OXFORD, Ms. – Coming off a 100-show tour that lasted 13 months, local folk-rock singer-songwriter Will Griffith had high hopes for 2020 after a record-breaking 2019. Everything was lining up perfectly for another successful year of touring, that is until a deadly microscopic visitor arrived in the United States and spoiled his, and everybody else’s plans.
In March of 2020, Griffith joined a cascade of canceled tours when his next destinations – Portland, Ore., Seattle, Wash., and San Francisco, Cali. – became COVID-19 hotspots.
“It was like ‘oh my God,” we were just rolling so hard, we were getting a lot more rhythm going with our touring,” Griffith said. “Music is my life, I still bartend at Proud Larry’s, I still work a job, and I always will, but that was a big chunk of my mind and heart that was really extracted from me, and as I said, we had so much integrity and promise, everything was looking up and this happened.”
Originally from Cleveland, Ms., Griffith has played in punk rock and country bands since he was 13 years old. His latest project: The Great Dying, came about when he moved back to Mississippi after living in Nashville, Tn., for four years. Instead of going back home to the Delta, Griffith decided to move to Oxford to play in venues like Proud Larry’s, a local establishment that he’s bartended at for about seven years now.
Griffith describes his music as “dark country”, because it’s an amalgamation of punk rock and country.
During his time in Oxford, Griffith said many great local artists have played in the Great Dying, which typically features Griffith on vocals and guitar accompanied by Craig Pratt on guitar when they tour on the road. When the Great Dying plays in Oxford, Griffith said the act features a rotating roster of artists like Kell Kellum (guitar), Bronson Tew (drums), and Matt Patton (bass guitar), who also plays with the Drive-By-Truckers and the Dexateens.
Patton is also co-owner of Dial Black Sound, a production studio and record label in Water Valley, Ms.; Patton also helped Griffith produce his first-ever album, “Bloody Noses & Roses” in 2018.
When Griffith returned home from the road last March, life was not the same. The world had changed, and there were aspects of his life, such as his job at Proud Larry’s, that he could not return to for a couple of months.
Like many of us, Griffith said he regrets not being more productive during the first couple of months in lockdown.
“I wish I had been a little bit more creative in the beginning of this,” Griffith said. “I felt like I was just sitting around waiting for things to get better; I wasn’t writing all the time during the first few months, I was reading a bunch, but I was not being very creative.”
Though he was not as productive as he had hoped during the early stages of lockdown, Griffith still found time to write some songs and work on his new album, “Hearts to the Wall Outside the Ball”, which he just finished recording. Griffith is hoping to release the new album this fall, but nothing is set in stone yet. When the new record does debut, Griffith said he is excited to see people’s reaction to the stylistic departure that the band takes from “Bloody Noses and Roses.”
“This (album) is going to be a little more masterful,” Griffith said. “I took years to write some of these songs; it’s all so different, but it’s all cohesive, and it’s all going to work together linearly.”
With all the lockdowns and restrictions last year, artists had an abundance of time in 2020 to work on their craft and record new albums. However, Griffith said one of the main reasons he decided to delay his new album to the fall is that bigger bands – like Grammy-winning rock band Kings of Leon, who released their new album “When You See Yourself” on March. 5 – are dropping new music this spring and summer.
“I think there is going to be an avalanche of releases maybe at the end of this month,” Griffith said. “Maybe at the beginning of summer, because I think everybody has got a record finished; myself included, I don’t have the artwork together yet, but I don’t want to release a record being kind of small as I am amongst the chaos of everybody else above me releasing records because I’ll just get drowned.”
Griffith also said he believes that all of the creative free time that cooped-up artists had in 2020 could result in a resurgence of arts and culture this year.
“I think there is going to be a renaissance to come out of this,” Griffith said. “Not just with music but think about the great books that are going to come out of this; artists and painters have probably got a wealth of stuff to put up.”
Musical resurgence or not, Griffith is just hoping that he can pick up where he left off at the beginning of 2020 and get back out on the road this year and start touring again.
“I will be grateful for any time that I have to get back out there and play,” Griffith said. “I won’t take anything for granted; if I get 10 shows in six months, I’ll be happy to play those 10 shows; I’m just trying to be optimistic; hopefully, we will be back out there.”