Phoebe Bridgers Opens Up About Playing Texas

Phoebe Bridgers brings her songs to life at White Oak Music Hall upstairs.
Phoebe Bridgers brings her songs to life at White Oak Music Hall upstairs. Photo courtesy of Chromatic PR
In recent years, singer songwriters in many cities can feel like they're a dime a dozen, but it doesn't feel like that's the sound that's coming from Los Angeles. You could've said that statement for a long time until last year, when Phoebe Bridgers released her stunning debut album Stranger in the Alps. On it, the 23-year-old L.A. native gave us one of the prettiest and most thoughtful albums of the year while showcasing that she was a force to be reckoned with in the genre.

Now, after critical acclaim from pretty much every journalist including myself, she's returning to Houston to perform at White Oak Music Hall. The Houston Press was more than ecstatic to chat with Bridgers about her album, her praise, and what she has in-store for us on February 9.

When you listen to her music, there's an emotional heft to it all, and makes you wonder if this was always the kind of music Bridgers has made. Playing music since her teens, she admits that she definitely had a different sound when she was younger.

"I don't think it was ever the opposite of what it is now, but I had an almost pop punk/Killers-esque band in high school. I ended every song screaming. Still, the lyrics were pretty tender. Honestly, I think my sound is still growing and changing, it doesn't feel like I've arrived somewhere with it. I want to be the kind of artist who could make anything from an electronic to a folk record and no one would be surprised. Like Bright Eyes or Beck," says Bridgers.

When you listen to her album, you should realize real fast that she, like Elliott Smith did, has the ability to make sad sound beautiful. When asked if her point was to make that kind of record, she says "Elliott is my favorite of all time which I think I've made that abundantly clear to everyone I talk to, but yeah he's the best. I didn't set out to write a really sad record, I just tried to take the production song by song. For example, "Demi Moore," seemed to lend itself to a more lo-fi recording, and "Motion Sickness" was more of a pop song. When we recorded "Scott Street," we all just went into the studio and picked instruments off the wall to play, like the triangle, for example. It was a blast."

The record was produced by heavy hitter Tony Berg, whose work with acts like Aimee Mann and Andrew Bird has made him a producer worth working with, and someone who feels like the perfect person to produce this record. When we inquired about how she came to working with him, Bridgers recalls "our mutual friend put us in touch, and I went over to his house one morning. We ended up talking for hours and I basically got a free guitar lesson. Recording with Tony was like indie rock summer camp. I met so many of my favorite musicians because they stopped by the studio unannounced while we were recording. Or I'd walk outside the studio and see them in the pool."

click to enlarge "Stranger in the Alps" may be one of the prettiest albums you'll ever hear. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CHROMATIC PR
"Stranger in the Alps" may be one of the prettiest albums you'll ever hear.
Photo courtesy of Chromatic PR
And while it's been noted that she worked with Ryan Adams on her first seven inch "Killer" from 2015, what's probably less known is that Adams gave her one of her guitars, a vintage Epiphone Frontier. When asked about her gear, Bridgers says, "Ryan Adams gave me that Frontier in 2014, and I've been playing it ever since. Although I think I may need to retire it for the upcoming tour, because it's vintage and very delicate. The Danelectro baritone however, is a relatively cheap guitar that I'm obsessed with. I played it all over my album and feel totally comfortable taking it on the road. It's fallen apart a couple of times but it's pretty easy to put back together. I'm not sure why more people don't play baritone guitars, they really fill out the sound to me, especially when I play solo or with a group without bass."

In the last couple of years, Bridgers has toured quite a bit all over the globe with a fan base everywhere she performs. While she's still a little shocked that she has fans at all, that doesn't mean she doesn't mix it up with new songs and covers depending on where she's playing at.

"I'm still in awe that I have fans anywhere, so every show feels pretty unreal. The coolest thing ever was getting onstage in Brighton, for one of my first shows after the record came out, and having a crowd of people I'd never met sing the words back to me. It's also one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to, so I love that I have an excuse to go there. I've been working on some new stuff I'd love to play, so if it's good enough by the time we get to Houston, definitely. And I always have to play a Daniel Johnston or Townes Van Zandt cover whenever I'm in Texas," says the singer.

You'd definitely be doing yourself a favor by listening to and purchasing her album Stranger in the Alps. Available on all platforms to stream, you can also purchase it directly from Bridgers here, or from her label Dead Oceans. You can catch Phoebe Bridgers in person on Friday February 9 at White Oak Music Hall upstairs. The all ages show has a support set from Soccer Mommy. Doors at 8 p.m.; tickets $13 to $15.
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David Garrick is a former contributor to the Houston Press. His articles focus primarily on Houston music and Houston music events.