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Phoebe Bridgers Talks 'Punisher,' Japanese Snacks & Introducing Conor Oberst To Memes

Phoebe Bridgers

Photo by Frank Ockenfels

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Phoebe Bridgers Talks 'Punisher,' Japanese Snacks & Introducing Conor Oberst To Memes

The singer/songwriter talks to GRAMMY.com about nostalgia for life on the road and how she personally defines the word "punisher"

GRAMMYs/Jun 22, 2020 - 08:27 pm

The day before the scheduled release of her sophomore album Punisher, Phoebe Bridgers let the cat out the bag. "I’m not pushing the record until things go back to ‘normal’ because I don’t think they should," she tweeted, along with an album link. "Here it is a little early. Abolish the police. Hope you like it."

The move, while unorthodox by most promotional standards, was a no-brainer for Bridgers. Open about her beliefs, both on social media and in interviews, the musician has already been a strong supporter of Black Lives Matter and The Bail Project, which in early June she helped fundraise for with a hushed version of Bright Eyes' classic "First Day of My Life."

Of course, resiliency and improvisation isn’t a completely unheard of attribute in the mist of the 2020 quagmire. When we spoke in early May, Bridgers is calling from on top of a treadmill in the middle of her house. For the singer/songwriter, the exercise equipment represents the adjustment we’ve all been forced into, and a way to get some exercise now that walking in her Los Angeles Echo Park neighborhood has become too complicated. (Only walking—she confirms, citing "shitty knees.") The sense of movement helps her think, particularly after calling her summer tour off after only one rehearsal with her band. 

This pause, both figurative and literal, has been the first Bridgers has had, almost since her 2017 debut, Stranger in the Alps. As if supporting one critically acclaimed album wasn’t enough (see the year-end lists and string of film placements that made singles like "Motion Sickness" shorthand for complicated sadness), in 2018 she hit the road with boygenius, a meeting of minds featuring her, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus. In 2019, she repeated the collaborative trick again hitting the road as Better Oblivion Community Center, a project she shares with Conor Oberst. Fans have been catching on to Bridgers’ ability for narrative storytelling—and not just the social media manager at Men's Health, who seems to be an omnipresent visitor during her live streams. ("I feel like they’re doing something right over there," she cracks of her unnamed admirer.) 

Of course, it hasn’t been all stillness. Even recently during lockdown, Bridgers has been making the rounds, including a recent appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!," where she gave a pajama-clad, Omnichord-led performance of her single "Kyoto." (An aesthetic, she explains, that was inspired by both acoustics and a similar performance from The Killers.) She also recorded a video for "Kyoto" on green screen—channeling the aesthetics of Japanese Monster films, after a trip back to the country was scrapped. Creativity is still happening—even if she has no clue when fans will get to experience it live. 

Ahead of the release of Punisher, Bridgers spoke with GRAMMY.com about Japanese snack food, learning to be grateful and nostalgia for life on the road. 

So aside from the treadmill, what has been the most unique purchase you've made during lockdown?

I bought a bunch of cheese cloth so that I could make almond milk at home. I'm not very crafty or homey. So, that was a big purchase. For me, even though super cheap, but like out of the box, I bought a pajama onesie with a skeleton on it, but the crotch has ripped out of it already because it’s really cheap.

Is it true that you were Conor Oberst's gateway to memes?

Yeah! I still think he's pretty outside of the gate. Sometimes they'll genuinely make him laugh, but mostly he's just like, "What the fk is that?"

You're doing a service to humanity one meme at a time.

Exactly. I'm solving all our conflict that's reported on. Totally taking it upon myself.

Given that you were casually into other bands last year, when did Punisher start coming together?

It started coming together before even my first record was out. I kind of take forever to write music, so I started writing it and then started recording it like, right after I recorded both my other bands. "Garden Song" was one of the first ones. "I See You Too." I remember playing that for everybody on the boygenius tour the recording. So, we were working on it for a really long time and then and then finished it up.

Are you the are you the kind of writer that’s constantly writing?

No, I go through weird phases. Mostly I'm procrastinating.

Hence your amazing Twitter presence. I get it now.

Hey, yeah! You're hearing the only 10 songs I really have. I guess I have like one extra song that I finished after the album was already recorded. I tend to write what is needed for me and I don't really like edit, or use elimination. I just record what I have.

