Phoebe Bridgers on ‘Punisher’, playing with Boygenius, and Smashing Her Guitar on ‘SNL’
Last week, during an interview on Zane Lowe’s show, Lorde referred to Phoebe Bridgers, whom she asked to sing the backing vocals on her new single, “Solar Power”, as a “Divine Level Vocalist”. That’s an apt description: Bridgers’ debut album, Foreigner in the Alps, is filled with slyly catchy hymns that showcase her hauntingly beautiful voice. She skillfully covered some of history’s most iconic songs: “Friday I’m in Love” by The Cure; Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees”, in a way that feels fresh and original. And a year after the release of punisher, Her second solo studio album, the 26-year-old’s status as a true superstar was cemented. (Did we mention that she’s also a part of Boygenius, with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker; and Better Oblivion Community Center, with Conor Oberst?) W ‘music problem, Bridgers spoke to editor Lynn Hirschberg about hearing her own music during yoga class, getting into Mean at the summer camp, and the joy of being on stage with his closest collaborators.
For thousands of homebound people, your album punisher was their locking soundtrack. Most of your songs are intensely personal. Are you playing your new music for your family before it comes out?
Yeah, I play stuff for my mom and my friends. After my first record my mom thought she was going to have to step in because every song was so depressing. Actually, I probably needed it, but hey …
Maybe you are writing music to free your demons.
Perhaps. The whole story around catharsis is complex. Sometimes that can put you in a box, where you feel like you can’t write anything other than heartfelt songs that offer emotional release. The other day Lucy Dacus [Bridgers’s bandmate in Boygenius, the indie rock trio] posted this thing about how capitalism commodifies women’s pain. That being said, I started out by copying music that I loved, people like Elliott Smith and Merle Haggard, to name just two. When you write music, if it’s true, it’s useful. But if you start to feel like you’re playing a character, I think it can get dangerous. Especially if this character is very, very sad.
Do you remember the first time you heard your music on the radio?
Yes. My first real serious relationship as an adult was with my now drummer. These days we’re like brother and sister, but when we first met we connected so strong and started dating. We were in agreement on everything, especially the music, and we moved in together almost the first day. He had a truck that I loved. The first time I heard myself on the radio was in this truck. We were on a road trip, driving somewhere, listening to “Killer”. It was so cool. On tour I got along in yoga classes which is really fun. Once, I heard “Smoke Signals”, from my first record, during the laying of the corpse! I went, what are you talking about? It’s always both weird and awesome when this happens.
Were you the kind of kid who always sang?
Yes, my mother instilled a lot of overconfidence in me. According to her, when I was 8, I was going to be the next Bob Dylan. And I was also a typical theater nerd. I think if I saw a video of myself as a preteen singing musical theater, I would like to hide away forever. But I try to have compassion for my previous phases.
Did you have a favorite musical?
Mean. The children of the summer camp sang songs of Mean All the time. I thought it was cringey, but I was in it too. The way I was brought up, sincerity is a cardinal sin.
How old were you when you wrote your first song?
Ten. I am a white girl from Pasadena. I went to a very nice school and had a bunch of friends. But my first song was called “I’m the Only Bird Flying the Other Way”. [Laughs] I’ve always been drawn to songs where the narrator is the outcast.
Most recently, in March, you broke your guitar after playing on SNL. Was it a dream come true?
Yes! It was probably the fourth Danelectro baritone that I smashed. I had seen Nate Walcott of Bright Eyes break his trumpet. And I said, I’m definitely gonna break my guitar. I wanted to email Danelectro and ask them to send me an instruction manual on how to break it properly because it is difficult! SNL was excited. It was a last minute decision, but so much fun. Now the pieces of my broken guitar are being auctioned off and the proceeds will go to charity. [Update: The remnants of the guitar sold for $101,500 at the GLAAD Media Awards Auction in April]
Is there a memory that makes you completely happy?
Yeah, being on stage with Boygenius. There’s a song where Lucy and I sing together, it’s so awesome. And there is another song where you can hear the whole crowd shouting the words to us. Those three seconds, over and over, are joyful. In my head, it was the best time of my life.