What first drew you to music?
My parents were cool enough to have instruments around the house without ever pushing them on me. I just bonded with music far more than any video games, books, or cartoons. I played sports, but nothing came more naturally than playing drums, piano, or guitar along with The Beatles and Michael Jackson cassettes in my bedroom. It was less about wanting to perform and more about losing myself and trying to decide my favorite tunes. Around fourth grade, even playing along to the most simple pop tunes, made me feel like I had discovered a superpower.
Was Refuge born in Nashville or on the road?
Refuge was born at my cottage in Ridgefield, CT, but I didn’t have its title until after the record was mastered. When I’m home, I wake up, brush my teeth, make coffee and sit down at the piano. For about a year, everything I wrote was about characters (men, women, old, young) on a quest for happiness, security, or purpose. Essentially, it was a concept record before I realized it was a concept record. I wasn’t aware of the collective theme until I took a step back, looked at the tunes, and began pitchin’ the project to investors.
Why did you choose to work with producer, Jon Estes, and record in East Nashville at The Bomb Shelter?
Jon and I met briefly when we both lived in Miami. We ran in different circles, but he was widely regarded as the most talented bass players around. Jon was kinda like the ‘white whale’ of University of Miami jazzers. When I heard that he moved back to Nashville and I started touring, I followed his career from afar. We crossed paths again from time to time, but never really hung out or worked together. Once Refuge’s budget came together, Jon was my first choice. Needless to say, he had my total trust with the material even before he agreed to the project. And The Bomb Shelter is like no other studio. Not because it’s beautiful and pristine like a museum full of priceless gear, but because of its overall funky and gritty lived-in feel. There’s just something about the place that feels warm and inviting, but a little roughed up. Since it’s all vintage analog gear, the space and equipment feel like you’re in a time warp. Some of my favorite records of the past decade have been tracked there. It’s just a special place to make music.
Favorite lyric/song from Refuge.
It changes all the time, but this week my favorite song is “1954” and my favorite lyric is, ‘head on a pillow of feathers and faith / hell-bent on feeling,’ from the song, “Only Hope Remains.”
What’s a song you may have written ‘just for you,’ but has had a lot of response from listeners?
There’s a tune from my previous album called, “What a Lie Looks Like.” I never would’ve imagined it’d have any legs, but I’m grateful it’s found a way to connect with others, jump on playlists, and garner some licensing. After I wrote it, I had it pegged as a ‘throw-away.’
What would eight-year-old Griffin say to you now about your life and career?
I remember thinking that all grown-ups had it figured out. As if a computer chip would drop into my head at eighteen and answer all my questions. My eight-year-old self would probably just ask if I did in fact ‘have it all figured out?’ And he probably wouldn’t love the answer.
Growing up in Bedford, NY, and coming from a family of Italian cooks, what were meals typically like for you growing up?
My mom never really cooked the heavy red sauced-based typical Italian dishes. She’d use a lot of fresh vegetables, herbs, meats, and great quality extra-virgin olive oil from Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Her pasta dishes were always different and bold with weird stuff like fennel seeds, pignoli nuts, or roasted garlic. I never remember seeing any open cookbooks or recipes- as she’d just cook with ‘a little of this’ and ‘a little of that.’ It wasn’t until I left for college, and later, touring, that I could appreciate the creativity of her meals.
Can you remember cooking with your family at an early age?
I can remember the savory aromas that wafted from my mom or grandparent’s kitchen, but I’d usually be shooed away with instructions to, “go wash your hands and set the table” (haha). Around Christmas time, I’d often help out with mom’s lemon anisette cookies. I’m not a huge fan of licorice extract, but those cookies are so simple and delicious.
Was there ever music playing in the kitchen growing up?
From the ‘Gypsy Kings’ to ‘Sade’ to ‘Annie Lennox’ to ‘Strunz and Farah,’ there were always eclectic sounds coming out of the kitchen. Apparently, moms prepare better meals while they’re a-singin’ and dancin’!
Do you cook as much as you can when off the road or do you prefer eating out?
When I have a night off, I’ll usually (first and foremost) catch up on sleep. Then once dinner rolls around, I’ll grill up some salmon or skirt steak and pair it with a green and wild rice. Nothing too fancy. Just quick, tasty, and healthy.
What’s your favorite ingredient to cook with?
Extra-virgin olive oil is the most used ingredient in my kitchen. I really only use a few different spices and seasonings like fresh lemon juice, pink Himalayan salt, red pepper flakes, cayenne, basil, rosemary, and thyme.
Tell us about one memorable meal you’ve had during your travels. What did it involve?
One meal that stands out was a sunset dinner with a few friends on a beach in Ipanema, Brazil. It was this little shack that only had a few small tables set up in the sand. The staff was comprised of a chef working a single oven/stovetop and server that doubled as a bartender. After starting our table out with rounds of caipirinha cocktails, we were served a roasted heart of palm and artichoke dish, moqueca de camarão (shrimp stew), and Mahi with a light passionfruit sauce. After one too many caipirinhas, I lost track of all the food, but that stew was the highlight. The love that went into such an old-world traditional meal translated tenfold in every bite- not to mention the juxtaposition of such surprisingly killer cuisine comin’ from such a humble operation.
Is there anywhere you have wanted to travel or a restaurant you have always wanted to dine in that you have not yet? Or somewhere you can not wait to get back to?
There’s a place in the west village of New York called The Spotted Pig. I have been dying to get there for the past few years.
If you designed your own food tour of Nashville, which restaurants/bars would be on your list of places to visit?
When I’m in town, it’s usually a hustle and get as much work done as possible vibe. I’d love to experience Nashville when I can really enjoy it. I’ve heard great things about Folk, The Treehouse, City House in Germantown, and Chauhan on 12th. I’ll usually eat a big breakfast and lunch and then track through dinner late into the night. Some of my lunch staples are, Tower Deli or Bolton’s, and Mas Tacos. That’s the one place I feel the tacos are worth an often excruciatingly lines. Overall, nothing too fancy. I usually stay on the east side of town as meals are unfortunately often rushed on studio breaks.
Aside from your passion for food and music, what’s the one thing that really keeps you ticking?
Hanging with family and friends is more important to me now more than ever. But when it comes to non-food or music related passions, I’m either fly fishing, hiking, or watching baseball somewhere.
Finally, if you could be sponsored by one food/drink brand who would it be and why?
Traditional Medicinal’s ‘throat coat’ tea. That stuff gets me through all my recording sessions and nightly live dates. Couldn’t live without it!