Interviewed by Vanessa Marousopoulos & Olivia Bolin
Photographs by Rei Bingham
You haven’t experienced true honest and relatable lyricism until you’ve listened to Phoebe Bridgers. I have cried multiple times to Stranger In The Alps - on the way to work, at work, on the way home from work, while driving, while cooking, while laying in bed, while sleeping. Her lyrics are poetic in a way that aren’t trying to be. I think that’s why it hits so hard, because it just seems to flow out of her and into you without needing to decipher anything. You just feel all of her emotions as your own.
Bridgers released her debut album in the back end of 2017, and it wasn’t until early 2018 that I was introduced to it by someone dear to me. I listened alone for a long time, not really understanding the really good music I was unknowingly digesting entirely every time I listened. And I guess that’s the thing about melancholic songs, they hit you in a different way and you’re not really thinking about as a song, but rather someone just speaking to you about what you’re feeling. Once I recognised what I was experiencing when I listened to Stranger In The Alps, I shared it with so many of my friends and we mutually experienced the overwhelming feeling. Together we cried - on the way to work, at work, on the way home from work, while driving, while cooking, while laying in bed, while sleeping.
And so we watched on Saturday the 15th of February, all holding hands as Bridgers finally graced Brisbane performing a handful of these songs. The earth truly could have opened up swallowed all us all whole. And if that wasn’t enough of a feat, just listen to her TWO following collaborative works with boygenius (Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker) and Better Oblivion Community Centre (Bridgers and Conor Oberst). Just as tragic. Just as earth quaking.
See what Bridgers has to say about being my favourite emo musician below:
Welcome to Australia, when did you get here and what have you seen?
We got to Australia four days ago, and then Brisbane yesterday. Been to the beach - twice - and I live in LA and I never go to the beach. So it’s really great!
What beach did you go to?
I went to Bondi. The kind of tourist trap one and then like a hidden one that Arch our tour manager took us to. It’s been nice.
Have you come across any really strange Australian tropes so far? Because there are lots of very embarrassing ones.
Oooh, I really like your saying, “I Didn’t Come Here To Fuck Spiders”.
So we’ve noticed a lot of really great and clever referenced to celebrities in your songs. The Dahmer one is my favourite. Is there is someone you haven’t made reference to that you want to in your writing?
Probably, yes. But I haven’t thought about it too hard. I feel like songs get kinda witchy whatever vibe you put out. Like you’ll get that stuff back - so I’m glad the Dhamer thing hasn’t really affected my life - but you know, I’ll talk about being a fan of someone in an interview, and then like two weeks later meet them at like at festival. Maybe like Adrianne Lenker would be someone I could bring into my life.
You fit all of the names and references in so seamlessly. We would say you’ve got a knack for folk, and it seems to be such an emotionally transparent genre. Your lyrics are quite conversational. Is that something you’ve always tried to do?
A lot of what I listen to is like that, but also I listen to tonnes of music and some of it isn’t at all like that. Like some of my favourites are kind of the opposite.
“I consider Conor Oberst like the opposite of a conversational songwriter.”
I think it’s just like, what I can do. If I tried to write an overtly poetic song I think that would feel pretty hard. So yeah, I listen to a lot of that kind of music, but mostly it’s just is what is available to me.
I still find your lyrics very poetic. Even if technically they’re not!
So, we really love the production on Stranger In The Alps - a LOT. One of my favourite things is that the production doesn’t feel like the normal formula for a folk based production. There are a lot of hidden experimental sounds and textures that twinkle throughout the songs. Is there something really strange that’s hidden in the album somewhere that most listeners wouldn’t pick up on?
Thank you, and yes! Right after I say ‘Bowie’ in Smoke Signals there’s this like spaceship sound which is meant to be poetically like Bowie taking off in a spaceship because he died. But then also on a David Bowie album, there is that exact sound and we didn’t sample it or anything. We just copied it and tried to make it with synthesisers by referencing it. So, people get the ‘Bowie taking off on a spaceship’ reference but they don’t get that he actually also recorded those sounds. That’s my favourite little thing.
We know that you studied at an art school in LA where you did some studies in production. Recording Stranger In The Alps, did you get to learn a lot from the other producers involved in that setting? Or did you come up with everything yourself?
I think I learned the most making my record with Tony Berg and Ethan Gruska who co-produced it with me. All the muted pianos are Ethan playing and Tony is this crazy guitar player. He didn’t play guitar in it, but taught me cool chords and stuff. Because I was so depressed in high school, I would just sleep in the vocal booth. Literally! I did music technology for the last two years of school - and I learned stuff - but most of it was playing gigs with my friends outside of school. Yeah, high school was rough for me. But graduating and being able to produce that record was its own musical education. And then I produced Christian Lee Hudson’s record that’s coming out this year.
