Singer Phoebe Bridgers has fond memories of home
By Xavier Omar Otero
Phoebe Bridgers/Submitted photo
In no time, Phoebe Bridgers has gone from busking at the Pasadena Farmers Market for tips to headlining major music festivals around the world.
From the outset, with the release of 2017’s “Stranger in the Alps” — a diary of loneliness and heartbreak — the Pasadena native’s nuanced storytelling set a ground swell into motion.
Bridgers’ ability to make intimacies feel universal is her strong suit.
“My favorite music, like ‘You Missed My Heart’ by Mark Kozelek, has this quality about it that doesn’t quite make sense,” she says from Germany, where she was on tour.
Lauded by Rolling Stone as “one of the year’s best albums,” her sophomore album 2020’s “Punisher” — which received four Grammy nominations — proved to be a launch pad that would propel Bridgers afar.
She’s on tour, with stops in Amsterdam, London, Montreux, Paris, São Paulo, Mexico City, Vancouver and back to her hometown for This Ain’t No Picnic on Sunday, August 28, at Brookside at the Rose Bowl.
Bridgers was born in Pasadena in 1994. Her father worked in construction while her mother held various jobs. Bridgers’ parents divorced when she was 19.
“I mean, the Pasadena part was great,” she says. “I went to preschool in Sierra Madre. I graduated from Sequoyah Middle School. It was a gorgeous place to grow up.”
Her lyrics to “Garden Song” reference life in Pasadena. “I always went to the Rose Bowl as a little kid. That was pretty cool,” she reminisces. “We got really good tickets the year that it rained really hard.”
Her interest in music goes back as far as she can remember. Influenced by her parents’ record collection, her musical heroes then were “everybody my parents listened to: Tom Waits, Nina Simone, Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell.”
Her music-loving mom encouraged her to pursue her passion.
“I started out with piano lessons, which I hated. Then I moved to guitar pretty quick,” she says.
Her first band formed while attending Sequoyah. “I don’t think we had a name. We did a lot of covers,” Bridgers recalls fondly. “We’d play at Pinocchio’s Pizza on Lake Avenue.”
Another one of her early bands, Phoebe & the He-Men, was inspired by the most powerful man in the universe. “Because I liked ‘He-Man and the Masters of the Universe’ TV show. We played Battle of the Bands quite a bit.”
Once bitten by the music bug, for Bridgers there was no other course of action.
“I really wanted to go to LACHSA (Los Angeles County High School for the Arts),” she says.
“By sixth and seventh grade I was already thinking about my application there.”
At LACHSA she studied vocal jazz, opera and music technology.
Around that time, Fortuna, the Roman goddess of chance, smiled upon her with grace. “When I was 18, I was cast in a commercial, which helped me to take a break from odd jobs and busking while I made my record.”
The 2014 commercial for Apple iPhone 5S featured a fresh-faced Bridgers singing the Pixies “Gigantic.” Bridgers reflects, “I don’t come from money. So, it gave me the freedom to not have a plan B.”
At the end of August, the “Patron Saint of Sadness,” as christened by The Guardian, is scheduled to perform at This Ain’t No Picnic Festival. Excited to perform for a hometown audience, Bridgers enthuses, “It’ll be cool. It’s five minutes from my mom’s house. It’s fun to have everybody that you know in one place.” She adds, “And I learned how to drive in that parking lot.”
In addition to living in Pasadena, Bridgers spent time “walking Scott Street, feeling like a stranger,” as she sings in the song.
“It’s actually Scott Avenue. It’s in Echo Park,” she clarifies.
Echo Park — the final home of her musical idol Elliott Smith, and that of Bedrock.LA, a large rehearsal facility a few blocks from Scott Avenue — is where she once shared a practice space with drummer Marshall Vore. It was at Bedrock where the strikingly confessional songs that comprise “Stranger in the Alps” began to coalesce.
Throughout her career, Bridgers has lent her voice to causes close to her heart.
Recently, she partnered with HomeState: A Texas Kitchen as a participant in its band taco program, bringing music and tacos together in support of neighboring communities, with proceeds donated to local charities.
“As of right now, I have not decided what’s going to be in my taco. I’ve been busy on tour,” Bridgers imparts in mid-July. “But I’m sure it’ll be great.”
An outspoken advocate for abortion rights, Bridgers took a hard stance during her set at the Glastonbury Festival in England the day Roe v. Wade was overturned. She led the sea of concertgoers in a chant, “(Expletive) the Supreme Court!”
“I felt the ruling in my whole body. It was unexpected. I somehow thought it was going to turn around,” Bridgers says. “I had an abortion in October of last year.”
After a pause, she reflects, “It’s basic human empathy to be torn apart knowing that it’s going to be marginalized people, people of color, queer people who will be affected most.”
Despite being sickened by the conservative faction of a court that seeks to turn back time, Bridgers sees a path forward.
“There are a lot of organizations I really love: The Mariposa Fund is a great abortion fund. The Lilith Fund. Planned Parenthood is still doing really good work.” She continues, “For trans rights there is The Ally Coalition and The Trevor Project.”
Bridgers is donating a portion of ticket sales from her tour to The Mariposa Fund. “Throwing money and resources at those (organizations) right now is the best that I can do as someone with a platform,” she concludes. “Hopefully, it helps.”
On “I Know the End” — a dystopian folk ballad with references to American culture and recent events — Bridgers says, “The billboard said, ‘The end is near.’” When queried, Bridgers ruminates, “I think so. I think it is. I don’t pretend to know when the heat death of the planet is going to happen. Or, if talking politics, I don’t know when we’re going to be under 100% totalitarian rule.
“Some of this there is no turning back from,” she says soberly. “But it’s not like hope is dead. There are a lot of really cool people out there, way smarter than the people on the Supreme Court, doing really great work,” she declares. “Hopefully we can overturn the environmental laws that were put into place two weeks ago.”
As for her plans, Bridgers is uncertain. “Right now, I love playing live. Maybe next year will come more music. I’m following whatever intrigues me the most. That’s the way that I’ve always been.”
True to form, like on “Halloween,” she sings, “There’s a last time for everything. Oh, come on, man. We can be anything.”
This Ain’t No Picnic
WHEN: Various times Saturday, August 27, to Sunday, August 28. Phoebe Bridgers performs August 28
WHERE: Brookside at the Rose Bowl,
1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena
COST: Tickets start at $159
INFO: thisaintnopicnic.com, 1-888-320-7328