Nevertheless, he caught his big break early on after he was offered both a label and a management deal a few months after his arrival. His debut album, “Lost and Found,” reaped critical acclaim, and he soon found himself featured on “CBS Sunday Morning,” opening for the likes of John Mellencamp and The Cranberries, and rubbing elbows with artists such as Willie Nelson and Bruce Springsteen.
Clearly, House had found a home.
Now a headliner in his own right, a happily married man and a recovering alcoholic, it seems indeed that House’s house is in order. We caught up with him on a rare day off at home in Nashville, immersed in a new project he had been working on for some time.
“I’ve been trying to create a podcast and also figure out what angle to take,” he said by phone, sounding mildly distracted, but authentically amiable as well. “It’s kind of been on hold, but I think I’ve got it figured out. It should keep me busy for awhile.”
He said he’s also been involved in a new film that documents the 16 years he’s spent making his music professionally. Like his new album, it’s appropriately dubbed “Rising Star.”
“We joke in the film that it’s been a slow rise,” he said with a laugh. “My trajectory has been a slowly rising plateau. In the beginning, it felt like ‘Wow, this is going to blow up overnight,’ because I moved to town and had this beginner’s luck. I made a record and all of a sudden I was getting calls from major record labels right off the bat. I was opening for big stars and featured on ‘CBS Sunday Morning,’ and everybody around me was telling me I’m going to be the next big thing. It didn’t really turn out that way, but I’ve still had a career for awhile now.”
Nevertheless, House said that seven years ago, he made the decision to bow out of the business routine and do things his way.
“I got out of my management deal, I parted ways with my booking agency and for the most part became completely independent,” he said. “Now I kind of look at myself as a small traveling show and a nonstop little business. I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I just thought I was just getting into being a musician. None of it is financially motivated whatsoever. I just thought that if I could make it as a musician, it would make me happy. That’s why I did what I did.”
That said, early on House had other opportunities to consider as well. He was offered a golf scholarship to Ohio University, but instead chose to attend Miami University of Ohio, where he taught himself to play guitar and write songs. In retrospect, it’s a decision he said he doesn’t regret.
“I knew that I was fed up with golf because I had played it my whole life,” he said. “I figured that if I went away to college and played for the NCAA, they would own me for four years and I wouldn’t have the chance to find out if there was anything to me as a human being other than playing sports. It wasn’t until after I quit sports that I started making music.”
Not that he wasn’t interested in it early on. He said he grew up listening to his parent’s music at home, although the thing that really ignited his interest was getting involved in his high school drama department.
“I tried out for some plays and later I got cast in a musical,” he said “That’s where I discovered I could carry a tune. Then I saw the film ‘Rattle and Hum’ by U2. I noticed that when Bono was onstage, everybody seemed to really like him a lot. (He chuckles.) I had some desire to do what he was doing. It helped me dream pretty big and set the bar pretty high. To this day, even though I’ve had a career, it’s hard for me to think I’ve really made it. My younger 15 year-old self tells me I should have been Bono.”
Fortunately, he never lacks for inspiration.
“I just tapped into normal stuff that any kid growing up goes through, whether it’s girls, or just trying to make sense of everyday life,” House said. “I just wrote about going through those changes and whatever was going on inside me. I’ve never really changed what I write about. I just write about what I’m going through for the most part. As my life changes, my thoughts do, too. But it is a challenge. I wrote all the break-up songs I needed to write in my 20s, and now that I’ve been married 10 years, I don’t need to write any break-up songs anymore.”
He said his subjects these days tend to focus on life as a dad and staying sober.
“The important thing for me is to keep writing and not think about it too much,” he said. “I just open up a vein and see what comes out. I figure if I keep doing that, I’ll come up with something good.”