Next month marks the first anniversary of Phoebe Bridgers' second LP, Punisher .
The Californian artist’s album (released via Secretly Group label Dead Oceans) peaked at No.6 in the UK and has sales to date of 35,494, according to the Official Charts Company.
Phoebe Bridgers has also been busy with the launch of her own label, Saddest Factory, including its first album release from Claud. The Saddest Factory website is also worth checking out for a glimpse of Bridgers’ innovative, playful approach to digital marketing.
The Punisher campaign continues with Dead Oceans’ vinyl release of Copycat Killer on May 14. The EP, which was originally released digitally last November and as a Rough Trade vinyl exclusive, features re-recordings of four tracks from her Grammy-nominated album.
Surprisingly, the indie rock majesty of Kyoto and the widespread acclaim for Punisher did not secure Grammy wins in the four nominated categories. But the album continues to resonate with audiences globally – Phoebe Bridgers has topped five million monthly listeners on Spotify.
Here, she reflects on the impact of the record and opens up about the plans for her label, Saddest Factory, in partnership with Secretly Group…
What kind of label will Saddest Factory become?
“I think that the music will inform it – or that’s what I want. I could say so much shit about what my genre dreams are, or whatever, but I want it to inform itself. I have one signed artist, and I'm trying to sign other people. I'm sure that it will grow and change. Even if there are three artists on the label, it will be a totally different vibe depending on what type of artists those people are. Also, I'm so new to all of it that it’s just constantly changing. I think my idea of it a year ago and the idea of it now is totally different already. So it's kind of bespoke, depending on what an artist wants. I can be involved or not involved, like any A&R. I think the only difference is that, with me being an artist myself, some people would find it annoying for me to be in every press release, and some people would find it rad.”
What can you say about the artists you have signed?
“Claud is fucking awesome. I had the idea for the label, and then maybe two seconds after telling my friends, my drummer Marshall [Vore] texted me a link to Claud’s music. I was like, ‘This is insane, there's no way this person isn't signed’ – and they weren't. So I immediately made plans to meet with Claud and we went to breakfast. And then I went out and saw them in Chicago, which is their hometown. I just think the records that they make, alone in their bedroom, sound more hi-fi than the records that I make in a very expensive studio. So that's super-exciting to me. Claud’s strong suits are totally different to mine. I love Claud’s lyrics, but they're not very sad. I saw that some people were pissed that I signed, basically, a pop artist. And I love that, I think that's funny.”
Is it going to be quite a boutique label? Do you want to keep the roster quite small?
“I want to keep it small in the beginning, so that I can hire people down the line. I want to make sure that it doesn't get beyond my capabilities. I think everybody with a dream of starting a record label wants to sign all their friends immediately. And I definitely plan on doing that eventually! The label that I work with, Secretly, puts so much thought into every artist. Some people find it annoying, but I find it beautiful that there are three-hour marketing meetings every week with every release. I just want it to grow naturally, and for everybody to be as stoked on every artist as I am.”
The music industry is still quite male-dominated in senior roles. How does it feel to be running a label with Secretly?
“I made my first record before I was signed. So I basically sold it to Secretly, and one of the reasons that I did was because I walked into the office and was like, ‘Oh my gosh, there are different types of people who work here’. I hadn't had that experience with pretty much any other label when I went to their office. So it already felt like an easier environment. I don't find myself thinking about it that hard any more, which is a very privileged position. I know we work really well together. I never really think about my gender, or how old I am, until I’m doing interviews.”
You must be pleased with the Secretly campaign for Punisher…
“Yeah, very pleased. I had fantasies with the first record of putting out my own music. You know, I was just like, ‘Fuck it, I hate the music business and I just want to release my own music’. And then when I realised how much work it was, I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I can't do that’. It's just the perfect middle ground. I don't really think that Secretly has a glass ceiling as far as being an indie goes. I have never wanted more than I've got [from Secretly]. And the team isn't so big you get buried with 16 more famous artists than you coming out every day. So I just wanted to put people through that same kind of process.”
How’s the Punisher campaign been for you?
“It’s been great. There's really sweet stuff about it and really horrible stuff about it. The horrible stuff is the ego death that I wasn't prepared for; having people sing your songs back to you, and then that completely stopping [during the pandemic] and me just looking at Instagram all day. That has been humbling. But also, I got to do a whole press trip from the comfort of my own home. I feel like there are things I like about it. I made such a dark record. And for some reason, in a very dark year, people still want to listen to it. I just feel very lucky, it was the right time and right place with it. It could have just gone horribly. I feel lucky in retrospect. At the time, I didn't feel like that at all, I was like – 'I'm putting it out'. Now I’m like, ‘Wow, that could have been really stupid’. But I'm glad it wasn't.”
