Girl Genius and Better?
Phoebe Bridgers is one of the most talked-about singer-songwriters of her generation. She shares her observations and experiences in songs that are wise and insightful beyond her years.
♪ I hate you for what you did
♪ And I miss you like a little kid ♪
♪ I faked it every time, but that's alright ♪
♪ I can hardly feel anything I hardly feel anything at all ♪
- [Jim] Phoebe Bridgers wrote "Motion Sickness"
after ending what she's described as an obsessive
and emotionally abusive relationship.
Like much of her music,
the song is unabashedly autobiographical
outlining episodes of anger, sadness, and trauma.
And while she finds release in songwriting,
Bridgers isn't trying to escape
the fraught feelings that fuel her work.
♪ Was hoping you would let it go and you did ♪
- I think it's okay to be angry
as long as you have perspective and you know
that it's not healthy to always live there.
I think that anger serves a great purpose
for kind of deciding your own boundaries
and what makes you upset.
I don't think you should feel ashamed of being angry
but it's just exhausting to live there forever.
♪ I have emotional motion sickness ♪
♪ Somebody roll the windows down ♪
♪ There are no words in the English language ♪
♪ I could scream to drown you out ♪
- [Jim] At 26 Bridgers earnest lyrics
and finally home melodies,
have earned her multiple Grammy nominations
and comparisons to prolific singer songwriters
such as Leonard Cohen and John Prine, but Bridgers
isn't trying to be anyone but herself.
- I think I'm just not a great writer
of other people's stories.
I've been advanced with people who do that
but I have to kind of insert myself,
even if there are little glimpses of fiction
or a summary of a story rather than every detail.
I think I just need to put myself
in the driver's seat of everything.
- [Jim] Born and raised in Southern California.
Phoebe Bridgers was already making music
by the time she was 11.
Neither of her parents were musicians
but they primed her musical taste,
through their love of artists such
as Neil Young and Jackson Browne.
Bridgers built on that informal upbringing with study
at a visual and performing arts high school in Los Angeles.
She trained in a range of musical disciplines
including opera and jazz singing
and the concepts behind it all.
- I repeated theory one like the entirety of high school
because I was really bad at school,
but I do think repetition
of especially voice, like vocal jazz really helped me
even though I would never sing in that style.
And I think that there are fewer things as sinful
as a group of people singing like scatting together.
But I do think being able to sing
in a group singing a lot,
I feel the same way about playing shows.
Playing a lot of shows is really important.
You just get better over it with it naturally,
and I think just practice every day.
And I don't know if I would have practiced every day
if I hadn't gone to art school.
- [Jim] But the classroom was only a piece
of Bridgers musical education.
She also learned by playing out in the world.
Her mother was supportive, taking her to open mic nights,
picking her up from late night performances
and encouraging her to play
at a local farmer's market to earn pocket money.
- Busking was really nice for my confidence
because you just practice and practice
and practice and practice.
Sometimes nobody's paying attention to you,
sometimes someone's watching your really intently.
So it was very humbling at the very least
like it actually set me up to be able
to play bars where people are screaming
at each other and not care.
You just kind of have to keep playing.
- [Jim] And Bridgers kept playing live after high school.
She turned down an opportunity
to attend The Berklee School of Music,
instead playing her way onto stages
with prominent indie stars
including Julian Baker and Conor Oberst.
- I didn't have huge expectations.
I really wanted, like at the very least I just
wanted it to be my full-time job, which is a lot to ask.
I had been doing some work that I wasn't super passionate
about when I started really making records.
And when that started to happen, I've just been content.
Like, of course I wanted to do all sorts of stuff
and it's been on an upward trajectory luckily,
but when I sold a hundred tickets
for the first time, I was like, boom! Made it.
I didn't think very much further.
- [Jim] But further she did go.
Her debut album Stranger In The Alps was released in 2017
to widespread praise or second to 2020s "Punisher"
garnered four Grammy nominations.
Two of those were for her song Kyoto, an exploration
of her strained history with a father,
who she says was an abusive drug user.
