Phoebe Bridgers On 'Punisher,' Conor Oberst And The Poetry Of Specificity The LA singer-songwriter talks about her second solo album, which includes guest appearances from peers like Conor Oberst, copying ideas from her heroes and the way lyrical specificity mimics poetry.
NPR logo

It 'Feels Like A Graduation': Phoebe Bridgers On 'Punisher'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/879873148/881559715" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
It 'Feels Like A Graduation': Phoebe Bridgers On 'Punisher'

It 'Feels Like A Graduation': Phoebe Bridgers On 'Punisher'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/879873148/881559715" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A pandemic is not really the easiest time to put out an album.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE")

JIMMY KIMMEL: From her bathroom in Echo Park, Phoebe Bridgers - Live from the Lavatory.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PHOEBE BRIDGERS: I'm Phoebe Bridgers. I'm a quarantined indie singer-songwriter from Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE")

BRIDGERS: (Singing) Day off in Kyoto, I got bored at the temple. Looked around at the 7-11.

MARTIN: Phoebe Bridgers is promoting her second solo albums. Instead of clubs, she's playing from home on talk shows, social media, even the videogame Minecraft.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRIDGERS: (Singing) I'm a liar.

I did a livestream tour for my house. I got, like, canned applause to make me feel better.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

BRIDGERS: I think I would feel way weirder if I was the only person on earth going through it. But it's nice opening Instagram Live, playing something and everybody saying - oh, my gosh - we miss live music; we miss you. There's a weird solidarity in it - in being by myself.

(SOUNDBITE OF BETTER OBLIVION COMMUNITY CENTER'S "SLEEPWALKIN'")

MARTIN: At the same time, though, Bridgers is missing out on the collaborations that inspire her. Aside from her solo works, she's appeared on tracks with The National and The 1975. And she's in a band with Conor Oberst called Better Oblivion Community Center.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SLEEPWALKIN'")

BETTER OBLIVION COMMUNITY CENTER: (Singing) Is this having fun? Or is it just because? Which one is jumping first off of the face of the earth?

BRIDGERS: My favorite part of collaborating is it's very uncertain when I'm by myself. I feel like this with my personality, too, where I don't quite feel like a person unless I'm performing myself for someone a little bit. And I think that goes into collaborating, where you kind of save your best ideas to show off - to be a great version of yourself instead of just second-guessing yourself in your house.

MARTIN: It reminds me of something that you were quoted as saying in The New Yorker - that you trick yourself into telling the truth sometimes in your songwriting. Can you say more about what that means?

BRIDGERS: Yeah. Well, it's pretty literal. Like, I seriously will give myself a homework assignment and say, I don't really care about this person this much. But for the song, it's more interesting. And I feel like I'm making it up or I'm combining a bunch of experiences. And then two years later, I realize - oh, my God, I was telling the truth.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GARDEN SONG")

BRIDGERS: (Singing) Someday I'm going to live in your house up on the hill. And when your skinhead neighbor goes missing, I'll plant a garden.

MARTIN: Do you ever get inside your own head, though, about the details? Do you start to write a song about something super specific and then be like - this is not interesting, this is not an interesting detail?

BRIDGERS: I don't think that's happened yet. The weirdest thing in the specificity is it sounds like poetry a lot of the time. For example, I have a song called "Garden Song" where I say, the doctor put her hands over my liver and told me my resentment's getting smaller.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GARDEN SONG")

BRIDGERS: (Singing) The doctor put her hands over my liver. She told me my resentment's getting smaller.

And I get asked about that lyric all the time. And I was like, I don't know. I went to see a nutritionist. And I thought that was a weird thing to say to somebody - I guess just a true story. I think that the...

MARTIN: Your doctor really said that?

BRIDGERS: Yeah - I mean, doctor is a loose term.

MARTIN: Right.

BRIDGERS: But yes. Sometimes I'll kind of write a joke song to myself saying, ah, this would never be a real lyric. And I always end up liking some piece of it. "Kyoto" is kind of like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHOEBE BRIDGERS' "KYOTO")

BRIDGERS: Like, this is just a joke I'm telling myself, and then I end up kind of falling in love with it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KYOTO")

BRIDGERS: (Singing) Day off in Kyoto...

MARTIN: Can I ask you about "Kyoto"? It's about your father, someone who you've had a complicated relationship with - as many of us do.

BRIDGERS: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KYOTO")

BRIDGERS: (Singing) Called me from a pay phone - they still got pay phones. It cost a dollar a minute to tell me you're getting sober. You wrote me a letter. But I don't have to read it.

MARTIN: Had you written about him before?

BRIDGERS: Yeah, I had. There's a song on the first record that's kind of about it. And this record, in a lot of ways, kind of feels like a graduation. But I feel like - I'm trying to be self-aware about my resentments. Like, I feel like I have strong opinions weakly held. So yeah, that's kind of what "Kyoto" is about. I think that there's a lot of kind of, like, hatred and resentment on the first record about all kinds of people. And then on this record, I kind of am exploring just how quickly that goes away with a little bit of examination.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KYOTO")

BRIDGERS: (Singing) I don't forgive you, but please don't hold me to it. Born under Scorpio skies...

MARTIN: Phoebe Bridgers ended up changing her release date. Originally, it was supposed to happen on Friday June 19 - Juneteenth, the day recognizing the end of slavery in the United States. It was a coincidence. She changed the date and dropped the album a day earlier. Like a lot of white Americans, she has joined racial justice protests and is thinking about her privilege.

BRIDGERS: I always remember this one time in Nashville when I was a teenager. I was walking through a flea market, and there was all this Confederate flag, racist just vintage stuff. And I was so angry and confused, like, crying, calling my mom and then realizing that when I walk by, nobody's even looking twice at me because I can enter into a racist situation, and I have to use my voice to make it clear that I'm not complicit. So I think my reflections have been just picking small battles and maybe not shutting people out who have a chance to realize their own implicit bias. I just hope that nobody ever stops talking about what's going on in the world.

MARTIN: You see hope. There's some kind of optimism in those kinds of conversations happening.

BRIDGERS: Yeah, I do because it's a social faux pas to not "get it," quote-unquote. And I think that's great. I think that for way too long, it's been the opposite, where just nobody wanted to think about it.

MARTIN: Phoebe Bridgers - her new album is called "Punisher."

Phoebe, thank you again.

BRIDGERS: Thanks so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I SEE YOU")

BRIDGERS: (Singing) But I feel something...

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.