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Talking With Phoebe Bridgers About Bon Iver, Her Advice To Musicians And Coming To Fargo

Photo courtesy of Chromatic PR/Frank Ockenfels

When we were offered the opportunity to interview Los Angeles recording artist Phoebe Bridgers in advance of her show at The Aquarium on April 21, the first thing I did was go to Spotify. While I had previously heard her name, I had not given her debut record a listen. As I was listening to Stranger in the Alps, I felt a whirlwind of emotions. The softer tempo arrangements were coupled with some relatively dark and visceral lyrics. So much so, that I could feel goosebumps rising from my skin by the third track. For example, here is the first line of that third track, entitled “Funeral”.

“I’m singing at a funeral tomorrow / for a kid a year older than me.”

While it seems dark at the outset, Bridgers’ soft, almost haunting vocal adds to the evocative image of singing at a funeral. You are put in the shoes of the singer, in all her feelings of macabre towards the fallen “kid”.

And that is exactly what Phoebe Bridgers wants. She wants you to feel her music, she wants it to be an experience. One listen to Stranger in the Alps and you will have that experience. I pulled a fellow Spotlight Media employee to my desk to listen to the opening track “Smoke Signals” to see if the same experience was had.

“She sounds like a lady Bon Iver,” he said. Oddly enough, Bridgers wants that opinion of her too, considering the impact the Wisconsin indie band has had on her.

At only 23 years old, Bridgers has already performed on a national stage both for CBS This Morning and NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts. Now, she embarks on her “Farewell Tour” across the United States. She will make her stop in Fargo this Saturday.

We had a chance to talk with Phoebe before this weekend’s show:

Growing up in Los Angeles, there’s obviously plenty of inspiration swirling around. What intrigued or inspired you about music specifically?

Phoebe Bridgers: I definitely fantasized about being an actress when I was a kid too. I liked singing onstage a lot. My mom’s music taste is great, so eventually, I just became obsessed with great American and Canadian (Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen) songwriters. I wanted to do that.

The tour you are bringing to Fargo is entitled “Farewell Tour.” Is there a meaning behind that?

Bridgers: I just thought it was funny. I also think it’s funny when bands actually go on real farewell tours, and then tour a year later, like Guided by Voices.

Are there certain themes you like to touch upon in your songs? Or, more specifically, when you sit down to write a song do you have a specific subject matter in mind?

Bridgers: I have a little list going on my phone right now of ideas to get me started and general themes. Right now one of them is just “Song for Chris,” I kind of have no idea what that means, or what I was thinking when I wrote it down, but I do have a friend named Chris and I’d love to write a song for him.

I played your record for a co-worker and he compared you to a “Lady Bon Iver.” That’s not the first time you’ve heard that I’m sure, but would you say it is accurate?

Bridgers: I hope so! It’s a lot to live up to but Bon Iver has been one of my favorite bands since forever.

Speaking of Bon Iver, I see you played some dates with them. Is that something you have always wanted to do? And what was most exciting about teaming up with them for a few shows?

Bridgers: Yes, I’ve always wanted to, and easily the best part was having them sit in on my songs.  The drummer, Sean, knew my whole record by heart. He played it perfectly. Justin sang and played guitar on two of my songs and let me sing “Flume” with him. It was unreal.

Obviously, everyone has to start somewhere and we have plenty of local musicians here in Fargo. What would you say to those artists trying to gain steam in this area?

Bridgers: Play everything you can, but don’t let people talk down to you. Social media is your friend, but don’t get sucked into it too hard. Always put your best shit out, don’t hold onto it. Let people hear it.

Do you have a specific artist or song that you consider your “go-to”? Just one that you can never get tired of?

Bridgers: I have many. Right now it’s probably “Scorpio Rising” by Soccer Mommy.

What excites you about coming to Fargo specifically?

Bridgers: Maybe that I’ve never been and I don’t know anything about it. I’ve seen the movie.

Talk a little about your record Stranger in the Alps. What was the inspiration? What do you love about it? Is there anything you wish you could’ve done differently?

Bridgers: I’ve been writing songs for a long time, so this record is a combination of a lot of phases of my life. It’s hard to say if I’d do anything differently, it took forever to make which I ended up being grateful for because it made me write more songs. Maybe if I could go back I’d be more relaxed about the recording process. I had daily anxiety attacks which I don’t think helped anything, and now that I’m touring so much, I wish I could’ve appreciated the time in the studio more.

Last question, where do you want music to take you? What are your ultimate goals as an artist?

Bridgers: I just want to do it and not have to worry about having to stop.

Watch Phoebe Bridgers’ Tiny Desk Concert below:

Also, watch her performance on CBS This Morning below:

Find out more about Phoebe and her tour on her website. Her show at The Aquarium will be on Saturday, April 21 with doors opening at 8 p.m. and the show starting at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased here.

Nolan Schmidt

Written by Nolan Schmidt

Nolan is the Co-Editor of Fargo Monthly. Schmidt is also the Editor of Spotlight Media's Bison Illustrated publication. He is originally from Bismarck, N.D. and is a proud graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead.

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