Phoebe Bridgers is on the precipice of releasing her second record, Punisher when I call her. We’re both homebound, in the thick of the coronavirus lockdown. “I’ve got like so many things going on I’m like making mushrooms and I’m doing laundry.”

Punisher is out now and it is perfect. So perfect it made me anxious. Anxious to write anything about it, partly because everything that has been written about the album thus far has been so intimidatingly and profoundly beautiful, and partly because psychologically, I didn’t want to ruin an emotional experience that felt so crucial, so special and so rare.

The first time I listened to Punisher I knew it was going to be a perfect forever album that was only to be listened to on special occasions. The kind of album that instantly means so much to you that you want to protect it and carry it around with you forever — like Mitski’s Be The Cowboy or Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Boltcutters. Punisher is an album that my heart will reserve for active listening.

Punisher feels like the afterglow of a therapy breakthrough. Where your brain disconnects from your body because you’re finally coming to terms with unidentifiable, and strange feelings. Phoebe Bridgers does this to you. She pushes these feelings that feel at arm’s length to the forefront. She does it so delicately and with such humour that even though you might feel really fucking bad, you’re grateful to be feeling anything at all.

I spoke to Phoebe Bridgers about Punisher, the purity and power of female fandom, and how hating The 1975 is sexist.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Check out ‘Garden Song’ by Phoebe Bridgers:
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I read that the songs from Stranger In The Alps were written over many years, like there are songs on there that were helmed when you were in your teens. What was the experience writing Punisher like, considering the past two years you have been projected to the forefront of indie rock?

I feel like I was afraid of writing when I was writing Stranger In The Alps. I really wanted to have written songs and I didn’t enjoy the writing process — which is why there were songs from when I was a kid on there.

I just feel like I got less afraid. I feel like it’s more concise. There’s no song on there that’s like “whatever I threw it on” which I feel like that about Stranger. It’s just more like present in my present.”

Punisher still sounds like a quintessential Phoebe Bridgers record, but sonically it kind of draws from a more expansive electronic palate. I guess I was wondering what you were drawing from when you figured out what you wanted the record to sound like?

I steal from all kinds of shit. I’m very inspired by the people around me. It was written over like three years and evenly dispersed throughout that time. I went through lots of different phases and I feel like they reflect on the album.

I’ve had a big Grouper phase my whole life. Obviously, I’ve loved Elliot Smith for my whole life. Mitski’s record and Adrienne Lenker — there are some Big Thief references.”

Are you the protagonist of your songs?

I feel like an antihero, you know, my brain is problematic and I am fighting it all the time. I feel like behind the protagonist the antagonist might just be my intrusive thoughts.

Why did you decide to call the record Punisher?

I was gonna call the album Phoebe Bridgers, and then have a song called ‘Phoebe Bridgers’, because lots of metal bands do that. Like, they name a song after their band which is hilarious.

Then I wrote the ‘Punisher’ song and thought, “actually, this is a sick title, I should save the self-titled for when I truly don’t have title ideas.

The close of ‘I Know The End’ is this visceral, cacophony of noise that ends in you like, panting into the mic? How did that come together?

I love music like that. I love like My Chemical Romance. I love Desaparecidos.  I love Joyce Manor. Joyce Manor had me sing on their record a couple of years ago. I was so fucking excited because I thought I was going to be able to scream and like let go in a kind of pop-punk way and instead they had me on their quietest song.

I wanted to pay homage to the music I really love to play. Better Oblivion Community Centre changed the way I think about music because that set was so fun. I typically listen to a lot of sad, slow kind of music but like to play fast music. I had so much fun that I wanted to be able to do that whenever I go on tour.”

Check out ‘I Know The End’ by Phoebe Bridgers:
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You made the record with Tony Berg and Ethan Gruska, who did Stranger In The Alps, and the record features a roster of musicians that you’ve previously collaborated like the Boygenius crew and Conor Oberst. How important is building communities and friendships with fellow musicians has been to your creative process?

Very important. I think I’m a better writer for it. I’m better at compromise and making decisions and knowing what I want.

Also, they literally help. Boygenius sing on the record, and Connor was my saviour as far as writing goes. I’d be like stuck and I’d be like “I feel like this thing is corny” and he’d be like “yeah it’s corny change it to this.”

The more people you can have around that you’re comfortable making shit with, the better your stuff is going to be.

You co-produced Punisher and the Boygenius and Better Oblivion Community Centre records and produced your friend Christian Lee Huston’s debut album in its entirety. Do you see yourself dabbling in the realm of producing more in the future?

I like being the centre of attention. I wouldn’t ever do it with something I didn’t feel super strongly about. Christian was making a record that I felt could sound better and I pulled him aside one day and was like ‘dude, I want to record your songs for you’ and he let me. It was like making my own record because I felt so strongly about it and I think that’s the key.

I wanted to throw myself at it because I believed it so much. I’ve only ever felt that way about my own bands. If I found more projects like that I’d love to produce.

Over the past few years, there’s been a cultural shift, and a lot of DIY, folk and indie artists have been positioned in the same world as massive pop artists. What do you think the pros and cons of that are?

You weirdly walked into my thesis that I feel about life. I think it’s sexist to hate music that predominantly women or gay men love. People have discounted pop music since the beginning of fucking time, saying it’s vapid or stupid because straight men don’t gravitate towards it. But straight men are allowed to like, like Tool and like the shittiest music ever.

Tool fucking suck dude.

I think that guilty pleasures are disappearing. I feel like Billie Eilish is changing that in the way that you can be a real person and be a pop star. She’s sick and she produces all her shit with her brother.

You don’t have to be embarrassed about your music taste anymore. Therefore like, if people think I’m corny I just discount it as I don’t know.

It’s kind of weirdly rooted in a bit of sexism to me. I feel the same way about the 1975 — I think it’s sexist to hate The 1975 and Bright Eyes.

Boyfriends hate it because their girlfriends fucking love it and they’re intimidated. Boyfriends are like “what the fuck is this whiny shit?” and it’s like “your girlfriend would die for these people”.

Your girlfriend wants nothing more than to marry Matty Healy, I’m sorry bro.

Oh my god same. People want to pretend like they invented why somethings cool. Teenage girls have been inventing cool music since the beginning of time. Like the fucking Beatles wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for teenage girls

I consider you to be a “very online” artist. How do you view your relationship with the internet? Can an artist succeed without a strong online identity, and should the art come first and then the persona? 

I think it’s seperate. I think it’s like, whether or not you’re comfortable being open with people and like letting people in.

When people judge people for being reclusive, they’re thinking of themselves talking to a person and being like “well what the fuck, talk to your fans why do you hate your fans” and it’s like, “well, for every cool fan there’s someone who wants to like, wear your skin.” Not for me so much but for someone like Fiona Apple.

Did you listen to Fetch The Bolt Cutters?

It’s destroyed me. I’m a changed man now.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learnt since the release of Alps?

You have to like your own music. I think Stranger In The Alps is the first thing I ever liked, that I made, and it changed my life.

It made so that bad shit that people said bounced off of me and the good shit that people said I agreed with. It’s torture if you release something that you don’t like because you agree with the people that hate it.

I know that from experience and I like this record even more and I feel more level-headed about everything.

Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers is out now via Dead Oceans.