The NYC artist shares the stories behind the songs on his new record—the culmination of a four-year journey from personal desolation to self-acceptance that features “Beach Boys-inspired harmony stacks,” construction jargon, commute-inspired melodies and more
We discovered Griffin Novie the old-fashioned way—in the form of an IRL rec from someone we met at a bar in Bushwick. Now we’re excited to share some words on his debut record Balcony Bliss, which he sent over to us via email. Here’s what the Brooklyn-based, Queens-bred artist had to say about the album…
I’m the kind of songwriter and producer who can hear a blurry (but complete) version of a song in my head. Unfortunately, it’s always been a struggle to try to explain my fuzzy ideas to others without recording them myself, and that takes a ton of time. After a few attempts at being in bands, I decided that my best option was to find a great studio space and learn how to make those ideas corporeal. Balcony Bliss is the culmination of that effort, and it took me almost four years to make.
My day job is at a structural engineering firm in Chelsea, where I’m the Senior Drafter. I spend a lot of the week tweaking drawings in CAD, making sure that they’re easy to understand and aesthetically pleasing. That same philosophy, a blend of form and function, also underpins Balcony Bliss. Some construction jargon even made it onto the record. The “change order” in “Triptych (Change Order)” is a term used in construction to refer to work that’s added to or deleted from the original contract. I used it as a metaphor for a friendship that had passed a point of no return.
Before COVID hit, I spent a lot of time commuting. Luckily, commuting to and from Manhattan five days a week had some advantages. I started writing “Fear (Wait for the Rain)” while riding my bike to work over the Williamsburg Bridge with William Onyeabor songs lodged in my head. After the melody percolated in my head for a year or two, I started working on the song in my recording studio in Greenpoint, where I had my friend Rio Kelemen lay down a J Dilla beat over the bleepy synth bass part that I’d crafted the night before.
Over the course of recording Balcony Bliss, I spent many nights and weekends holed up in my studio trying to figure out how to proceed. Lyrically, “Neural Neon” documents how a typical studio session went. I’d get there and initially feel aimless, stuck in a void. But at some point, seemingly out of nowhere, the rest of the world would fade away and I’d be locked into hyperfocus until the wee hours of the morning. As time went on, nights and weekends weren’t enough, and I started taking vacation days to record. During one of those “vacations,” I arranged and recorded all the backing vocals for “Feels Like I’ve Been Played.” I added some Dirty Projectors-style hocketing and Panda Bear-influenced call and response to my usual Beach Boys-inspired harmony stacks. I’d go into the booth, record a part, and then go to the piano to make sure the next part I had in mind made sense. It was a grueling but rewarding process. After a few days and a bit of vocal strain, I finally was able to hear the rich tapestry I’d originally imagined for the first time, and I almost cried. Moments like that kept me going through my self-imposed isolation.
You can hear that isolation in much of Balcony Bliss, especially in the older compositions. I wrote “Desolation” when I was a lonely, television-obsessed 16-year-old, constantly overwhelmed by the huge crowds of silent people I saw every day on my subway ride to school. It’s only now, 13 years later, that COVID-stricken NYC is as empty as it felt back then.
During the four years since I started recording Balcony Bliss, some of my sense of personal desolation has morphed into self-acceptance. You can hear it in the assurance of “We Don’t Have Anything More to Say,” the wistful hope of “Monologue” and the jubilance of “Looking Down.” I finally have a job I like, I’m in an incredible relationship, and I’ve released an album that I’m beyond proud of. It’s so uncanny to find myself at my most settled when the world is the most unstable it’s been within my lifetime. So many people that I love are struggling, and so many more have fled the city. I have no idea what’s in store for me or for New York, but I know I’ll be along for the ride.
Feature image provided by the artist.