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Inside Saddest Factory Records: How Phoebe Bridgers Is Quietly Building an Indie Empire

“We are evidence of the amount that you can do just by directing people’s attention toward things when you have a platform,” bandmate Naomi McPherson says of Bridgers’ support. “It’s just very cool vibes to leverage your platform and not pull the ladder up behind you.”

And while Bridgers is in her element when helping artists with music videos or kooky promo ideas, she’s perhaps most vital when acting as a kind of artist-to-executive translator. “I don’t talk to [Secretly Group staff] that much,” says Claud. “I’m like, ‘How did they just know that’s what I was thinking and I didn’t even tell them?’ But now I realize it’s because Phoebe has been telling them.”

Bridgers talks about her leadership as almost haphazard — every signing was “weirdly serendipitous,” the roster’s large number of LGBTQ+ and nonbinary artists is “a total accident.” (“Queer people are making the coolest f–king music by leaps and bounds, to me,” says Bridgers, who is bisexual.) But her self-deprecating comments about not reading spreadsheets or understanding budgets bely the very intentional community she has created — a place where artists are free to be themselves and can focus primarily on making art.

Before signing with Saddest Factory, Claud, who is nonbinary, had met with labels occasionally, but nothing felt right. “I think they were a little scared, maybe, of my queerness or my transness,” they say. “Phoebe really was one of the first people to look at my project seriously and say, ‘I see this as something that you can do for a long time.’” Gavin calls the video shoot for “Silk Chiffon” — an homage to the queer cult classic But I’m a Cheerleader — one of the highlights of her professional life thanks to the inclusive atmosphere on set; at other video shoots, she says, the band sometimes got “feedback about our physical appearance, and you wonder whether it’s about whether or a certain demographic is going to find you attractive.”

Now, with Saddest Factory just over a year old, Bridgers is relieved to see all the effort start to pay off: Sloppy Jane and Scruffpuppie are readying new albums, while Hickey released an EP in February that will get a physical release in November; Claud is touring with Bleachers (frontman Jack Antonoff tweeted that they are “one of the best new artists”), and “Silk Chiffon” recently became MUNA’s first hit on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart.

“We haven’t even had a true label party yet,” says Bridgers. “I can’t wait to get everybody in the same room.”

This story originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2021, issue of Billboard.

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