Photo: David Studarus
“Funny things can almost make a sad song sadder.”
With a propensity for weaving the most strikingly-wistful and melancholic sonic narratives, Phoebe Bridgers has been firmly earning herself a reputation as one of the most masterful songwriters around. Her music proffers a distinct amalgamation of wry sobriety, imbuing her debut Stranger in the Alps with a certain haunting atmosphere.
Talking of her sound, Bridgers is modest and straightforward: “With the record, I guess it was just me finding my style, and it just ended up being this.” That same succinctness pervades her lyrics, and speaking to her over the phone, she emanates a certain grounded serenity. “I think I’ve always been attracted to narrative songwriting, so it’s what I always wanted to do,” she shares.
Delving into her writing process, she explains, “A lot of the time I write songs in blocks. So I don’t sit down and try to write a song if it doesn’t come to me or whatever. I do write a lot differently to a lot of people. Like, when I do something I try to finish it on the day, instead of writing a piece here or a piece there. They all seem to kind of come together all at once”.
Within these poignant narratives is an undeniable prevalence of musings on mortality. Stranger in the Alps deals with the deaths of iconic musicians, alluding to the departures of Lemmy and Bowie from this world, as well as the passing of those closer to her age and more. “It happened organically as a theme,” she explains, “because it was basically over many years, from my teens to my early twenties. I think it just naturally happened that way. It wasn’t intentional.”
Combining a certain brooding bleakness with a particular kind of humour is undoubtedly something that Bridgers does with prowess and ingenuity. Taking the title of the record from that famously-censored line in The Big Lebowski, Bridgers explains the choice: “I just thought it kinda sounded pseudo-poetic and I’ve always loved album titles that were. Especially if they came in a package that wasn’t funny.” This dichotomy is something that she very much channels with her own music. “I don’t think it was really intentional, but then it kind of worked, so I kept doing it,” she says of this blend of wit and melancholy that permeates the tracks on Stranger in the Alps. “I think that certain funny things can almost make a sad song sadder,” she adds. And this is certainly the case with Bridgers’ music.
“The thing that’s keeping me sane on tour is trying to relax and let whatever happens happen…”
Getting to this point has been a slow-burning process. “I was always writing songs even when they were really shitty, and always listening to music and going to concerts. It was always something I enjoyed, but as for making actual decisions, it just started happening,” she explains. “But then, you know, this is the very reason I’ve been able to fully be wrapped up in it. I graduated high school and I didn’t want to go to college, cause I wanted to do music, but I was kind of like hanging around and not really doing anything other than writing songs and wondering if I was gonna be able to record them. Then, I met my producer and we started recording casually – and it just kind of came together.”
Over the past few years, Bridgers has toured with the likes of Conor Oberst, The National and Julien Baker to name a few, and has continued to be on the road, seemingly relentlessly. “I think routine is a really big thing for me,” she emphasises while considering how she manages touring with such frequency. “Taking a walk everyday is really nice. But I think the thing that’s keeping me sane on tour is trying to relax and let whatever happens happen. So not letting every little thing that goes wrong make me really upset. So yeah, I think I’m getting better at it… Well, better at packing for sure,” she adds wryly.
Somewhat ironically, Bridgers – an artist very much in the youth of her music career – has been touring under the banner of ‘The Farewell Tour’, something we all hope is no omen for the future. “Oh, I just thought it was funny, because so many bands I love do, like, many farewell tours and it’s really fake,” she states plainly, “I thought it was funny because it was my first tour. I love that Neil Young quote recently, like, ‘fuck a farewell tour, I’ll retire when I’m dead.’ That’s it.”
Phoebe Bridgers plays Thekla on 20th August, with Stranger in the Alps out now via Dead Oceans.