In a normal year, the countdown to Christmas brings about a pretty standard soundtrack. But, of course, 2020 is no ordinary year—and, thankfully, Phoebe Bridgers (a singer seemingly made for these strange times) has provided us with a holiday tune to match our melancholy mood.
Over the last four years, Bridgers has reimagined a classic Christmastime song, and she continues the tradition this month with Merle Haggard’s apropos track “If We Make It Through December.” The song, which was bundled into an EP with her previous Christmas tracks, has quickly become essential holiday listening, with all proceeds going to the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles.
“The original is straight up goofy country music,” Bridgers says of her cover choice. “So I was like, What if I reimagine this? It’s kind of perfect.” Vogue spoke to the singer about her relationship to ghosts, her holiday traditions, and the story behind her cover of The Goo Goo Dolls’s “Iris.”
How did the annual Christmas song tradition start?
I really love The Bright Eyes Christmas album and the Sufjan Stevens Christmas album. And I always feel kind of lost during Christmas time. I love country Christmas music, like Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, but I feel like there’s not enough good ones—I’ve put on the same records every year. It’d be cool to make a Christmas record and I was like, that’s way too much work. What if it’s just like a fun tradition instead?
Why did you choose to cover “If We Make It Through December”?
It’s my favorite Merle Haggard Christmas song, for sure. I was revisiting his catalog at the beginning of COVID and was like, man, this shit is so depressing. He’s been to prison and Johnny Cash played when he was in prison and he saw that show and started making music when he got out. So pretty much all his songs are about struggling with—and I’ve been thinking a lot about, obviously as we all have—prison reform. So he was on my mind.
Do you think about seasons when making your music?
I do! I feel like the more I try to control it, the less I have control over it. I recorded most of Punisher in the middle of the summer, which is kind of nice because it’s way too hot in LA so hiding in an air conditioned studio is great. I always want to release my records in fall, but that’s just not how it works. You can’t control like when you’re done really. I wish I could think about it more, but it’s hard enough to keep on schedule.
Spooky imagery was very present on Punisher, and I felt this was true of your Christmas EP cover, too. Is there a relationship between ghosts and your music?
Yeah, totally. I think I read a lot of magical realism and I just think that a world with ghosts is more fascinating, but also it’s very poetic. I think that ghosts don’t have to be people and can also just be trauma. I think that’s kind of the way that I write, like I’m in a ghost story.
Do you have any favorite LA holiday traditions?
My mom takes Thanksgiving and Christmas very seriously. Obviously we’re rethinking it this year. You know, finding a pool to get into—just embracing the weirdness of being in LA for winter. I’m like 26 years old and I guarantee you my mom made a stocking for me this year.
What are you reading or listening to at the moment?
I’m finishing both Love In The Time of Cholera and A Hundred Years of Solitude. I feel like I gave up on Love In The Time of Cholera because it was too similar to COVID and then I’ll be done with A Hundred Years of Solitude and then I’ll go back to it. I don’t need any more sewage in the streets causing death shit. But I’ve been listening to 99% Invisible, the podcast. It’s little bite-sized nerd snacks of information that I really like. It’s just really well done and really entertaining. Perfume Genius, is always The Bright Eyes record I feel like is my big record of the year. But it’s almost too much. It’s like Love In The Time of Cholera; it’s like, I can’t.
And you’re reading those books because of the magic realism aspect, right?
Exactly, like [Gabriel García Márquez] has influenced so many more modern authors that I really love. And so I feel like I need to check my history. I’m also reading The Haunting of Hill House to get really in the mood for spooky writing.
How was it collaborating with Maggie Rogers on the Goo Goo Dolls cover?
It was awesome. Couldn’t have expected such great pickup and it started obviously as a joke. I felt like I let the internet tell me what it was, which was really fun. I’ve never really done that before. I feel like people take releasing stuff so seriously, and it was fun to just kind of throw out an idea and have people get excited about it. It’s amazing that Maggie and I have never sung together because we’re very tight and she lives right by me. So it was fun to get to work together.
Anything else you’ve picked up during quarantine 2.0?
I love shopping for people. I love thinking of holiday presents, especially this year, when I feel like nobody’s going to see their families. I actually really pride myself on my gift giving abilities so I’ve been really enjoying online shopping. When I’m doing it for myself I feel guilty and when I’m doing it for other people, I feel like a fairy godmother.