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GRAMMY PREVIEW:
PHOEBE BRIDGERS

Phoebe Bridgers’ universally acclaimed sophomore album, Punisher (Dead Oceans), has thrust the 25-year-old Pasadena native into the thick of Grammy speculation. As a modern-day chronicler of L.A. life, Bridgers is perpetuating a tradition that includes her primary inspiration, Elliott Smith, and goes back to Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon. Punisher makes it unequivocally clear that Bridgers is up to the task not just of carrying on this rich legacy but of adding something striking and unprecedented to it.

“The best writing is just telling the truth,” she’s said. “I feel the same way about Twitter as I do about songs—the only interesting thing you have to share is your own experience.” That insight seemed like a good place to kick off a conversation with the gifted singer/songwriter, whose barbed, bullshit-detecting sense of humor and F-bomb-laden takes define her as much as her richly detailed, emotionally bruised, beguilingly beautiful songs.

In your mind, what modes of expression do the parameters of your art encompass?
Mostly I’m focused on writing songs and making records, but I love everything that comes along with that: videos, album art, costumes, lights, even T-shirts. I’ve tried to write poetry, but if it’s any good, it always turns into a song. 

How do you see your place in SoCal’s rich musical legacy?
I grew up here and I’ve never lived anywhere else, so it makes sense that L.A. has made it into so much of my music, but as I tour more, I think my lens is widening. Luckily, I don’t think too hard about legacy, but I love all those songwriters. It’s hard enough just being a person, let alone trying to live up to legend status.

How has living through the most unsettling year in a half century impacted your writing?


My music has always been about being bored and terrified at the same time, so honestly it hasn’t changed much.

Are you starting to perceive the shape of your next album yet?
I’ve been writing songs, but I can’t see the shape of a record until way after it’s finished. Usually I’m standing onstage in the middle of a show singing a song I wrote a year ago and think, “Oh, that’s what that lyric means!”

How have you benefited from being part of a close-knit creative community that includes Tony Berg, Ethan Gruska, Blake Mills, Conor Oberst, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus?
I like being surrounded by people I’m jealous of; they motivate me to make better stuff. Everything they do sort of makes me want to quit music altogether, but in a good way. Tony is a musical encyclopedia, Ethan is a master of every instrument he touches and an actual real-life wizard, Blake is one of my favorite songwriters and a completely unique producer, Conor is the voice of a generation, Julien shreds and writes in a way that makes me rethink my life and wish I practiced more, and Lucy can destroy me with a single lyric. They all teach me love and patience and pain. Lots of pain.

What contemporary and classic artists have you been listening to in recent months?
The new Fiona Apple has been on heavy rotation, as well as the new Bright Eyes. Both examples of artists who continue to change their sound and their fans grow with them. Erik Satie and Grouper for when I need to think my thoughts, MUNA and Claud when I dance around my house, Noname and Big Thief when I’m driving, Matt Berninger and Gillian Welch when I’m crying, and Frank Black when I’m screaming.

You may see yourself as an outlier, but you—and Punisher—are very much in the conversation as a potential nominee for multiple Grammys, including Best New Artist and Album of the Year. How do you react to that distinction, and what do you imagine it would be like to win one or more?
I’ve always thought of the Grammys like the Oscars: beautiful and fun to watch, but a completely separate world from mine. My mom always orders take out, and we watch every year from the comfort of her couch. That said, I would love to dress up and go someday, and when I do, I’ll definitely take her.

That begs the question: What do the Grammys mean to you?
I mean, who doesn’t want to be applauded by a room full of their heroes for something they did that people like? I’d never hope for it, because that’s pointless, but are you kidding me? I would fucking love it.

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