She's been described as a cross between Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Courtney Marie Andrews. Record–producer and musician Ryan Adams heard one of her original songs and then invited her to produce a 7–inch at his studio the next day. She's about to open up for Bon Iver in London, and has played with legendary bands like the Violent Femmes and The War On Drugs. Everyone, it's Phoebe Bridgers.
Following the release of her critically acclaimed debut album Strangers In the Alps, Bridgers' trademark has amassed a cult following due to the rawness of her transcription of the human experience. Now on the third week of her first solo headlining tour, the 23–year–old indie–folk artist found some time on the road to talk to Street about all of the trials and tribulations of life on the road and give us a peak into what it's like to play alongside your heroes.
34th Street Magazine: You just started your first solo nationwide tour. What are you looking forward to most over the next few months?
Phoebe Bridgers: Well, we just started like two weeks ago. And so I think the most exciting thing so far has been just playing for people who paid specifically to see me. Playing for people who know the album is a different ballgame. I love it.
Street: You’ve opened for huge bands like The War on Drugs and The Violent Femmes. What was it like to learn the art of touring alongside such seasoned artists?
PB: It was great. I learned a lot. It definitely made it a lot easier to do this tour obviously having a bunch of tour experience going into this. I know how to pack now ‘cause of the guys. I know when to do my laundry.
Street: How do you think it’ll be different having this tour be ‘your thing?’ What’s it like having a whole tour just to yourself?
PB: Yeah, it’s definitely a big ego boost [laughs]. And it’s also nice not having to win people over. I think people, because they’re seeing me, you know, on purpose, they want me to succeed versus like a ‘who the fuck is this’ sort of deal if I’m, like, opening for their favorite band where they love three of their albums. Its great playing for people who really just want me to do well.
Street: A few of the shows are with Bon Iver!
PB: The shows were sold out before I was even added to be opening for them. I mean, they're pretty giant. Which is going to be really exciting, you know, going back to making people take me seriously and paying attention to me before their favorite artist. I’m really, really, really excited to be playing before them.
Street: So how did you get that gig?
PB: Justin heard me on the radio at some point which is awesome, I like that (Ed note: yeah, she’s on a first name basis with frontman, lead singer, and guitarist Justin Vernon. Casual). But they asked me, you know went through my agent, and so now I’m just really excited to meet them all in person.
Street: You got your start in music by busking and doing open mic nights. How did that experience influence your performing style and overall identity as an up and coming musician?
PB: Yeah, you’ve got to have a pretty thick skin. I think there was a negative part of it where I learned how to project maybe a little too much, so now when I’m on a microphone I need to remember and try to sing softer. I remember when I was recording my album I was still trying to make everyone in the room hear me. But then, in a good way, it made it so that when I was playing before the Violent Femmes and people were talking I could still get through it and ignore the talking people and make it about the people who were actually listing to me ... In busking, people mostly aren’t paying attention to you, so I still get really stoked when people do.
Street: What do you like about performing, and what made you want to become a professional musician?
PB: You know, it’s been so long I kind of just don’t really know. I just know that it’s always been what's fascinated me the most and it’s always been the way that I’ve wanted to spend my time. Being on stage was never really a big part of it. It became a part of it, but everything just started with me really being a big music fan myself.
Street: You take on a lot of themes regarding intimacy and relationship in your debut studio album, Strangers in the Alps. Where did you get the inspiration for such raw and emotional lyrics?
PB: Just entirely personal experience, pretty much. Or the way that other people's experiences related to me. Since I haven’t really been playing for too many people, it never felt like too much to lay out on the table. Now, it’s a different story.
Street: What is your songwriting process like? Is it usually one experience that sticks out to you or a sort of aggregate expression of your emotions?
PB: I think both, for sure. Really intense stuff has happened to me and I won’t have the urge to write anything about it. But then I’ll have a conversation with someone really about nothing and that ends up in a song. So it really just depends on what sticks with me. There isn’t really a through line. It’s just kind of whatever.
Street: Strangers in the Alps is a lot different than your first project, Killer. What do you think your greatest transformation as a songwriter has been so far? And what prompted that change?
PB: Killer was just kind of an experiment where Ryan Adams, who produced and recorded it at his studio, just wanted me to record demos. I think that it is actually really highly produced. We were listening to a lot of Kate Bush and the Beatles, you know, bands that are really highly produced and talented in the studio and so I always wanted that. And It’s my favorite thing about, now, my album. I just get to say more with more production than just playing my songs.
I'm just super excited. I'm not one of those people where you see me and I’m pissed that I have to play for you. This tour feels really good, and not, like, soul–sucking, just traveling all the time—at least now, talk to me in six months [laughs].
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.