Bishop Briggs and Sueco are using their platforms to empower people

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bishop briggs x sueco cover story issue 399
[Photo by Jonathan Wiener]

In issue 399, we featured Bishop Briggs and Sueco as cover artists. During our conversations, the two artists detailed their careers, their inspirations and their vision. They also spoke to the changing nature of alternative music and their ambitious visions for their own career. Along the way, they revealed their shared work ethic, a thoughtful approach to music and a passion for reaching others. The content has been modified to meet the standards of Alternative Press’ digital platform.

Alternative music is a “really big blanket term,” Sueco tells me. “…I don’t know how many people would agree with me. I think a lot more artists are going to label themselves moving forward as alternative. What’s going on right now, because of the internet and everything that’s happened in the last 10 years, in my opinion, genres don’t really mean as much anymore. Everyone listens to everything, really.”

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Briggs expresses a similar sense for alternative music’s evolution. She suggests that alternative music is less about strict genre lines than it is defined by an artist’s ability to speak honestly and substantively about deeper emotions.

“We’re learning so much about genres right now,” Briggs tells me. “I think what’s happened in the past few years is we’re learning that alternative music can be about lyrics that resonate in an alternative way. It feels like there’s a focus on the lyrics and the story that’s really going on, but I also feel like it’s about ‘What are the artists that are showing up without a filter on, and how is that translating?’”

Their ideas resonate with me. But I also wonder about how they themselves fit into the equation, given that their signature approaches to music set them apart from so many other artists.

I ask Sueco about how his recent music shapes that story. Especially on his single “Paralyzed,” Sueco smoothly connects his hip-hop and hardcore roots. I ask if it feels like he’s working to make something different from his past work.

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“I feel like I’m just going back to what I first created and then obviously incorporating what I’ve learned along the way,” he says. “Just returning home. It is these alternative-rock sounds. But it’s a hybrid, really. There’s only a couple of songs out, but the whole album’s about to come out. [It’s called] It Was Fun While It Lasted. We’re working on it right now. All the songs have this hybrid blend.”

I ask Briggs about how her own perspective on music is shaped by her influences. Sonically, her music showcases a deep passion for a classic age of American soul and rock, shaped by her love for artists such as Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. Still, I know Briggs harbors an equally profound love for more recent alternative rock as well. (When I ask about her connection to AltPress, she confesses, “I grew up with a sister who was obsessed with Warped Tour and had every cover of AP magazine on her wall, which she would probably be mortified for me to reveal. But because I was obsessed with her, I was, by proxy, forced willingly to be obsessed as well.”)

I can’t help but wonder about how she connects those sounds—two of my own favorite musical traditions, but ones from distinctive moments in time with distinctive soundscapes.

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“That’s the interesting thing about My Chemical Romance and Panic! At The Disco and the sort of figures of that time,” she explains. “I think the reason that they transcended into global phenomenon area was a soulfulness to the songs they were singing, whether it was their lyrics or even the melodies that they chose. There’s a specific part that I’m thinking of in ‘[Welcome To] The Black Parade.’

“I feel goosebumps every time I sing it, and it really reminds me of when I would sing Janis Joplin. There’s just this ache, and there is this cry for help through the music. I think that’s what really drew me to Motown music. That’s why as I got older and I started listening to alternative music, it felt like an easy transition because I feel like the cornerstones were all still there.”

Sueco’s output similarly reflects a broad approach to music. In a number of interviews, he’s listed a quartet of musicians as his key influences: Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, the Weeknd and Green Day. I ask him about how they fit together for him.

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“Honestly, I would probably add My Chem, in terms of influences,” he starts. Sueco goes on to pull out the precise musical aspects he pulls from each artist. Kendrick, his lyrical prowess and depth of meaning. Kanye, his production talent and his ability to craft “sonic landscapes.” The Weeknd, his staggering skill as a vocalist. And Green Day, I ask. What about them?

“Green Day, that was my first artist that I fell in love with ever,” he says. “It was American Idiot. It’s just a masterpiece. It was a concept album. That’s what I loved about that. Just the sound of it.”

My conversations with Briggs and Sueco help me think a bit more clearly about how the musical puzzles fit together. Both artists find ways to create connections between styles—ones that defy stereotypes and assumptions about how genre is supposed to operate. Even so, they also maintain respect for the individuality of artists and the ways that different types of music speak to different concerns.

Still, I wonder about whether the music world at large is on the same page as us. Briggs and I talk for a while about how the industry is starting to change, something she has a particular perspective on as a female artist. 

