Photo by Mikayla LoBasso

Supergroup Therapy With Boygenius’ Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker

The trio talk about zodiac signs, friendship, the scourge of “sad girl” indie rock, and their debut album in this episode of The Pitchfork Review.

Our weekly podcast includes in-depth analysis of the new records we find extraordinary, exciting, and just plain terrible, as well as interviews with some of our favorite artists. This week, Editor-in-Chief Puja Patel hosts the singer-songwriter supergroup BoygeniusJulien BakerPhoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus. In between lots of laughter and a few near-tears,  the band chats about their imminent debut album, The Record, how they hold each other up as friends and collaborators, and why the idea of “sad girl” indie rock is pretty much bullshit.

Listen to this week’s episode below, and follow The Pitchfork Review here. You can also check out an excerpt of the podcast’s transcript below. 

Puja Patel: Can we talk about the dreaded “sad girl” descriptor? 

Phoebe Bridgers: Let’s go.

Patel: I feel like we probably all share the same frustration, which is that feelings get canonized by gender and other things that have nothing to do with the music. To me, a lot of this new album is tied to hope.

Lucy Dacus: I don’t write sad songs, so I can’t contribute to this. [laughter]

Julien Baker: That’s not true. 

Bridgers: That’s a joke, right?

Dacus: Name a sad song I’ve written. 

Bridgers: “We’re in Love” [from The Record] is the saddest song I’ve ever heard. 

Dacus: Are you serious? 

Bridgers: Yes, 100 percent. You don’t need to commiserate. [laughter] It’s not a dirge, but in 10 years, I think that we’ll look back on that song and be like, “Poor buddy…” [laughter] You know?

Dacus: I just don’t want to mix up emotionality and sadness. 

Baker: Yeah, I guess you’re right. 

Bridgers: But you could say that about any of our discographies as well. The listener is adding a certain amount of their own projection to it, too. 

Dacus: As far as “sad girl” indie rock [laughter, vomiting sounds], I’ll just say that it’s a big emotion that people can take in and relate to, but it’s also powerless, so it’s palatable. Anger would be more powerful, but “angry girl” music kind of gets cast as corny. 

Baker: It is true. 

Dacus: There is good “angry girl” music, obviously. 

Bridgers: Like “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole” by Martha Wainwright, about her dad. 

Dacus: Whoa. 

Bridgers: Isn’t that tight? 

Baker: I immediately went to Fiona Apple

Dacus: I bristle at the idea of being like a neo-lib wet dream of a girl. [laughter] You know, like, feminism on a shirt at Target. I want to steer so clear of that and the sad girl. They’re in the same soup.

Baker: Also, it feels like the argument is trite at this point, like why there’s a double standard for women disclosing emotion, and it always being interpreted as sadness instead of just emotionality. But then I’m also like, “Who’s not [sad]?” Life is suffering, that’s the first noble truth. Music is about three things: love, politics, and suffering. 

Patel: I am wondering what you have learned from one another about being a better friend. 

Bridgers: This is like supergroup therapy. 

Dacus: Showing up and continuing to show up goes a long way. I know that seems really obvious, but our time is scarce, so when y’all give me your time and I give it back, that is in itself a lesson in how closeness happens. It’s not just like you want it and so you have it. It’s that you actually have to show up and make the time and the space. And part of showing up is inviting each other into each other’s lives, just having the confidence to ask how we are.

Bridgers: I’ve had to spend a lot of my life cultivating closeness and intimacy and friendship. I came from an abusive household and just the things that I learned about what it is to be close to people was like, Oh, you just have to try really hard to connect. And around the time that y’all came into my life, I was thinking about that for the first time, and it was so nice to be like, “I immediately, no question, love you and care about you.” It doesn’t even feel like a choice. Like if either of you had a crisis or wanted to talk, it wouldn’t be like, “That’s what a friend would do, and I should do that.” I want nothing more than to show up and care.

Baker: I’m sitting here like, I better think of something good. [laughter] I’ve been asking for y’alls help more, I’m working on it. For someone to be like, “I have trust issues” is like, who amongst us? But do you trust a person not to have to manage their perception of you? Can you be at peace with them? I feel so fiercely protective of both of you that I will redact pieces of myself. And then I’m like, “No, that’s not actually what they want to happen. I should talk about what is going on instead of trying to fix the internal issue and then bring it to you, because I’m trying to do you the kindness of not adding to whatever’s going on.” Finding out that y’all are signed up for the difficult stuff too makes the difficult stuff less difficult and teaches me how to ask for help.

Patel: Phoebe, I was reading this old interview with you where you said something kind of jokey and off-the-cuff about how you should steal from as many people as possible in order to best say the things that you want to say. It made me think of the new song “Letter to an Old Poet” and how it’s kind of a sequel to the Boygenius song “Me & My Dog” from your EP. How did it feel to acknowledge your past self and your past writing in a contemporary way?

Bridgers: I have struggled a lot with compassion or empathy for my past self. And especially when I was writing “Me & My Dog,” I was just [sighs] feeling like those feelings were going to be forever. And it’s been such a relief to grow up and realize that that’s not true. So [“Letter to an Old Poet”] feels like holding the hand of my past self into the future. It’s weird, but I feel like the songs that I contributed to this album do that even with Punisher, like they’re continuations of the things I was thinking about then. Now they’re more evolved, and I have some perspective on that time. Punisher and “Me & My Dog” are like perspective-less whirlwinds of emotion, and the three songs on this record that I started are like looking back and being like, “Damn, wow, wish I coulda told myself what is going to be tight about the future.”

But something really special to me about “Letter to an Old Poet” is that I wanted to do the “I wanna be emaciated” line [from “Me & My Dog”], but I wanted it to really hit with a word that should mean fulfillment, but not in a corny way. And Lucy was like, “What about ‘happy’?” [laughter

Dacus: We were in the midst of writing, and you had a guitar and you played it. And my heart broke. The “I want to be happy” was the saddest thing I’ve ever heard you say. [laughter]

Baker: I know about how you write and that you’re not going to sing a lyric you don’t feel genuine about. So when I listened to that song I was like, “This person actually desires to better themselves and be happy.” 

Bridgers: But I need you guys to shift my perspective also, which is beautiful; it was true immediately coming out of my mouth, but you had to give it to me. 

Dacus: I don’t know if I’ve said this to y’all, but I feel like that line is a favor y’all have given me, because I need to hear you say that. 

Baker: Wait, I was going to tell you that hearing you say you want to be happy made me want to be happy myself. [laughter]

Patel: OK, everyone’s holding hands.

Baker: I’m about to cry. I’m close to crying. 

Bridgers: Yeah. Me too, honestly. [laughter]