This is Phoebe Bridgers’ year. She has been boiling up to the top for a while with her album, “Stranger in the Alps” in 2016. That was the first album that so many musicians told me they couldn’t stop listening to that I was truly forced to pay attention to it. She became an artists’ artist. Then she teamed up with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker to form Boygenius in 2018. In aligning herself with them it became a little club. A community of musicians and friends that you cant help but want to take part in. In 2019 she teamed up with Connor Oberst to created Better Oblivion Community Center, where they pulled the best out of each other to make what I thought was one of the best albums of the year.
And now she just dropped “Punisher.” The concept of a punisher is a person who can’t help but tell you their feelings even when the situation is wrong and it makes you uncomfortable. And pour her feelings she does. “Punisher” is devastating. At times it’s bright, it can be funny, and often revealing. We thought it might be best to ask her one question about each song that might show the album’s many sides. We didn’t get through the whole album in our scheduled 15 minutes, but I think you get a great sense of Phoebe and her great album, “Punisher.”
So for Punisher, song one is “DVD Menu.” What DVD menu has the best DVD menu music?
Oh, I didn’t know how to say this, but it’s mostly from video game menu selecting, My memories of my brother leaving a video game page open. So maybe “SpongeBob Movie” video game. That’s the last video game I played I think. I forget what it’s called, but it’s that. The theme is the “SpongeBob Movie,” which I watched at the beginning of quarantine. It holds up.
What specific memory do you have of that DVD menu or that video game DVD menu?
Just literally being on loop for hours and hours and hours. You know when your eyeballs start going back into your skull and like there’s no moisture left in them when you’ve been looking at a screen for too long. I associate that feeling with that DVD menu, like falling asleep with it on, in the background.
Song two is “Garden Song.” “Garden Song” is definitely the single and we’re playing it as the single. Did you know that going in?
Not at all, actually, I was just showing the record to people. Well, that’s not true. Maybe it was like halfway done and I had a bounce with that and was showing it to people. And I was at Conor Oberst’s house and there were a couple of people around. He made me show the couple of people the song. And he was like, “Okay, hear me out. This is the single.” And I was like “Okay, Bright Eyes. You’re going to tell me about radio right now?” I was just like, “that’s insane.” But then I actually kind of started to hear it like that. It’s kind of electronic-y, but I’ll definitely never have a hit. So I was kinda like, all right, well, let’s lean into it. It’s a sad, weird electronic song with my Dutch tour manager on it. It’s like the anti-single, you know.
“Garden Song” has the line, “When I look up from my phone, I’m going to see my life.” Did you have that line and just know that you were hanging on to the most banger of all banger lines?
No. No. I think I was just talking to myself probably, it’s supposed to be a little tongue in cheek. Do you ever get in those moods where someone asks you to do something and you’re like, “Oh yeah, yeah, definitely I’ll do that when I’m the real me, I’ll do that.” Or I have a magical thinking brain for me three months from now. Someone’s like, “Hey, do you want to go on a flight that’s 46 hours and the day that you land play a show?” I’m like, absolutely. I have a weird vision of myself in the future being totally different than myself now.
I think that’s fair. Song four is “Punisher.” I had read that you had said something about Elliott Smith. What do you see that Elliott Smith has in him that you have in you?
Well, I do think we have some similarities. I just think it’s sad to me that it seems like he kind of wasn’t able to overcome them. And I think that’s a fear of mine, like depression, but more specifically a mistrust of people who like you. And that means romantically or fans. I think that he had a mistrust of all material success. Thinking that the world was stupid, therefore, if they liked his music, it was stupid. So yeah, I don’t know. I couldn’t relate to that.
Do you have a mistrust of people that really love your music or something like that? I feel like that is a very, as a creative person,when you make something and then you don’t trust that love, I get that. Do you feel that?
Kind of, I mean, I feel, this is not used derogatorily, but I feel slightly bipolar with music, especially. Where it’s, I’m either a God or I’m trash. So if someone has a really smart thing to say about my music, I’m like, they are correct. Because I make the best music. And then when someone who I disagree with politically or who I don’t find particularly interesting or not cool as in hip cool. Cool as in, they were really rude to somebody in front of me or something and they liked my music. It makes me hate myself. You know what I mean?
Yes. That makes a lot of sense. What’s your favorite Elliott Smith song?
It changes all the time. I feel like I’m kind of going back into the greatest hits right now. I’ve been loving “Twilight” from “From A Basement on the Hill.” I think that’s my favorite right now.
Why do you like that song?
It’s just really sad. It’s sad to me because it’s about, not unrequited love, but love with really bad timing and I definitely had that experience. I resonate with it, but also it’s just so sad because then like years later, all of the material stuff or the timing stuff that kind of kept you apart is irrelevant. And then it’s just like, why didn’t it work out with someone I really liked. It’s just sincere in a way that he is in all his songs, but it’s usually directed at different stuff and he doesn’t write a straight up love song about people a lot. Yeah. I really liked this one.
