When Phoebe Bridgers gets worked up, songs happen

Phoebe Bridgers
Frank Ockenfels
Phoebe Bridgers

At first glance, the title of singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers’s debut album, “Stranger in the Alps,” evokes loneliness, chilly winds, and maybe a dark wood cabin. But actually, it’s the TV bowdlerization of the infamous “you see what happens, Larry?” scene from “The Big Lebowski.” Hearing her witty, punch-to-the-gut songs is like watching certain Coen brothers movies: You may not know whether to laugh, cry, or shout. She’s most inspired to write when she gets “worked up about something,” she says via phone, and her songs have the power to get listeners worked up with her in a sort of empathetic healing fever.

“Someone just tried to sell us meth, but that’s not very weird,” Bridgers, 23, says from the road, en route from “some-[expletive]-where in Texas” to “some-[expletive]-where” in Texas. For the past week the Los Angeles native and her band have been driving a winding road through the country on their current tour, which will bring them to Allston’s Great Scott for a sold-out show Saturday.

“Hey guys, what’s the weirdest thing we’ve seen on the road this far?” she asks her companions. A smattering of conversation buzzes through the line. When she returns, she snorts, “So someone was eating an avocado with a plastic fork and driving with one pinkie.”


Q. Your website has a URL we can’t print. What led you to pick that particular URL?

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A. Because someone got my actual URL [] when I was a teenager, before I had a record out or anything or was even thinking of having a record out! I guess they knew that I was a musician, and I guess they suspected that one day I would make a website, and they stole my website name. Like, forever. I was like “No! What?” So I was kind of pissed, and I picked a non-printable URL.

Q. Tell me about a song that changed your life.

A. “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones. That was a song that changed my life for sure. Like, I researched everything about it and it just blew me away, the way that it was recorded, the screamy vocals. It’s an amazing song.

I think a lot of metal or high energy music is really overproduced. My favorite kind of singers are singers where you can really hear the struggle in the voice. It doesn’t really even matter how loud it is. I like when people’s voices break, and that changed the way I thought about recording music. Hearing people work for it to hit notes is my favorite.


Q. You’ve said that some of the songs on “Stranger in the Alps” are autobiographical, and some are fictional. Can you talk about the back story of “Funeral?”

A. It’s literally exactly something that happened to me. I wrote it the night before I sang at someone’s funeral, who was a stranger. Their parents reached out to me to sing some sort of Irish folk song. It was a really surreal experience because I’d also just moved into my apartment by myself, so I was living by myself for the first time. So I got really depressed, and it came at a really weird time, and I was having to listen to all these sad Irish songs.

Q. There’s a lyric on “Motion Sickness,” “You were in a band when I was born.” Do you think the experience you describe there, of an older guy coming in and using somebody as a project, is common for young women creatives?

A. Yeah! Absolutely. Obviously it’s not your fault if it happens to you, but it took me by surprise and now I see it all the time. It’s around every corner, people trying to [expletive] with you in different ways. Which is why I think it’s worth it to find each other as young women in music.

The one thing I’ll say that kind of changed my life is remembering that you’re the boss of your project, so if someone’s talking down to you it’s like, “Wait, actually, you work for me.” It’s ridiculous that you would get taken advantage of.


Q. Going off of that, how did you meet Julien Baker? Listening to your sound, there are some similarities, and then it turns out you two are friends.

‘My favorite kind of singers are singers where you can really hear the struggle in the voice. . . . Hearing people work for it to hit notes is my favorite.’

A. She heard my music on Soundcloud and asked me to tour with her. And we immediately hit it off. I was touring with one other person and she was solo, just with her crew, and we got really close and started keeping contact, e-mailing back and forth. It was my favorite tour yet. I loved that tour.

We went and saw “Hardcore Henry” on a day off, which is something that I never would have seen by myself, but she was kind of ad libbing the whole thing, and we were talking the whole movie, alone in the movie theater.

Q. What’s something that you haven’t done yet that you really want to do?

A. I really want to . . . this is an attainable goal. I want to learn how to scream. I feel like my scream ends up sounding really pop punk. Like, it’s just kind of a shrill one note. I want to learn to scream where it sounds like a real hardcore scream.At Great Scott, Saturday


Zoë Madonna can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten.