• Elliott Smith was an influential singer-songwriter who died in 2003 from two stab wounds to the chest. He is a hero of Phoebe Bridgers; here, she contemplates a fictional encounter where she is a little too enthusiastic towards him.
  • The concept of a "punisher" comes from the archetype of an overly excitable and eager fan, making their hero feel trapped when they get to meet them. Bridgers explained to Apple Music the song is about her "stalking Elliott Smith," and being a punisher who when she talks to her heroes, "their eyes will glaze over."

    She added: "Say you're at Thanksgiving with your wife's family and she's got an older relative who is anti-vax or just read some conspiracy theory article and, even if they're sweet, they're just talking to you and they don't realize that your eyes are glazed over and you're trying to escape: That's a punisher."
  • Ben Folds' "Late" is another fan song about Elliott Smith. During the 2005 track, Folds expresses his regret that he never got to thank Smith for his music, which "got me through a lot."
  • Bridgers explained to Stereogum that she titled her album after this song as the word "punisher" sums up a lot about her personality. "I was like, 'Should this album be self-titled?' and was like, 'Nah. I'll use a descriptor word instead.' When I wrote the song I thought, 'Damn, that's kind of a metal album title.' And it's kind of a hot word."
  • Bridgers used a new recording technique on Punisher that she learned from engineer Joseph Lorge. She explained to Billboard the trick is to play various sounds and then "ride the faders as you're recording so it all shines in different moments."

    Bridgers utilized that style on this track. "We made all these samples of bird sounds and backwards voice and Mellotron noises and rode the faders," she said, "and as the song went, we would turn them up and down to highlight different sections."
  • And here, everyone knows you're the way to my heart
    Hear so many stories of you at the bar

    Bridgers is well-known within the music industry for her love of Elliott Smith. She told NPR that "industry" people frequently tell her their Elliott Smith stories, "and they're usually from seeing him at the Silverlake Lounge."

    She admitted to Mojo magazine: "There was an A&R guy when I was about 15 who sent me some unreleased Elliott demos. I became, 'Oh my gosh, the world of the music business is beautiful.'"


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