If there is a recurring theme to be found in Phoebe Bridgers’ second solo LP, “it’s the idea of having these inner personal issues while there's bigger turmoil in the world—like a diary about your crush during the apocalypse,” she tells Apple Music. “I’ll torture myself for five days about confronting a friend, while way bigger shit is happening. It just feels stupid, like wallowing. But my intrusive thoughts are about my personal life.” Recorded when she wasn’t on the road—in support of 2017’s Stranger in the Alps and collaborative releases with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker (boygenius) in 2018 and with Conor Oberst (Better Oblivion Community Center) in 2019—Punisher is a set of folk and bedroom pop that’s at once comforting and haunting, a refuge and a fever dream. “Sometimes I'll get the question, like, ‘Do you identify as an LA songwriter?’ Or ‘Do you identify as a queer songwriter?’ And I'm like, ‘No. I'm what I am,’” the Pasadena native says. “The things that are going on are what's going on, so of course every part of my personality and every part of the world is going to seep into my music. But I don't set out to make specific things—I just look back and I'm like, ‘Oh. That's what I was thinking about.’” Here, Bridgers takes us inside every song on the album. DVD Menu “It's a reference to the last song on the record—a mirror of that melody at the very end. And it samples the last song of my first record—‘You Missed My Heart’—the weird voice you can sort of hear. It just felt rounded out to me to do that, to lead into this album. Also, I’ve been listening to a lot of Grouper. There’s a note in this song: Everybody looked at me like I was insane when I told Rob Moose—who plays strings on the record—to play it. Everybody was like, ‘What the fuck are you taking about?’ And I think that's the scariest part of it. I like scary music.” Garden Song “It's very much about dreams and—to get really LA on it—manifesting. It’s about all your good thoughts that you have becoming real, and all the shitty stuff that you think becoming real, too. If you're afraid of something all the time, you're going to look for proof that it happened, or that it's going to happen. And if you're a miserable person who thinks that good people die young and evil corporations rule everything, there is enough proof in the world that that's true. But if you're someone who believes that good people are doing amazing things no matter how small, and that there's beauty or whatever in the midst of all the darkness, you're going to see that proof, too. And you’re going to ignore the dark shit, or see it and it doesn't really affect your worldview. It's about fighting back dark, evil murder thoughts and feeling like if I really want something, it happens, or it comes true in a totally weird, different way than I even expected.” Kyoto “This song is about being on tour and hating tour, and then being home and hating home. I just always want to be where I'm not, which I think is pretty not special of a thought, but it is true. With boygenius, we took a red-eye to play a late-night TV show, which sounds glamorous, but really it was hurrying up and then waiting in a fucking backstage for like hours and being really nervous and talking to strangers. I remember being like, 'This is amazing and horrible at the same time. I'm with my friends, but we're all miserable. We feel so lucky and so spoiled and also shitty for complaining about how tired we are.' I miss the life I complained about, which I think a lot of people are feeling. I hope the parties are good when this shit [the pandemic] is over. I hope people have a newfound appreciation for human connection and stuff. I definitely will for tour.” Punisher “I don't even know what to compare it to. In my songwriting style, I feel like I actually stopped writing it earlier than I usually stop writing stuff. I usually write things five times over, and this one was always just like, ‘All right. This is a simple tribute song.’ It’s kind of about the neighbourhood [Silver Lake in Los Angeles], kind of about depression, but mostly about stalking Elliott Smith and being afraid that I'm a punisher—that when I talk to my heroes, that their eyes will glaze over. Say you're at Thanksgiving with your wife's family and she's got an older relative who is anti-vax or just read some conspiracy theory article and, even if they're sweet, they're just talking to you and they don't realise that your eyes are glazed over and you're trying to escape: That’s a punisher. The worst way that it happens is like with a sweet fan, someone who is really trying to be nice and their hands are shaking, but they don't realise they're standing outside of your bus and you're trying to go to bed. And they talk to you for like 45 minutes, and you realise your reaction really means a lot to them, so you're trying to be there for them, too. And I guess that I'm terrified that when I hang out with Patti Smith or whatever that I'll become that for people. I know that I have in the past, and I guess if Elliott was alive—especially because we would have lived next to each other—it’s like 1000% I would have met him and I would have not known what the fuck I was talking about, and I would have cornered him at Silverlake Lounge.” Halloween “I started it with my friend Christian Lee Hutson. It was actually one of the first times we ever hung out. We ended up just talking forever and kind of shitting out this melody that I really loved, literally hanging out for five hours and spending 10 minutes on music. It's about a dead relationship, but it doesn't get to have any victorious ending. It's like you're bored and sad and you don't want drama, and you're waking up every day just wanting to have shit be normal, but it's not that great. He lives right by Children's Hospital, so when we were writing the song, it was like constant ambulances, so that was a depressing background and made it in there. The other voice on it is Conor Oberst’s. I was kind of stressed about lyrics—I was looking for a last verse and he was like, ‘Dude, you're always talking about the Dodger fan who got murdered. You should talk about that.’ And I was like, 'Jesus Christ. All right.' The Better Oblivion record was such a learning experience for me, and I ended up getting so comfortable halfway through writing and recording it. By the time we finished a whole fucking record, I felt like I could show him a terrible idea and not be embarrassed—I knew that he would just help me. Same with boygenius: It's like you're so nervous going in to collaborating with new people and then by the time you're done, you're like, ‘Damn, it'd be easy to do that again.’ Your best show is the last show of tour.” Chinese Satellite “I have no faith—and that's what it's about. My friend Harry put it in the best way ever once. He was like, ‘Man, sometimes I just wish I could make the Jesus leap.’ But I can't do it. I mean, I definitely have weird beliefs that come from nothing. I wasn't raised religious. I do yoga and stuff. I think breathing is important. But that's pretty much as far as it goes. I like to believe that ghosts and aliens exist, but I kind of doubt it. I love science—I think science is like the closest thing to that that you’ll get. If I'm being honest, this song is about turning 11 and not getting a letter from Hogwarts, just realising that nobody's going to save me from my life, nobody's going to wake me up and be like, ‘Hey, just kidding. Actually, it's really a lot more special than this, and you're special.’ No, I’m going to be the way that I am forever. I mean, secretly, I am still waiting on that letter, which is also that part of the song, that I want someone to shake me awake in the middle of the night and be like, ‘Come with me. It's actually totally different than you ever thought.’ That’d be sweet.” Moon Song “I feel like songs are kind of like dreams, too, where you're like, ‘I could say it's about this one thing, but...’ At the same time it’s so hyper-specific to people and a person and about a relationship, but it's also every single song. I feel complex about every single person I've ever cared about, and I think that's pretty clear. The through line is that caring about someone who hates themselves is really hard, because they feel like you're stupid. And you feel stupid. Like, if you complain, then they'll go away. So you don't complain and you just bottle it up and you're like, ‘No, step on me again, please.’ It’s that feeling, the wanting-to-be-stepped-on feeling.” Savior Complex “Thematically, it's like a sequel to ‘Moon Song’. It's like when you get what you asked for and then you're dating someone who hates themselves. Sonically, it's one of the only songs I've ever written in a dream. I rolled over in the middle of the night and hummed—I’m still looking for this fucking voice memo, because I know it exists, but it's so crazy-sounding, so scary. I woke up and knew what I wanted it to be about and then took it in the studio. That's Blake Mills on clarinet, which was so funny: He was like a little schoolkid practicing in the hallway of Sound City before coming in to play.” I See You “I had that line [‘I've been playing dead my whole life’] first, and I've had it for at least five years. Just feeling like a waking zombie every day, that's how my depression manifests itself. It's like lethargy, just feeling exhausted. I'm not manic depressive—I fucking wish. I wish I was super creative when I'm depressed, but instead, I just look at my phone for eight hours. And then you start kind of falling in love and it all kind of gets shaken up and you're like, ‘Can this person fix me? That'd be great.’ This song is about being close to somebody. I mean, it's about my drummer. This isn't about anybody else. When we first broke up, it was so hard and heartbreaking. It's just so weird that you could date and then you're a stranger from the person for a while. Now we're super tight. We're like best friends, and always will be. There are just certain people that you date where it's so romantic almost that the friendship element is kind of secondary. And ours was never like that. It was like the friendship element was above all else, like we started a million projects together, immediately started writing together, couldn't be apart ever, very co-dependent. And then to have that taken away—it’s awful.” Graceland Too “I started writing it about an MDMA trip. Or I had a couple lines about that and then it turned into stuff that was going on in my life. Again, caring about someone who hates themselves and is super self-destructive is the hardest thing about being a person, to me. You can't control people, but it's tempting to want to help when someone's going through something, and I think it was just like a meditation almost on that—a reflection of trying to be there for people. I hope someday I get to hang out with the people who have really struggled with addiction or suicidal shit and have a good time. I want to write more songs like that, what I wish would happen.” I Know the End “This is a bunch of things I had on my to-do list: I wanted to scream; I wanted to have a metal song; I wanted to write about driving up the coast to Northern California, which I’ve done a lot in my life. It's like a super specific feeling. This is such a stoned thought, but it feels kind of like purgatory to me, doing that drive, just because I have done it at every stage of my life, so I get thrown into this time that doesn't exist when I'm doing it, like I can't differentiate any of the times in my memory. I guess I always pictured that during the apocalypse, I would escape to an endless drive up north. It's definitely half a ballad. I kind of think about it as, ‘Well, what genre is [My Chemical Romance’s] “Welcome to the Black Parade” in?’ It's not really an anthem—I don't know. I love tricking people with a vibe and then completely shifting. I feel like I want to do that more.”

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