That’s great. Song five is “Halloween.” What was the Halloween costume that you spent the most time on in your life?
Most time on? Oh God. I was a freshman in high school and my mom who, and we’ve discussed this pretty openly, but I have some serious trauma about her living vicariously through me. I was kind of forced to get a lot of haircuts that I didn’t want because I think she wanted a pixie cut and she wanted me to have a pixie cut. And so the first thing I did when I moved out, it took me till I was like 18 to grow my hair out because she didn’t force me when I was a teenager, she would just be like, “Oh, I mean, it is kind of like growing out pretty awkward, you should just cut it.” And it works on me. But my freshman year of high school, she was like, “You should be the green woman from Star Trek. And then Catherine, your best friend who’s gorgeous and black should be the black lead.” The movie Star Trek that had just come out. And of course Catherine was like, “Oh my God, absolutely.” Because she gets to be hot. And I was like all day covered in green paint that was like coming off. And she made me wear these weird pumps and I’ve never worn heels before in my life. It was so awkward and bad.
That’s great. Love that. Song six is “Chinese Satellite.” It is my favorite song. In listening to a lot of the music and really reading a bunch of your interviews, I think that there is definitely like this mystic connection and interest that you have in mysticism, God, cults, kind of all of these things. What is your relationship with religion?
I don’t really have one.
Have you never had one or you don’t currently?
Never had one, was not raised religious, atheist absolutely. I totally disagree with organized religion as a concept. That being said, I have religious friends who have fought me on that and found like queer communities through their church or whatever. And that I can’t really hold a light to because there’s part of that whole thing that makes me jealous. It’s like I didn’t go to college. I didn’t grow up around musicians. So I was just kind of thrown into the world to like meet people through just being a person in LA and that worked out fine eventually, but I did a lot of fumbling and whatever. So I think I was jealous of people with some sort of sense of greater community. And also people who could sleep at night, knowing that someone was taking care of them.
Yeah, do you feel like you could make that leap?
No. No. I’m positive. Harry and I have talked about that. We’ve gone through a lot of personal loss and suffering and he was like, “Man, I really wish I could make the Jesus leap.” Maybe if there was some sort of like an older woman in my neighborhood who was really into true crime and started some cult that seemed at first, like it was an Al-Anon meeting or something. I don’t know. Maybe. But as far as religion, no.
Do you think that you could be your own cult leader?
I don’t think I’m charismatic enough to be a cult leader. My friend Haley Dahl could absolutely be a cult leader. She’s in a band called Sloppy Jane. That’s like 13 people in a van. It’s a cult.
And you would be in that?
“Moon Song” is such a dagger and it’s so precious. I’m going to skip it.
I appreciate that.
“Savior Complex.” There’s so much going on instrumentally there. Like, you’ve got the upright bass, there’s like a clarinet. There’s so much going on musically. Do you write all those parts? How do you work on that song, musically?
Musically? Well, it evolved in the weirdest way ever, which is that I wrote the first melody in a dream, which it sounds corny and has never happened to me before or since, but I did and I have this like absolutely unhinged voice memo of like wheezing it into my phone in the middle of the night. And then my genius friend, Christian, who is also obsessed with Elliott Smith and Christian Lee Hutson, incredible guitar player and songwriter. I was like, help me find chords and he did, and then he was like, it should change keys in the middle. I was bouncing ideas off of him. I didn’t really know what it was going to be about. It changed a million times. And then, I’m very lucky to be surrounded by people where I could say the vaguest sentence and they know exactly what I mean. So then we got the arrangement down and then we took it into a sound city where I record my records and we got Blake Mills to play clarinet on it.
Wow, he’s just the key to everything.
I was making a joke cause Tony and Blake have like a very, very casual and fun, like constantly digging at each other-relationship. And Tony was like, you can’t play clarinet. And Blake was kind of like a kid who had done a kick flip earlier, but nobody was watching like, he’s like, I just did it! I can do it! And he nailed it. Rob Moose is the key to everything. He does all my strings and he was the most excited about that song. So when he came into the studio, we were just like, alright, go for it. And he let loose. It was great.
Have you released that voice memo that you made to yourself?
No, but I should. But it’s literally 15 seconds.
We are running close on time here, so I am going to cut the last couple of things and ask you if you have listened to the new Bill Callahan song.
No, you know, I don’t feel emotionally ready, but I feel like I need to. I’m obsessed with him. I saw him last summer, in Big Sur. It was amazing. There’s like a baby screaming in the audience. And he was like, “Hi baby.” Like that’s his way of dealing with it. It was great.
It is incredible.
Okay, I’ll listen right away.
So what is your favorite Bill Callahan song?
“Dress Sexy at My Funeral.”
“Dress Sexy at My Funeral” because it’s just the best. Oh, or “Cold-Blooded Old Times.” I can’t tell. I think “Dress Sexy at My Funeral” though, because my favorite thing is how deadpan he is when he’s on the first jokes where you’re like, “Is that a joke?” So yeah, it’s kind of a sad song to me. I love it. I will one day write a song like this.
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