Has the fair amount of collaborating you've done in the last year change how you work with other artists on your solo albums?

I really learned how to collaborate with first record, and then just every project I've done since it's like involves more and more people. Just because my friend group and the people I can like, call upon has become very big. I've always wanted his work like that. But this is the first time I've had the opportunity to.

Are there any names you wish you could add to that creative Rolodex?

It's so funny because like, honestly, not really. I think I will discover more people that become collaborators of mine, but for right now, my group is so solid, and it works.

Punisher seems like a very evocative title.

Well, I was gonna do like a self-titled album, which I might do to the next one. But then I wrote a song called "Punisher" and I was like, that's actually a sicker album title. A Punisher is someone who doesn't know when to stop talking. So, I think of like, older relatives who are talking about, like their hip replacement or something. They just don't know when you're disinterested. And I think we've all been that, like, to our heroes. So, in this context, I'm like punishing someone. You know, like, you get cornered at the bar by the friend that the person you were hitting on. That's a punisher.

I wish you could see the spit take I just did. 

Yeah, I think it's a little too relatable for everybody.

I feel like at some point everyone has been a punisher--and everyone who's been to Japan claims Kyoto as their favorite place. What's your relationship to the city?

It was like my favorite place I've ever been. Still is. I just had such a good time when I was there and wanted to go back. Yeah, I just made like a really big impression on me.

How do you handle that sense of displacement when you're discovering these amazing things so far from home?

Right now, I would kill to be on tour. But when I'm on tour, I save cute Pinterest home ideas. And I like look on Google maps [of] hikes by my house. I think it's pretty common, like wanting to be where you're not, but it's especially prevalent and weird when you're, like, living out something you've always wanted to and you're thinking about the next thing.

Yeah, I think anyone who lives in fast motion like that can identify with that as well. When those moments strike, and you realize that your brain is somewhere else like you described in the song "Kyoto," how do you bring yourself back?

It's hard. I'm still working on it every day. I'm trying to write like three things I'm grateful for every day now. I think it's pretty common and Pinterest-y again. But it seems to be working because at first you really have to wrack your brain and then after a while, it just gets easy and they become like tiny little details. But I've been talking to a couple friends it's like, when we forget about all the fear of being alive right now, it's going to be tempting in 10 years to be like, remember that crazy time when we were all just like finding ourselves or whatever? Like, I know there's gonna be like op-eds that are, like, romanticizing right now. And it's easy to think of the past that way. Because it's really hard to romanticize your present. Especially when everything's so uncertain and literally dangerous and life-threatening. But yeah, I just want to romanticize my life a little bit more while I'm living in it instead of in the future or past.

So, what has been on your list for the three things you're grateful for?

I should go look at it. But some days are really bad where it's like, I didn't eat until I got sick. But that is a special skill. I feel like an anxiety mechanism is like, I ate five toaster waffles in a row in the middle of the night a couple nights ago and I felt ill. So, the next day was a victory to not do that. I learned how to not do that. Sometimes I'll turn on a yoga class on my computer and then lay on my yoga mat and stare at the ceiling. And since I've been writing stuff down, I realized that when I finish the class I will write it down. Or like if I make something, or if I get enough sleep, or just like, you know, made a really good pot of coffee today, and it kind of sets the whole day instead of reheating yesterday's coffee.

I like that you're giving yourself credit for the little victories we're all having right now.

That's all there is.

Since it played a role in the song "Kyoto," what is the best thing about Japanese convenience stores?

Snacks. Just like, the triangle rice onigiri at convenience stores are so good, which is funny because I think they're for kids. Oh my god.

If you had to place yourself in the chaotic good chaotic evil sort of square, where would you rank?

I'm like all over the place. Sometimes chaotic good. And sometimes I'm neutral evil. I'm all at different times in my life.

What are you looking forward to most once we get back to the era of live music?

I'm finding myself looking forward to the weirdest smallest things, like being at a truck stop in the middle of the night. Going to diners after shows. Looking out the window if the bus in Montana. Seeing other bands. I'm remembering all the extra stuff, but mostly I'm just looking forward to playing these songs. We had one rehearsal before shit the fan with the band and it sounded so good. And I was kind of scared that it wasn't gonna translate. But it did immediately and it was so fun to play the songs. I can't wait.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Lady Legends And Newcomers Join Mercury Rev On Bobbie Gentry Tribute Album

Bobbie Gentry

Photo: NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

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Lady Legends And Newcomers Join Mercury Rev On Bobbie Gentry Tribute Album

Mercury Rev revisits Gentry's classic sophomore album with female guest vocalists who shine. Catch the album out Feb. 8

GRAMMYs/Nov 15, 2018 - 05:34 am

Indie band Mercury Rev have announced their next album, a tribute to Bobbie Gentry's The Delta Sweete Revisited, will be available on Feb. 8.

