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Interview: Phoebe Bridgers on her new album 'Punisher'.

Interview: Phoebe Bridgers on her new album 'Punisher'.

"You can admit your feelings today, even if they are not reciprocated," recites Phoebe Bridgers aloud to me over the phone, reading out her daily notification from the personalised astrology app, Co – Star. "That's so funny," she comments wryly. It's three days before Bridgers is set to announce details of her highly anticipated sophomore album, 'Punisher', back in April, and today should have been a triumphant Monday morning following back-to-back shows supporting The National in Auckland on her debut visit to New Zealand, but with international travel shuttered, we're instead connecting over the phone. I ask Bridgers how she feels about the advice from Co – Star. She mulls it over and says, "What does that feel like today? Maybe it's just with all this craziness going on... I just had a Zoom chat with Boygenius, and I think everybody's at a different level of weird grief. Like, some people are being really productive right now. And some people are breaking down and drinking more, and whatever, and I'm going through every cycle of that. So I guess that's kind of what it means to me. Like, just sharing your feelings. Even if other people aren't really on the same page as you, it's nice to be able to talk about it."

Of the title of her new album, 'Punisher', Bridgers says, "I thought it was cool as an album title. I feel like it sounds kind of metal, even though the meaning isn't that metal." She's explained: "It happens to all of us, where you get punished. The worst, for me, is when someone is really nice, where you know that your reaction is important to them, but the conversation is painful. My deep, deep fear is that I’ve done that to people who are my heroes. I’m obsessed with things that describe me basically; I’m the punisher in this context." Acutely self-aware, Bridgers' album 'Punisher' is a deep-dive into recognising trauma, surviving trauma, and disassociating from trauma.

"I get this feeling whenever I feel good it will be the last time," sings Bridgers in 'I See You', characterising the human experience of eternally questioning fleeting feelings of happiness and joy. Wistfully, Bridgers hopes for solidarity, "I hope other people feel like that because I certainly do." But deliberately, second single 'Kyoto' is "the most fun, and you can sing along to it," says Bridgers about the deceptively buoyant sounding track. "This song is about impostor syndrome. About being in Japan for the first time, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go, and playing my music to people who want to hear it, feeling like I’m living someone else’s life. I dissociate when bad things happen to me, but also when good things happen. It can feel like I’m performing what I think I’m supposed to be like. I wrote this one as a ballad first, but at that point I was so sick of recording slow songs, it turned into this."

And looking forward to rescheduled New Zealand and Australian dates with The National for December this year, Bridgers says, "I hope that it's allowed. That would be so great. It's just it's so hard to even think about life beyond right now, but I'm trying my hardest."

CDM: In 'Garden Song' you say, "When I grow up I’m gonna look up from my phone and see my life / And it’s gonna be just like my recurring dream." Do you think dreams can be prophetic?
PHOEBE:
I do. I mean, I don't know what comes first. Really. If it's a subconscious thing that then manifests into reality? But I definitely think that there's a big correlation with things that happen in my life and things that I dream about. I believe that.

CDM: Do you think you've 'grown up' yet? Or are still yet to finish growing?
PHOEBE:
I definitely feel like I'm still growing. Although, that's a new feeling I think. Probably if you asked me when I was 17, I'd have been like, 'No, I'm my full self.' So maybe that's a sign of growth. But yeah, I look at who I was in 2016, and I'm like, 'Oh my god, I'm so different.' So yeah, I'm definitely growing and changing.
CDM: Do we ever really even finish growing up?
PHOEBE:
I don't think so. Honestly, if we think about our parents or whatever... I mean, my mom, when she got divorced, which was not that long ago, just became a stand-up comedian. I feel like it's her calling now. So no, I don't think we ever stop growing up.

CDM: You mention the ages 17 in 'Garden Song' and then 25 in 'Kyoto'. What was specifically memorable about being those ages for you?
PHOEBE:
They're both specific. Although, 25, that's funny because I didn't even think about this at all, but 25 in 'Kyoto' is just the speed I'm driving in the car. It's about how when you first drive and you feel like you're going so fucking fast, but you're not actually going fast at all. But those two things are actually specific memories. So, the Huntington Gardens here in Pasadena, I did actually hop the fence when I was 17 because I had a crush on an art student who was older than me and they were all doing it, and I tried to pretend like I do that shit all the time but I absolutely don't. It was terrifying. And I tore my jeans. But yeah, it was high school times.

CDM: It's funny, your birthday is also on the 17th of August. If you could tell the 17-year-old Phoebe you sing about in 'Garden Song' anything, what would you want to tell her?
PHOEBE:
Just like... it's gonna work out. Which I think a lot of people wish they could tell their younger selves, that you don't have to be so stressed or depressed. Someday you'll wake up feeling a lot different than you feel right now.

CDM: "The doctor put her hands over my liver / She told me my resentment’s getting smaller," you say in 'Garden Song'. Is resentment an emotion or a mood?
PHOEBE:
I think it's your ego. It is for me. I feel like resentment is direct. There's a direct correlation between trauma and resentment for me, like, getting over trauma. So the less resentful I feel every day, the more I feel great about everything. I think that's my biggest weakness. So yeah, I think it's all those things? I think it was an important tool for me, to respect myself and to realise what I don't like about being treated certain ways. Or to realise what you don't like and what's disrespectful for someone to do. But then now as an adult, it's overactive. My resentment can be overactive. So I think it's an important thing to be aware of.

CDM: What was running through your mind while writing 'Chinese Satellite'?
PHOEBE:
Basically, just how I wish I was at Hogwarts. I wish someone would tell me that normal life is actually not all there is, and that yeah, you're special, or that when you die, this specific thing will happen. I wasn't raised religious or anything, so kind of the only outlet I have for that is fantasy and books. Just wanting to be able to escape into something.
CDM: Which Hogwarts house do you think you would have been sorted into?
PHOEBE:
Slytherin. It's been confirmed by many tests, but also my hair. I am a Leo with a Capricorn Moon, so I feel like that's pretty Slytherin-y.

CDM: In 'Chinese Satellite' you say, "I’ve been running around in circles / Pretending to be myself." Is the concept of 'yourself' something that is always evolving?
PHOEBE:
Yeah, again, I think it's just separating ego from your actual self. Like, sometimes if I'm having a bad day, nobody will know because it really does feel like I'm putting on a 'me' costume and talking to my friends the way I would normally talk to them and stuff.
CDM: Do you think people often hide behind facades of what they 'think' they should be like?
PHOEBE:
Totally. I've definitely been guilty of it.

CDM: It's relatable in 'I See You' when you say, "I don’t know what I want until I fuck it up." Why do you think it's so hard to know what you want until you've already exhausted other options?
PHOEBE:
For me, it's hard to feel like... when I have memories, I'm only remembering a condensed version of stuff, so I don't remember days where I played a beautiful show where a bunch of people were there and I have a great memory of it. I don't remember waking up tired that day or having a sore throat. I just remember the good stuff. So I think it's kind of that. I don't even really know what I feel about things until way, way later.

CDM: I love the big chaotic ending to 'I Know The End' with you roaring. Was that deliberate with you wanting to end the album like that and the laboured heavy breathing at the end?
PHOEBE:
Yeah! I just thought it was funny. I wanted to scream on the album. It's kind of supposed to be fake applause, the heavy breathing, or cheering for me, but it's nobody. I definitely had the most fun with weird ideas like that on that song.

Phoebe Bridgers' new album 'Punisher' is out this Friday, June 19th.

Watch the 'Kyoto' music video below...

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