Phoebe Bridgers is heading to the UK for live shows, and it's time to see what all the excitement is about...
Any successful musician will have loyal fans, but none can be quite so devoted as your good ol’ mum. For Phoebe Bridgers, one of 2017’s biggest breakout stars, her's has always been her fiercest champion. “My mum started a Facebook group that is only my press,” laughs Phoebe from her home in LA. “I can’t believe she did that and a lot of my friends are in on it which is pretty embarrassing, but it is nice to see that stuff.”
It’s fitting that Phoebe’s mum has started a very modern kind of scrapbook to collate her daughter’s achievements, as her stunning breakthrough album ‘Stranger In The Alps’ is an assured collection of beautifully crafted songs founded on the importance of memories, both traumatic and treasured. Even though the album is her first officially released work, for Phoebe it feels like she’s been doing this a long time.
“Music makes it into every corner of my life,” Phoebe explains. It’s always been this way, and her mum has been an inspiring factor for the singer, who started writing songs from an early age. “I had a super supportive mum,” she continues. “She was supportive of me before anyone should have been. She was like, 'You’re the best ever!’
"Because of that, I got to go to a public art school in LA called LACHSA. I went there for four years and studied vocal music. I just started playing shows. I played with bands sometimes, but mostly solo. I met the producer of my record when I was 19. I got a nine-hour guitar lesson from him, and we decided to make the record. I feel like I’ve been living my life like I’ve put out music for so long, but technically this is the first major thing I’ve ever released. I feel like my life gets to start now.”
The album that she created is filled with the experiences she’s accumulated over the years, and subsequently, it’s filled with deep emotional resonance. ‘Stranger In The Alps’ is bleak, at times overwhelmingly so. Ultimately though, it’s filled with a resolute spirit and feeling of hope that tempers the darkness. The heavy nature of the record is something that Phoebe recognises, but it perhaps wasn't strictly intended that way.
“It’s definitely a very heavy record as far as subject matter goes, there’s a lot of death,” begins Phoebe. “I only figured that out way later. I was listening to the album and was like, wow, this is really heavy. It’s intense for me because I think I have become more well adjusted to adult life since I wrote most of those songs. I still like the person who wrote those songs, I just feel bad, like, 'Oh, shit that’s a lot of really dark stuff in a row'."
Part of Phoebe Bridgers' success and one of the reasons why her album is gaining a new audience every day is that her songs are so relatable. They’re intense, but that’s life. Phoebe expresses the feelings and emotional turbulence that we all experience, particularly on ‘Motion Sickness’, the one song on the album that most listeners have taken to heart.
“I love that people think of that song as a positive thing because it is like a burn, it’s a diss track,” laughs Phoebe. “Because it has such a buoyant melody and because I’m being a little bit funny about it, a lot of people connect with it and don’t think of it as dark as the rest of my record. People dance to it and cover it all the time, but in double time.”
While depression colours the songs and has been a factor in Phoebe’s life, she meets it on this album with a matter-of-factness and a strong-willed spirit to be emotionally honest and upfront. It’s the only way she knows.
“It’s just the way I feel about depression and all that stuff,” she says. “Even when there’s a resolute lyric it’s ironically resolute in the way you can feel like you’re going to feel that way forever. It was my intention to relay as much of my own feelings as possible. I didn't feel a crazy responsibility to shield people from dark stuff, that maybe has changed now I know people are going to listen to my next album. I’m glad that I have a little bit of hope. I do think that all feelings are temporary.”
It’s a feeling that everyone can relate to when you’re down, finding the saddest song who can think and wallowing in haze of blissful misery. “I like when people come up to me with something dark that’s happened to them and share it with me. It feels good to have a community. I just know that when I’m miserable, all I want to do is listen to music that hurts my feelings even more.”
Having such a dark and intense album might lead you to believe that Phoebe herself is a withdrawn, morose character rather than the funny, smart and hugely engaging character she actually is. Fortunately, though, she’s not yet had too many experiences of people incorrectly judging her.
“I haven’t had an uncomfortable experience with that yet,” she says. “It’s only been fun to make people see that I’m not hiding in a corner smoking a cigarette. It’s fun to make people see that I’m not that person that they expect me to be. One of the first labels that tried to sign me when I was 17 or 18 was like, 'Why is your Twitter so funny? You should be tweeting Elliott Smith lyrics or something'. I was like, what the fuck? That’s the only time someone’s tried to make me not have my own personality. I think everyone is multi-dimensional.”
The thoughtful and deep music Phoebe makes is borne out of a love of similarly relatable music. “I connect with songs that are weirdly specific but also universal,” she explains. “There’s a song by Mark Kozelek called ‘Ceiling Gazing’ that’s just him rambling about his day, and it sounds like a thought process. It’s so specific. He talks about his sister getting a divorce. I don’t have a sister getting a divorce so why do I feel so much when I listen to that song? That’s always the music that I’ve been drawn to. It’s easy for me to realise that when I’m writing and not be afraid of my own specific experiences. It is cathartic to write songs like that.”
The continued success of ‘Stranger In The Alps’ has found a whole new audience for Phoebe Bridgers, and she's set to capitalise on that with her first proper tour, including dates with Bon Iver and a trip to The Great Escape in May as well as exploring Europe for the first time. “I love the countryside," she enthuses. "I haven’t seen Stonehenge."
Musically though, it’s only the start - Phoebe’s sights are set on the bigger picture. “I would love to be a forever artist,” she proclaims. “Neil Young talks about playing really small shows and giant shows every other year. The success of an album didn’t mean the success of himself as an artist. I would love that freedom and for people to still listen to me even if I release something they don’t like.
"I like artists like Bjork. Bjork could release a spoken word album, and people would be like, yeah, it wouldn’t be crazy news. I’d like my next record to be an electronic record or a country record and for nobody to be surprised.”
Those are lofty ambitions but make sense for an artist who knows exactly who they are and where they’re going. An artist like Bjork will always be Bjork, and Phoebe Bridgers will always be Phoebe Bridgers.
Phoebe Bridgers' album 'Stranger In The Alps' is out now. She’ll support Bon Iver in London on 4th and 5th March. Taken from the March issue of Dork - order your copy below.