The album features an array of guest voices. Mercury Rev's incredible selection of guest vocalists on the tracks kicks off with Norah Jones performing "Okolona River Bottom Band." Others lending their voices to the effort are Phoebe Bridgers, Vashti Bunyan, Rachel Goswell, Marissa Nadler, Beth Orton, Lætitia Sadier, Hope Sandoval, Kaela Sinclair, Susanne Sundfør, Carice van Houten, and Lucinda Williams, whose rendition of "Ode To Billie Joe" was added to the original album's tracklist.

"Bobbie is iconic, original, eloquent and timeless," said singer Margo Price, whose guest vocals are featured on "Sermon." "She has remained a strong voice and an eternal spirit of the delta, wrapped in mystery, yet forever here."

The Delta Sweete was Gentry's 1968 follow up to her debut Ode To Billie Joe, for which she won three GRAMMYs at the 10th GRAMMY Awards.

For the full track list and additional details see Bella Union's announcement and Pitchfork. Mercury Rev recently concluded their 2018 U.S. tour and will be playing across Britain in Dec.

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

Joan as Police Woman

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors

GRAMMYs/Apr 7, 2020 - 07:21 pm

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, singer/songwriter Joan Wasser of Joan as Police Woman, whose forthcoming covers album, COVER TWO, includes tracks by The Strokes, Prince, Talk Talk, and more, shares her Quarantine Diary.

Thursday, April 2

[10 a.m.-12 p.m.] Went to bed at 4 a.m. last night after getting drawn into working on a song. Put on the kettle to make hot coffee while enjoying an iced coffee I made the day before. Double coffee is my jam. Read the news, which does not do much for my mood. Catch up with a few friends, which does a lot of good for my mood. Glad it goes in this order.

[12 p.m.-2 p.m.] Make steel cut oats with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, a sprinkling of cinnamon and cardamom, and of course, coconut butter to melt on top. If you’re not into coconut butter (sometimes marketed as coconut "manna"), I’d suggest just going for it and getting it (or ordering it) and putting it on your sweet potatoes, your oats, anywhere you’d put butter. I’m not vegan but I do enjoy hearing the tiny scream uttered by a strawberry as I cut into it. 

Contemplate some yoga. Contamplate meditating. Do neither. Resume work on the song I want to finish and send today. I have a home studio and I spend a lot of my time working on music here. The song is a collboration sent to me from Rodrigo D’Erasmo in Milano that will benefit the folks who work behind the scenes in the music touring system in Italy. 

[2 p.m.-4 p.m.] I traded in a guitar for a baritone guitar right before all this craziness hit but hadn’t had the time to get it out until now. I put on some D’Angelo, plugged into my amp and played along as if I were in his band. Micahel Archer, If you’re reading this, I hope you are safe and sound and thank you immensely for all the music you've given us always. 

[4 p.m.-6 p.m.] Bike repair shops have been deemed "necessary," thank goodness, because biking is the primary way I get around and I need a small repair. I hit up my neighborhood shop and they get my bike in and out in 10 minutes, enough time to feel the sun for a moment. 

I ride fast and hard down to the water's edge and take in a view of the East River from Brooklyn. There are a few people out getting their de-stress walks but it is mostly deserted on the usually packed streets.

[6 p.m.-8 p.m.] Practice Bach piano invention no. 4 in Dm very, very, very slowly. I never studied piano but I’m trying to hone some skills. Realize I’m ravenous. Eat chicken stew with wild mushrooms I made in the slow cooker yesterday. It’s always better the second day.

[8 p.m.-10 p.m.] Get on a zoom chat with a bunch of women friends on both coasts. We basically shoot the sh*t and make each other laugh. 

Afterwards I still feel like I ate a school bus so I give into yoga. I feel great afterwards. This photo proves I have a foot. 

