Articulate

S7 E13 | CLIP

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.

AIRED: July 23, 2021 | 0:11:47
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TRANSCRIPT

(instrumental music)

(violin playing)

(upbeat music)

♪ 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

♪ Ooh

- [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,

(chuckles)

very solitary.

- 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

(upbeat music)

(soft music)

- [Announcer] Articulate with Jim Cotter,

is made possible with generous funding

from the Neubauer Family foundation.

(bright music)

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