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“A few years ago, I remember it just being me and my friend K.Flay at these festivals as the only women. That was really how we became friends,” she says. “It wasn’t even like we were at the festival at the same time. It was like one weekend, I got to be the female, and one weekend, she got to be the female. I do think there still needs to be more progress [on] that front in the alternative world and alternative radio and all that. But I feel really grateful that I have seen a significant change since I first started and have made new friends that I’ve met through the alternative space that are women. I have seen progress.”

I tell her that, at least from my perspective, I have also seen some progress. However, I also notice that it can sometimes feel uneven.

“I know what you mean,” Briggs replies. “My partner [Landon Jacobs] is in an alternative band called Sir Sly, and we have played the same festivals together. I will be asked about makeup and dating, and he will be asked about how he created the song, what instruments they used, how they came up with the specific lyric. I just thought that was normal. Then we realized we’re talking about the same person. The person that interviewed him had incredible, insightful questions. I noticed it in small ways and sometimes in big ways. Just knowing that isolated feeling at the beginning a couple of years ago, just at these festivals, I do think that has significantly changed.”

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Gradually, my conversations with Briggs and Sueco come full circle, as we return to the topic of the way their life experiences inform their artistry. I ask them about how their current work reveals their development and reflects their personal goals as musicians.

Briggs tells me that her upcoming record speaks to her own pain. In January 2021, her sister Kate McLaughlin passed away at the age of 30 following a battle with cancer. Reconciling with grief pushed Briggs into new and difficult territory, both personally and as an artist.

“There’s rawness, and then there is all your skin taken off, exposed, and you are in the sun,” she reveals. “A cannibal is lurking nearby, but you don’t know if he’s fully there. You just sense that he is there. I recorded some vocals with this amazing mixer, producer and writer Zakk [Cervini], and we looked at each other in the studio, and my entire face was soaking wet from crying while recording the song. I looked up, and his entire face was wet. I came into the room, and we just hugged, and we cried. I was honest with him, and I said I would really, really rather have my sister here than have this. He understood. Kate was my biggest fan, and he was telling me that she would just be so honored. We just sat in silence.”

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Briggs goes on to clarify how this situation challenged her resolve as an artist. In many ways, it altered what it meant to be vulnerable.

“When I have gone into the studio before, even if I was coming in fresh off of the heartbreak, it doesn’t compare,” she continues. “This is really the love of my life. I’ve never loved someone as much as I love her. It’s just a different scale. Even in my past albums, there was a sense of polish when I would write. I knew what the feelings were, and I was writing about them. I was living my life, and I was continuing on my path.

“Whereas with this, I’m really stuck in the trauma of it, and I fear writing about it, and I dread writing about it. Just from a writing perspective, it has felt very, very, very different, and I’ve just been waiting on the right time to release this music. It has been a mix of timing, but it’s also been to do with my mental health and I guess seeing if I will be able to survive the idea of it being released.”

Sueco also notes that his in-progress album is a testament to his own painful experiences. I ask him about what he means when he mentions that goal of “helping people.”

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“​​When I was younger, there’s a lot of fucked-up shit going on,” he explains. “One of the ways that I was able to deal with everything, besides creating music, was obviously listening to it and finding solace in it. When I say I want to help people, I want to help people through this, through music, the way that I felt like I was helped. Specifically, with the newer stuff I’ve been putting out, the reaction, it’s been exactly that.

“I can’t tell you how many countless people have been hitting me up, [saying] ‘Paralyzed’ is helping them go through whatever it is they’re going through. It just means a lot that it’s able to resonate, and it means a lot that it’s able to get people through. Everything I’m going to be dropping, everything that I’m doing moving forward, that’s what it’s designed to do.”

I know that Briggs also has a broader personal and social mission for her work, as well. So, I ask her about what goals she has as an artist.

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“First and foremost, my goal is for people to feel less alone,” she tells me. “When you are in a really broken place, that can be life-saving and life-changing. By performing, by sharing my truth onstage, people would feel less alone and know that they’re not alone.”

Briggs goes on to explain that she is committed to philanthropy as well as using her platform to speak honestly. Central to that understanding is a nuanced perspective about how to model vulnerability as well as strength.

“It’s that middle ground of feeling completely vulnerable in my existence of life and also when I’m onstage trying to be that empowered self. It’s really stemmed from a mix of sharing my experience and noticing that it can be helpful just in a human connection way. There have been certain interviews that I’ve seen of artists that I admire, and it’s one sentence, and it’s like, ‘Wow!’ It makes me feel like I can breathe just knowing that I’m not crazy and that I’m seeing a bit of myself in this person that I admire that I think has it all together.”

You can read the full interview in issue 399, available here.

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