“Fair warning: I have pink hair,” says Bishop Briggs—real name Sarah Grace McLaughlin—as she turns on video for our Zoom call, as if chatting with a person rocking a cotton candy wig in the middle of quarantine could be anything other than a delight. Even through Zoom, McLaughlin’s energy is as infectious as her music: from her breakout hit “River” to her recent guest spot on the Moby Rich song “friends*,” the singer has a characteristically throaty lilt that can wring a soulful quality out of any heavy beat. In conversation, though, there’s not a hint of the dark gravity that pervades her music. Instead, she’s open and excitable, eager to chat about the civil rights movement and the intense spurt of creativity she’s been experiencing in lockdown. Read on to get the official Bishop Briggs breakdown on engineering her own sound in isolation, becoming a plant parent, and matching her skincare products to her hair.
I love the pink!
Do you? Thanks! I’ve been kind of in the awkward phase of hair and I was over it. [LAUGHS] When people talk about the awkward phase of growing out their hair, I feel like it either goes to the side or whatever, but mine’s just sticking up to the ceiling. I thought I was confident until I experienced that awkward phase. I was like, “Oh, I have no confidence.” So this is a wig from Halloween, and I’ve just tried to embrace it.
What has your day-to-day been like since the start of the pandemic?
I think there have been so many different phases of quarantine. One of the phases that I had was full of deep moments with myself where I was like, “Who am I really?” And then I went to this really artistic phase where I was drawing, and I was like, Maybe I’m gonna be a doodle artist on the side. And then my favorite phase, which has been the most consistent, has just been recording and writing. I’ve had to build a new skillset in this time with recording myself and trying to make it a little more elevated than just a standard recording, because I still want to write and create things I’m proud of, and these are still things that make me feel really fulfilled. Generally, when I’m feeling lost and unsettled, I can turn to writing, so I have tried to keep that consistent.
With regards to altering your skillset, what has that looked like for you?
Well, it’s basically putting on the engineer or producing hat. In my normal day-to-day, I work with a producer or engineer, and I kind of get to only be creative. But I think part of being a musician is always being the student and always learning, so I really had to dive into that aspect. This time frame has really brought to light how much I want to be able to have these skills, so that I can take them on the road and record and send demos and write while I’m out there.
It’s a nice feeling to be self-sufficient, also.
Yes! I definitely felt really empowered. And then when I was on, like, hour 11 and it was 4 in the morning, I realized it could be very addictive too. When you’re learning something new, it’s really exciting.
What other hobbies are you picking up?
Oh, okay, I’m a new plant mom. And when the plant is happy, I’m happy. When the plant is distressed or needing some extra care, I feel a lot of guilt—I feel mom guilt. [LAUGHS] What I’ve been trying to get into is noticing how your space affects your energy, and I’ve been noticing a total shift in having plants. I don’t know if this is an L.A. thing—like, along with the crystals, it’s plants.
I feel like it has to be at least a little bit.
I think so, too. Especially the way I’m describing it, it’s like I’m about to start talking about auras. It’s definitely been a lovely little adventure.
How is your mental health these days? What are you doing to take care of yourself mentally?
Something that has been very grounding is to put things into perspective. I think about the people that are all so stressed right now—the people that are still having to work, the people with kids, people that are still having to work and with kids—and I think that if they were me, they would be taking a breath and not stressing. That’s been really helpful, just to have empathy for what other people are going through and to know that the world doesn’t revolve around me. Another thing that’s been positive for self-care has been using my platform for activism, even if it’s just like, “10 petitions you can sign!” You know, even that is something. It’s been interesting these past couple months to be like, I don’t know that I want it to go back to “normal.” Because I do want people’s voices to be heard, and I do want there to be a shift in the system.
That’s been really helpful, just to have empathy for what other people are going through and to know that the world doesn’t revolve around me.
Having grown up abroad, do you feel like you have some outside perspective on Black Lives Matter and the American response to the pandemic? How long have you been in the U.S.?
This is year 10. Before that, when I graduated high school, it was when Obama was elected, and my entire course study was about the history of the U.S. and why Obama’s running and being elected meant so much. So I feel like I had a deeper understanding of what was going on in the U.S. before I came over, because my teacher basically was telling a bunch of international students about history of Black people in the U.S. And now I’m here, and my parents still live in Hong Kong, so hearing their experience during the pandemic has been totally opposite and different to what’s been going on.
What are some other things you’re doing for self-care right now?
Um, skincare is my favorite thing. Should I go hard on what I use?
Yes, please. You look so excited!
I’m so excited! Okay. I will say I have been so proud of Glossier during this time. They’ve really showed other brands how to support people while creating great products.
Well, your hair is basically Glossier pink.
Yes! Their liquid blush Cloud Paint is amazing, and it’s now summertime, so I’ve found myself leaning towards more dewy makeup and a lot of highlight and a lot of blush. I also recently got into the new Patrick Ta blush. Something else that I have really been enjoying is this subscription box by this brand called Facetory—they send you face masks every month, and then they send you a little piece of paper that describes each face mask, which I keep every time and never read. Every time I’m like, “Wow, what a cute touch!” And then it just piles up on my desk.
I will say I tried lash extensions before quarantine for a couple months, and, wow, it was a delight. Also, follow-up, I definitely had different lashes after the experience. So what’s been really healing in growing back my lashes has been the Kush mascara by Milk—like, I really feel my lashes being nourished, and then when I take off my makeup it feels like there isn’t as much damage happening. I also got this Milk Makeup matte bronzer in Baked, and I have just been drawing all over my face, creating cheekbones I don’t even have, creating a jaw I don’t even have. And then I use the Everyday sunscreen by Supergoop.
You look like you have an enormous pile of products just off-camera.
Exactly what you just said, yes. Those are the top ones—just a few. Oh, okay, and one last one, which the Kiehl’s creamy avocado eye treatment. A very sweet woman at the airport stand told me to not keep that product for more than a couple months because it actually expires, so I just buy the smallest size.
On the one hand, I want my products to last forever so I can just stockpile them, but on the other hand, I guess it’s good that they don’t, because god knows what you’d be putting on your face in that case.
Hundred percent. It blew my mind back in the day—I was like, “That just seems so corrupt!”
One last question: overall, how would you say you’ve been handling the change of pace since the pandemic started?
It’s definitely a shift. I’ve been having a really difficult time to even share any sort of loss, because of how many people are dying and the bigger conversation happening, so I’ve tried my best to keep things in perspective as much as I can. I will say—I have been performing a lot in front of my Pusheen. [LAUGHS] I’m definitely looking forward to being able to play shows again and having that connective moment, but I don’t know when that will be. But I still love performing, and I still am that person that was lip syncing in the mirror to Christina Aguilera “Fighter,” so I do that a couple times a week because it does bring me a lot of soulful joy.