[10 p.m.-12 a.m.] Record a podcast for Stereo Embers in anticipation of my new release on May 1, a second record of covers, inventively named COVER TWO. Continue to work on music (it’s a theme).

[12 a.m.-2 p.m.] Tell myself I should think about bed. Ignore myself and confinue to work on music. 

[2 a.m.-4 a.m.] Force myself into bed where I have many books to choose from. This is what I’m reading presently, depending on my mood. Finally I listen to Nick Hakim’s new song, "Qadir," and am taken by its beauty and grace. Good night. 

If you wish to support our efforts to assist music professionals in need, learn more about the Recording Academy's and MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.

If you are a member of the music industry in need of assistance, visit the MusiCares website

Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

Hero The Band perform at the Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter Annual Membership Celebration
Photo: Marcus Ingram/WireImage

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Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

How sound planning for a creative future in our urban areas makes all the difference for artists and musicians

GRAMMYs/Oct 24, 2019 - 01:27 am

The future, as they say, is now. And for music makers around the world, building a future for themselves often starts at home, in their local creative community and in the city where they live. While technology has expanded communication and made the world smaller, cities continue to grow, making planning for the future a critical cultural mission of the present.

To that end, a new report by global organization Sound Diplomacy titled "This Must Be The Place" examines, "The role of music and cultural infrastructure in creating better future cities for all of us." The 37-page deep dive into community planning and development highlights the importance of creative culture in what it calls "Future Cities."

"The government defines ‘Future Cities’ as 'a term used to imagine what cities themselves will be like," the report states, "how they will operate, what systems will orchestrate them and how they will relate to their stakeholders (citizens, governments, businesses, investors, and others),'"

According to the report, only three global cities or states currently have cultural infrastructure plans: London, Amsterdam and New South Wales. This fact may be surprising considering how city planning and sustainability have become part of the discussion on development of urban areas, where the UN estimates 68 percent of people will live by 2050.

"Our future places must look at music and culture ecologically. Much like the way a building is an ecosystem, so is a community of creators, makers, consumers and disseminators," the report says. "The manner in which we understand how to maintain a building is not translated to protecting, preserving and promoting music and culture in communities."

The comparison and interaction between the intangibility of culture and the presence of physical space is an ongoing theme throughout the report. For instance, one section of the report outlines how buildings can and should be designed to fit the cultural needs of the neighborhoods they populate, as too often, use of a commercial space is considered during the leasing process, not the construction process, leading to costly renovations.

"All future cities are creative cities. All future cities are music cities."

On the residential side, as cities grow denser, the need increases for thoughtful acoustic design and sufficient sound isolation. Future cities can and should be places where people congregate

"If we don’t design and build our future cities to facilitate and welcome music and experience, we lose what makes them worth living in."

For musicians and artists of all mediums, the answer to making—and keeping—their cities worth living in boils down to considering their needs, impact and value more carefully and sooner in the planning process.

"The report argues that property is no longer an asset business, but one built on facilitating platforms for congregation, community and cohesion," it says. "By using music and culture at the beginning of the development process and incorporating it across the value chain from bid to design, meanwhile to construction, activation to commercialisation, this thinking and practice will result in better places."

The report offers examples of how planners and leaders are handling this from around the world. For instance, the Mayor Of London Night Czar, who helps ensure safety and nighttime infrastructure for venues toward the Mayor's Vision for London as a 24-hour city. Stateside, Pittsburgh, Penn., also has a Night Mayor in place to support and inform the growth of its creative class.

Diversity, inclusion, health and well-being also factor into the reports comprehensive look at how music and culture are every bit as important as conventional business, ergonomic and environmental considerations in Future Cites. Using the Queensland Chamber of Arts and Culture as a reference, it declared, "A Chamber of Culture is as important as a Chamber of Commerce."

In the end, the report serves as a beacon of light for governments, organizations, businesses and individuals involved in planning and developing future cities. Its core principals lay out guideposts for building friendly places to music and culture and are backed with case studies and recommendations. But perhaps the key to this progress is in changing how we approach the use of space itself, as the answer to supporting music may be found in how we look at the spaces we inhabit.

"To develop better cities, towns and places, we must alter the way we think about development, and place music and culture alongside design, viability, construction and customer experience," it says. "Buildings must be treated as platforms, not assets. We must explore mixed‑use within mixed‑use, so a floor of a building, or a lesser‑value ground floor unit can have multiple solutions for multiple communities."

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