interview: Phoebe Bridgers
words: Nina Braca
photos: Frank Ockenfels
Earlier this year, Phoebe Bridgers released her captivating new album Stranger In The Alps and it has already become a classic autumn soundtrack. It’s haunting in a way that makes you want to listen on repeat on a cold morning when everything is quiet and asleep, while the sun begins to warm you up. The album opens with “Smoke Signals,” a beautiful song with the Twin Peaks Theme-esque riffs and playfully solemn lyrics like “And all of our problems, I'm gonna solve 'em/ With you riding shot-gun, speeding, 'cause fuck the cops.”
The album is filled with little one-line gems that are deceivingly simple but so meaningful. “For a chemical imbalance, you sure know how to ride a train” on the track “Chelsea” really stuck out to me in particular, since I heard it while I was riding a train and had to rewind a couple of times to really let it sink in. You should be sitting down when listening to the soft echoey vocals so that you can take it al in and let it process what it means to you.
Another stand out is “Would You Rather” which features Conor Oberst and, on my favorite track on the album, “Motion Sickness” she gets real about the psychological effects of emotional roller coasters. Basically, the album gave me emotional motion sickness, but in the best possible way. Sometimes you just have to do as Phoebe says, and “surrender to the sound.”
I spoke with Phoebe about her influences, writing process, and everyone’s undeniable attraction to KJ Appa:
The Grey Estates: Who or what inspires your songwriting process?
Phoebe Bridgers: My friend group is really tight knit, and they are totally an inspiration for me. I also have been a little better easier on myself when hearing about other people’s writing process. Like Conor Oberst, who I toured with, he goes through spurts of writing all at once, and then he won’t write anything for like six months. Then people like Ryan Adams are constantly writing. So I used to think there was one way of doing things, but it’s cool to learn from people like that that you can just do your thing, and whatever works for you works for you.
So what works for you?
I haven’t truly figured it out! But I think it’s really valuable for me to be able to like “go away” and write. It’s really easy to get caught up in my own life or write on the road. I think if I make time to do it, that’s when I’m productive. I’m jut still figuring it out.
It’s a definitely a hard process. Did you find one song that was particularly hard to write?
“Smoke Signal” was another song before and I didn’t really like it. I wrote a lot of it in January of last year but it wasn’t my favorite...it was really different, but I liked the ideas. Then I just gave up on it. Then six months later I discovered this chord progression that I was obsessed with, and I just i I finished it in a half hour after that. But it’s not really hard for me to get deep or dark when I’m writing. I’m mostly just self conscious of it when I play live.
So what’s that like?
Well, a song like “Funeral,” it always leaves people clenching their seats. So it’s weird. But I’m getting used to it.
What do you do besides music?
Most of the musicians i know have the same answer, which is my answer: I go see my friends shows or listen to records. When I’m not playing music, I’m consuming it. I still feel very much like a music fan. Which is cool. Like I’m going to see Paramore tonight! And that’s awesome.
How excited for that are you?
Dude...I just watched their live set and I am so excited about this album. I feel like I always knew they were capable of transitioning into this universe and they did it so flawlessly.
What’s your go to karaoke song?
I’m actually trying to figure that out because I’m going to karaoke a lot right now I’m my life. I really want to learn “Picture” by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow. Or rehearse a song and do “Welcome To The Jungle” with a live band or something.
saw you recently tweeted about KJ Appa...do you watch Riverdale?
I guess that’s what I do besides music...I always eat while watching Netflix and I just picked a random show and watched a couple episodes of Riverdale and was like “wow this guy [KJ Appa] is hot.”
What other shoes do you watch?
I just watched The OA. It was crazy. I watched it twice and made other people watch it with me.
I do that all the time.
Also The Keepers is amazing. But...nobody should watch it.
Stranger In The Alps is out now via Dead Oceans.