‘MY ONLY memories of consciousness are that I really wanted to be a musician,’ claims Phoebe Bridgers, who wrote her first song when she was 11 and attended the prestigious Los Angeles County High School For The Arts as the first step on her career path.
‘I had always wanted to go there and don’t really remember ever wanting to do anything else.’
That desire and determination was coupled with a self-confidence instilled by her mother: ‘I don’t know if it’s possible to be over-supportive, but my mum was,’ the 23-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist says, drily.
‘She made me take voice lessons for a year before auditions.’
It was a combination that made a less ambitious back-up plan unnecessary as, by the time Phoebe was 18, her songs — smart, sad, startlingly truthful and at times darkly witty — were getting attention, if not always the right kind.
But after turning down a major label offer of ‘maybe the worst-ever record deal that anybody’s had in their life’, in 2015 she caught the ear of Ryan Adams, who recorded her single Killer and released it on his Pax-Am label. Last September, Phoebe released her acclaimed debut album Stranger In The Alps, which she made independently and then ‘just went with the label that liked it the most’.
The record features songs she wrote as a teen, plus three newer tracks. One of those is Motion Sickness, in which an ex who treated her badly gets an expert skewering, although it’s neither triumphant nor self-pitying.
‘I faked it every time, but that’s alright,’ sings Phoebe — and later, ‘why do you sing with an English accent? I guess it’s too late to change it now’.
The (significantly older) ex was Ryan Adams. And it seems he was pretty peeved at the time. But presumably he got over it?
‘Y’know, not really,’ she says. ‘He pops up every once in a while, but I don’t really meet him around. He’s… an interesting character. It feels good to have the song out there and it feels good to have a little bit of power.’
It’s this particularity that gives her songs their emotional wallop. The track Scott Street is almost like a diary entry, conveying loneliness through an awkward conversation with an old flame she’s run into. That song was co-written with drummer Marshall Vore, the ex-boyfriend who now plays in Phoebe’s band. Rather weird, no?
‘So weird,’ she agrees. ‘It’s a very special relationship — he’s on tour with me right now, in fact. We’re best friends — we write together all the time and we’re very similar. I think he was the first person I ever connected with musically and I met him because he played drums with Ryan. So, there’s the soap opera of my life!’
Phoebe’s plan, hatched even before she hit adolescence, seems to be bang on target. And next month she supports rock band The National on a run of US dates, having recently joined them on stage at the Eaux Claires festival.
‘I sang an entire song with the whole band. It was so weird — and so awesome.’
So, is this life of music-making everything she hoped it would be? ‘Kind of beyond hopes,’ she states.