Phoebe Bridgers

Forever in Song

Nov 30, 2017 Photography by Ray Lego (for Under the Radar) Issue #62 - Julien Baker
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Phoebe Bridgers always wanted to be a singer. The 22-year-old Pasadena, CA native recently released her debut album, Stranger in the Alps, but it seems that she has spent her whole life preparing for this. She played her first open mic night at 13, opened for Peter Case (of The Nerves and The Plimsouls) when she was 14, and graduated from the prestigious Los Angeles County High School for the Arts in 2013. "When I was a teenager, my mom would wait outside of gigs to drive me home before I could drive," she says. For Bridgers, music was always in her bones.

"My first real concert was Neil Young," says Bridgers, recalling her early musical inspirations and the music that filled her home as a child. "I can't remember how old I was. I'd probably been to concerts before, but not having been a fan first. [At home, there was] lots of Neil Young. Lots of Lauren Canyon music. Lots of Van Morrison. I'd seen The Last Waltz about 1,000 times before I was a functioning adult."

Stranger in the Alps is a bold, affecting album that falls in nicely with the rich history of folk music, exemplified by artists such as Joni Mitchell, Tim Buckley, and Nick Drake, all whom Bridgers asserts as her own personal touchstones. Add to this list Elliott Smith, who became foundational for her after she was introduced by a friend at the age of 13. But it was another singer/songwriter who gave Bridgers her big break: Ryan Adams. As the story goes, Adams heard her perform her song "Killer" and invited her to the studio to record it the next day, releasing the single on his own label Pax-Am Records in 2015.

Much of Stranger in the Alps is borne of real world experience, from playing open mic nights before she could drive to skipping class in high school to play house shows in Los Angeles. But two of the album's key tracks, the haunting "Smoke Signals" and the melodically beatific "Motion Sickness," were written in four days, with Bridgers holed up in a cabin in Sun Valley, Idaho between tours with Violent Femmes and Australian singer/songwriter Matt Corby.

"It was four days between the tours," says Bridgers. "I had a rental car. I could drive home for two days and drive back for two days, or I could just spend the money on an Airbnb.... I was totally terrified because I was there by myself. Terrified for no reason. I was looking at the crimes in Sun Valley, and it was like zero. But there was something about being alone in a cabin. Any time there was a temperature change, the whole ceiling, the wood would adjust or swell up. I don't know what it was. But it was just creaking 24-7."

With her debut album now behind her, albeit just barely in the rearview mirror, Bridgers is already looking forward. Though she is touring in support of Stranger in the Alps, she has already begun writing again. She is well aware of the adage that you have your whole life to write your first album and then no time to write your second.

"I'm lucky to be surrounded by a lot of people who have told me this," says Bridgers. "They're like, 'If there's time to write your second record, it's right now. Write whenever you can.' So that's basically what I'm doing. I'm not really thinking about a specific style or anything. I'm just kind of writing whatever comes out, and maybe if I get with the right producer, we can find the through line with everything that I'm writing. But I've definitely started thinking about it."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Fall 2017 Issue (October/November 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

www.phoebefuckingbridgers.com

 

 

 

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