♪ Day off in Kyoto I got bored at the temple ♪
♪ Looked around at the 7-11
♪ The band took the speed train went to the arcade ♪
♪ I wanted to go but I didn't
♪ You called me from a payphone ♪
♪ They still got payphones
♪ It cost a dollar a minute
♪ To tell me you're getting sober ♪
♪ And you wrote me a letter
♪ But I don't have to read it
♪ I'm gonna kill you
♪ If you don't beat me to it
♪ Dreaming through Tokyo skies
♪ I wanted to see the world
♪ Then I flew over the ocean
♪ And I changed my mind
- [Jim] And Bridger songs are often
both a way to process and move past tough times.
- Up until the last point of making records
I will edit and edit and edit.
Oh, I, you know, I changed words
in the very last minutes of Punisher
but then once it's done, it's just finished
and I never think about it again.
- [Jim] Since the pandemic,
Phoebe Bridgers has begun to reconnect
with her father who split from her mother
when Bridgers was 20.
But as old wounds heal, new ones form.
- That's a whole other genre has appeared where
it's like grappling with the idea
of being a public person and being
on tour all the time and what that means
and grappling with my character
versus my actual personality.
And if they're the same, and there are parts
of my personality that I think I'll protect for safety
for emotional safety.
I think am publicly way closer
to the way I would probably nervously be
at a party or something like I'm actually quite loud
I'm not a shy person.
And then I shut the door to my hotel room
and it's just like blank,
- It's another thing because everybody says
you have to either be an extrovert or an introvert.
Most of us are largely we have
both of those things going on.
- Yeah. I think it's very nuanced.
I think it's the root
of that question is do you feel drained by alone time
or do you feel drained by time with other people?
And I am always like, yes
I feel drained constantly by things.
I need a little bit of both
to be able to survive either thing.
I think that a big thing
about the pandemic has been grappling
with the amount of my own ego that comes
from being applauded every night by a group
of people and having my own little world kind
of just constantly revolve around me.
I do feel energized by that.
And then 10 days in detour, I feel exhausted by it
and don't want to ever be perceived by anybody ever again.
It's like this year
I would love to play the worst show ever.
You know, there was a venue
in Boston that got shut down recently,
but like the dressing room was the bathroom,
I'd play there in a heartbeat.
But when I was on that tour
I would've killed to just go home.
- [Jim] Still. Phoebe Bridgers is confident in who she is
and doesn't feel the need to change
as the stages she plays on grow larger.
If anything she just feels the need
to amplify the desires, beliefs
and feelings that have brought her from the farmer's markets
and open mics of Southern California.
- So I think the only biggest difference to me
is just realizing how lucky I am to have a platform to talk
about the things that I care about
trying to wield it for good.
So I think it's better
to amplify voices of smarter people honestly.
I don't want to take up space
in a world where somebody else should be speaking.
But I also think with the big megaphone, it's like, why not?
Why not kind of stomp your feet
when you see something unfair happening
not on social media just like internally, you know?
I think it's nicer to be able
to be literally just listened to more.
- Did you think the megaphone brings it with it
any sort of any obligation?
- Yes. Definitely.
People who say shut up and saying,
our land is by Woody Guthrie who never shut up ever.
Like, so Bob Dylan never shut up.
I don't know.
It's just that's not what it's for.
Nobody's ever shut up and saying
it's just not, it's not a thing it's fake.
- [Jim] Now in her late twenties
Phoebe Bridgers would seem to have found her own way
exploring and crafting music by embracing discipline as well
as the unrelenting messiness and contradictions of living.
Sometimes weary of what she'll find
but never giving in to the fear of what you've uncovered.
♪ I have emotional motion sickness ♪
♪ I try to stay clean and live without ♪
♪ And I wanna know what would happen ♪
♪ If I surrender to the sound
♪ Surrender to the sound
- [Announcer] Articulate with Jim Cotter,
is made possible with generous funding
from the Neubauer Family foundation.