A year later you put out an EP with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker for boygenius, and then just recently an LP with Conor Oberst for Better Oblivion Community Centre as well. Did you write all the good shit? Or did they write all the good shit? Disclaimer: every part of those songs are the good shit. (Laughs). I’m proud of what I wrote for the boygenius record. And it was kind of more separate than Better Oblivion where we brought songs to the table and helped each other finish. But I’m such a fan of those guys (boygenius), but I think it’s pretty clear who wrote what. It’s just nice being able to sing with my favourite people, and having them bring such strong songs to the table. So fucking badass. But then with the Better Oblivion record I have to say - not being humble at all , I swear - Conor’s ability to write lyrics fucked me up. And I had to have a real pep talk with myself being like, “It’s fine, we have different skill sets”. But it takes him two seconds to write a fucking incredible song, and I just stress out about it for so long. For example, Chesapeake: so it was my idea, my melody, and my chords - and he was tripping mushrooms and just wandered into the room and then wrote every fucking beautiful line in that song. When he said things in between lyrics you could not understand a word he was saying. So that was a crazy masterclass. Again, I’m proud of what I brought to the table, but I will say - I think I wrote good shit? But I don’t know if I wrote the good shit. So with those projects (boygenius and Better Oblivion Community Centre) were you writing and recording in LA? The boygenius stuff was a Google Drive that we all added songs to and then Julien and Lucy flew out to LA and we recorded over 5 days. We recorded at Sound City, which is like a famous studio. The Conor record we did in his house, which is where Jonathan Wilson makes all the Father John Misty records. It’s this incredible home-studio. Considering what records had been produced there (Conor’s house) and your respect for Conor - was it strange having the bar set so high and working in unfamiliar settings? Definitely. It was really nice actually - so the boygenius record was recorded in the first 5 days in June (2018) and then the Better Oblivion record was recorded over the rest of June. It was great jumping off with, because I had only ever done my record and been in my very small and private community of people which was my comfort zone. Boygenius was kind of me stepping out a little bit and feeling very seen and heard, and feeling like I had a place - because there’s no denying that we’re peers - whereas I had to sort of pep talk myself to feel like peer in the Conor scenario. He had his engineer who was amazing, so it felt like I was stepping into their world. So yeah, it was a little bit harder but I definitely adjusted and it was nice to jump off.
Here’s a bit of a fun one - in boygenius you all had very fun outfits for your live performances. Is that the peak costume you think you would wear or is there something super witchy in the works? We had this woman who has this company called Rusty Cuts who makes our outfits (for boygenius). We told her what we wanted on the jackets, but we had them made. But I definitely am always looking for a witchy outfit. I feel like for my second record I’ll definitely go super hard in that direction. But with the Conor band I tried so hard to convince him to wear a jumpsuit with me… and I’m like, “Fuck you I’m going to wear a jumpsuit for every one of our shows”. I have this like work suit jumpsuit. I feel like that band is a little more punk rock than a lot of what I do, so I’m gonna be like super soft butch. We loved your feature on notallgeminis. What is your star sign… and do you care I do. I think it’s fascinating. So with tarot and with astrology I think it’s not some crazy thing that tells your future it’s literally just tells you what’s already going on in your subconscious. Like if I were to tell you, “Someone’s gonna come into your life who is gonna stress you out” - you would immediately be like… “Oh, true”. Or if someone has really affected you for the past couple of days, your brain goes to that place. It’s weirdly hyper specific and super universal and really fun. I’m a Leo sun, Pisces moon, Capricorn rising What is your favourite documentary? Ooooh. I have a really dark answer to this question. (C.W: Sexual abuse) I that that no women with any history of sexual trauma should watch this. The Keepers - it’s about the Catholic Church and silencing victims and a murder. Someone came forward to a nun, and they killed her. It’s on Netflix. Every straight dude on earth is required to watch it. The thing that’s so great about it is that it’s not romanticised at all - it’s just someone looking directly at a camera literally describing physical assault that’s happened to them, with no details left out. Nobody here watch it because I watched it for you! It’s a great education for people who need to hear it - but for people who already know - don’t fucking do it. I did find an old song of yours on the ~internet~ called ‘Turned Around’. Oh my god! It’s so good and I loved it! But I did have this photo (below) that I wanted to show you and ask; who was Phoebe then, and who is Phoebe now?
Oh my god. So I have kind of a Gilmore Girls dynamic with my mom, so she dressed me until I was like 17. But not because she was overprotective. But she was so bitchy about shit I would buy. She’d be like, “Wow… No, no! It’s cool… :/”. (In this photo) She got me a fake pearl set, she curled my hair - she also kind of has not great taste for what I would wear - but she seems like she has great taste? And she could totally dress herself! Maybe I was 13 or 14? And a 13 or 14 year old should not be wearing fake pink pearls that someone would wear to a fucking job interview. So that’s who I was. The person like 2 years after this is the person I’m trying to reckon with. I was super self conscious, loud. I would lie to people about the bands I knew and I hate that. I’m trying to forgive her. I think it’s way more interesting to live life asking questions. Dude, I had such a weird education and I spent so little time at school - so I don’t know the capital of anywhere, I have a really hard time with simple math - and it’s just more interesting to tell people what you don’t know and ask questions all the time. Then I learn shit every day and it’s way more fun, rather than being like, “Oh, yeah - that’s cool”.