When Phoebe Bridgers was growing up, her taste in music went “completely backwards”. The 22-year-old singer-songwriter, who grew up in Pasadena, Los Angeles, was seriously into classic rock and folk as a kid. The first concert she really remembers was Neil Young, when she was 11. “But when I hit high school, and emo was already basically over, I was like: ‘Wait! I can’t believe I missed this, this is awesome,’” she laughs. She made herself a Bowling For Soup T-shirt and dyed her hair several shades of bright, before finally shaving it and then returning to the bleached blond she is today.
There are hints of both Young and her emo past in the music she’s making now, an intricate tapestry of rock, folk and intensely personal storytelling that calls to mind early Bright Eyes. Funeral tells of singing at the funeral of a boy she knew who had died of a heroin overdose, while last year’s Killer is a testament to the morbid anxiety of obsessive love. “Once in a blue moon I’ll have some sort of concept song or it will be about a bunch of different things, but yeah, it’s all from experiences,” she says.
After a couple of years of writing and performing around LA – including one gig in a pizza parlour near her house, to which her family and friends would show up every week – Bridgers was at the cinema watching Whiplash, when Ryan Adams, who had heard of her through a mutual friend, texted to invite her to his studio. “We hung out all night and he was like: ‘Come back tomorrow at 4pm.’” She was sceptical that it would happen, but Adams was true to his word. “We get there the next day and Ryan’s there already. We recorded in half an hour, got food, then went to the record store.” The subsequent seven-inch was Killer, which came out on Adams’s label Pax Am in April 2015.
At around the same time, Bridgers supported Conor Oberst at a secret show at LA’s Bootleg Theater. The two became email friends, sending each other new songs, and there was a further connection through Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis, who mixed her debut album in Omaha. The two are now firm friends, and she’ll be on tour with him again this month when that debut album comes out on Dead Oceans. Stranger in the Alps shows off Bridgers’s talent for combining haunting melodies with oddly unsettling lyrical conceits; she is, she says, only getting more literal in her storytelling. “It’s getting like: ‘Oh my God, I’m just saying what’s happening.’” There’s some emo left in her yet, then? She smiles: “I mean, I’m still an angsty teenager.”
Stranger in the Alps is out on 22 September