What do you think about the acclaim and the reaction to this album? Do you want to continue the campaign?
“I wanted to put it out [in June 2020] because I didn't want to be sick of it by the time everybody heard it. But I'm glad that people will have had it for a long time. Sometimes you go to a show before you really get to know a record and you're like, ‘Man, I wish I knew this record better’. So I feel like maybe it's a good opportunity to extend the album campaign. I would love to play shows for this record.”
Punisher went on streaming very slightly ahead of the physical release. What do you think about the trend for digital-first campaigns?
“I don't love it, I would rather have physical match with streaming. But I think that that's just kind of the way it rolls these days. It takes fucking four months to make a record, like an actual physical record, which is so much longer than it used to take. But I try to do what I can to help physical media, because I think it's rad. It’s the closest to helping small businesses that you can do.”
Your fans really embrace the physical products and vinyl in particular. How will you approach the physical side of the business with Saddest Factory’s artists?
“Physical records are kind of a music nerd thing at this point, which is sweet – people don't really casually buy records. So I'm ready for it to grow and change. But my absolute fantasy is to have a record store with an office [for the label] in the back of it, like Rough Trade [when it first launched]. I'm ready for that to be a pipe dream.”
Punisher has been big for indie retail in the UK. Has Britain been an important market for your growth as an artist?
“Yeah, I think that y’all just have a better palate for new stuff. I think that Americans kind of need stuff shoved down their throats. So it was a plan, honestly. I did way more solo shows and stuff over there [the UK] than I did over here, because it just seems natural. People like small club shows, singer-songwriters and stuff that they haven't heard of before. So I think it's a beautiful place to start for a new artist. There's just a lot more tastemaker stuff going on. The middle class of musicians is disappearing here [in the US]. A Brooklyn-based punk band or something can't really afford to go on tour if they're working at coffee shops – it's expensive to tour, America is huge. So it's nice to play in the UK and drive two hours and be in a totally new place with new fans. But also, there’s more indie retail, it's just kinder – it’s a kinder place for a new artist.”
Do you want to continue as an independent artist?
“Yes, I think that's important. I think that the major label deals that were put in front of me… well, obviously, they'd be a little bit better now because I put out records that people like. But when I had my first record and had no fans, it was like, seven years and some of your teeth that you have to sign away. I think that the indie deals are more advantageous. You see money faster, you get to have a real job. I feel like they sign cooler people than major labels. If I'm being honest, I think major labels kind of look to indies: ‘What do we capitalise on that these guys are having moderate success with, and how can we blow it up and monetise it in a huge way?’ And I'm not saying that everybody is evil. Music fans end up in music jobs, it's just a bunch of music fans. But I also think that it's a totally fucked-up business, you know? So, yeah, I'm very happy with the indie side of things.”
Will you be focusing on the A&R side for Saddest Factory?
“I'll mostly be on the A&R side for now, especially as I learn how all this stuff works. I don't think that my opinion is very valuable in radio marketing conversations, as I have no idea how it works. But as I learn that stuff more, I will probably be more involved in all sorts. But for now, it’s creative marketing and artist relations.”
How do you feel about the issues across the industry surrounding streaming and royalties for artists?
“Honestly, it's like when people talk about how there was a time before cellphones or something. I don’t really know [any different]. Spotify was out when I was in high school. So I don't really have a lot of perspective. But when I hear people talk about it [streaming royalty rates], it definitely boils my blood. When I see people saying they're artist-friendly, it pisses me off. But I definitely don't think I can single-handedly take it down. The best thing I can do is look for other opportunities, try to sign artists I believe in and guide them towards what's worked for me at least.”
But will your label also embrace streaming opportunities?
“Yeah, totally. I can talk shit about the business side of streaming all day, but I do find it very fun. I think playlists are fun. I think that having the whole music world at your fingertips is great, especially as more stuff gets added. I feel like all the time I'm looking for a record that's not on streaming, and then two years later I look for it again and it's up there. So as it grows and people start releasing music in different ways, it's just a fun outlet.”
Finally, what’s your long-term vision for Saddest Factory as a label?
“It’s artist-based. My nightmare is for it to feel like it’s a vanity label, and then it just disappears or people lose interest. But I think the way to avoid that is to only sign shit that I truly think is awesome, and put my whole weight behind it and the Secretly weight. So, you know, maybe there are five artists on the label who are really happy. That's my dream.”
PHOTO: Frank Ockenfels