Phoebe Bridgers is having a banner year. She released her debut album Stranger in the Alps almost one year ago to critical acclaim. John Mayer heralded her debut as “the arrival of a giant.” She’s spending the summer opening for The National and Conor Oberst, and just played onstage with Mumford and Sons at the Newport Folk Festival.
Bridgers makes devastating folk-rock with conversational and often biting lyricism that manages to explore intimacy, nudes, and Jeffrey Dahmer with the same earnesty.
She began making waves just out of high school – a 2014 iPhone commercial features the singer covering the Pixies’ “Gigantic.” Just a year later, she released Killer, an EP produced by Ryan Adams, who’d been introduced to her by a mutual friend. After a turn touring with Oberst and fellow newcomer Julien Baker, Bridgers’ debut album was heralded by NPR and the Fader as one of the best of 2017.
On Tuesday night, Bridgers brings her tongue-in-cheek misery and a heartbreaking songs to Asbury Lanes.
When did you first start writing songs, and why? When did you decide to dedicate yourself to music?
I don’t remember ever making a decision. I’ve always been a music fan, and it seemed obvious to me. All my favorite musicians were songwriters themselves, so again, writing my own songs seemed obvious too. I think I wrote my first horrendous attempt at a song when I was about 10.
Were you writing and performing throughout high school? Have you always been a performer, or did you see yourself as a songwriter first?
Yes, I went to a performing arts high school in LA called LACHSA, but ditched a lot to play shows and practice my own stuff. I’ve always been a performer because my mom was always very encouraging.
How’d you get involved with Ryan Adams? What was the Killer recording process like?
We met through Marshall Vore, who was drumming for Ryan here and there at the time. Marshall ended up writing/recording on my album and he tours with me now. We all hung out at Ryan’s studio one night and Ryan asked me to play a song and then he asked me to come back the next day to record to tape.
Coming out of Killer, you started touring with Julien Baker and Conor Oberst, and became friends. What were these early tours like?
Really fun. Julien and I became fast friends and I learned a shit ton about performing live from her. I’d been a big fan of Conor for a long time, so it was nerve racking in the beginning, which seems ridiculous now. He’s the best.
“Smoke Signals” is such a monumental song – those high atmospheric, reversed sounds that bookend the song, the echoing bass. The lyrics are great – they manage to be so specific and haunting at once. What was the writing process for the song like? What place did that all come from?
There were a couple different versions of that song before this one. It used to be more of a “song” with a “chorus,” and I didn’t like it so I only played it live once at my first ever show with Julien, actually. Then we played our last show of that tour in the Northwest, and since I needed to start another tour a few days later starting in the Northwest, I rented a cabin in Ketchum, Idaho, where I’d spent some time in the winter and just wrote. Marshall was there for a day or two but had to fly back to LA for something, so I stayed by myself.
I binge watched Jessica Jones and was positive I was going to get murdered there but I finished that song. I had been listening to a lot of Mark Kozelek, specifically his song “Ceiling Gazing,” and I started writing with less structure, and more storytelling. Now, every song I’ve ever written has been written differently. Sometimes it takes me an afternoon and sometimes it takes me six months. But they definitely all start completely different than the way they end up.
In your lyrics, you’ve explored alienation, numbness, and death. Your songs are crushingly, heartbreakingly beautiful. Have you always written on similar themes?
Yes. It’s just where my brain goes I guess. I’m definitely prone to depression, anxiety and fixation on dark themes, but right now in my life I feel pretty well adjusted and I actually have a bubbly personality, but whenever I write lyrics I tend to write about the same stuff.
Stranger in the Alps was a huge release that’s garnered an incredible amount of buzz. You’re coming up on a year since it’s been released – what’s this year been like? Any big plans for the sophomore album, or are you just focused on touring right now?
Releasing the album has been monumental to me. I’m doing what I always said I wanted to do, which is to make music my job. I’m focused on a million different things at once right now and it’s overwhelming and extremely rewarding. I’m excited to start putting more stuff out.
Phoebe Bridgers performs at Asbury Lanes tonight. Click here for tickets.