Marshall Vore Wants You To Feel Something

The songwriter and producer is proud to be known as “Phoebe’s drummer.” He’s also so much more.

Written by Alana Hope Levinson
Photographs by Zoe Donahoe

Marshall Vore’s studio looks like the dorm room of the coolest college kid you know. On display is a baby-pink Instax camera; pictures of notable guests, like Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, comedian Whitmer Thomas, and a cat named Princess, are labeled and arranged in a neat grid. A framed Grammy nomination for Phoebe Bridgers’ song “Kyoto” hangs on the wall. There’s a box of Topo Chico, a lamp in the shape of Saturn, and small stickers of butterflies and flowers on the top of his mixing board. It’s a fitting laboratory for a man who, as he puts it, “has his fingers in a lot of things.”

“I’m a student of learning how to make records,” Vore says bashfully. “I’m taking piano lessons. I’m even looking at people like Jack Antonoff. I listen to his records and I’m like, ‘What is he doing? How is he doing it? What is his sound like?’”

As a multi-instrumentalist and producer, Vore, 36, has achieved his own Antonoffian ubiquity among a certain L.A. indie set: writing and playing on records from Christian Lee Hutson, girlpuppy, Charlie Hickey, and Rebecca Black in addition to engineering Maya Hawke’s 2022 album, Moss. Hutson says Vore has “no ego” about what it takes to get a song across the finish line. “He will throw out 20 ideas and is fine with none of them being right for the song,” he says, “but they’re always exciting to me and give me a little adrenaline rush. Marshall is a huge inspiration to me because he makes the world of what’s possible to write about feel a little bigger.” Hawke recalls that Vore “could tell what songs were going to be singles before anyone else could,” and she describes him as a kind of in-studio cheerleader. “One of my favorite things about him,” she says, “was that after every single vocal take or take of anything, he would go ‘swag,’ ‘obsessed,’ or ‘OK, wanna do it again or done?’”

Vore is best known, however, as the drummer and ex-boyfriend of Bridgers and remains one of her closest collaborators, inspiring and/or co-writing many fan favorite tracks. (He also played on the new album from boygenius, Bridgers’ supergroup with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker.) It’s an identity Vore has a good sense of humor about: He is formalizing his “studio slash other ventures” under the name Boyfriend. And though he tends to downplay his contributions — his Instagram bio reads “generally involved” — Bridgers tells me making music without him is “sort of not an option.” “Lyrically, he’s very human: He writes how he thinks and speaks,” she says. “That’s very beautiful to me.”

Although Vore and Bridgers broke up in 2017, he holds a special place in the hearts of the Bridgers’ most passionate fans, the Pharbz. Some make TikToks of pictures of him and Bridgers with the reverence usually reserved for the dead. Others post happy birthday threads for him on Reddit and make Minecraft skins in his image. With his messy, dirty-blond hair, all-black uniform, and plastic framed glasses, Vore looks like one of your brooding high school crushes grown up, if they had a taste for Gucci slides and a knack for sh*tposting. “guaranteed I’m the only person on the Eras tour that has been held in a county jail for a little less than 24 hours because i stole two t shirts from hot topic,” he tweeted as Taylor Swift recently kicked off her tour, on which he’ll be playing with Bridgers as an opener on some dates this May.

“A lot of bands are very self-promotional and a lot of musicians are a little too self-serious,” Vore says. “If you just don’t take yourself that seriously, it actually plays better for you on the Internet. My online presence is different maybe than other drummers in other bands. And that makes people go, ‘What the f*ck’s up with this guy?’”

I am trying to find out by meeting Vore at his studio, a converted three-car garage and guest room in Pasadena that has been his musical home base for six years. He lives in Highland Park now, but he used to live in the attached house, which has seen a revolving cast of musician pals over the years. It’s currently occupied by the likes of Harrison Whitford, Bridgers’ guitarist; Mason Stoops, who plays for Jackson Browne and Marcus Mumford; and Cole Petersen, who has played with Jacob Sartorius and now does lights for MUNA and ericdoa.

“I don’t care about somebody that just got signed and has 20 million streams. If I push play and I don’t feel anything, I can take it or leave it.”

It’s like “a little rock ’n’ roll summer camp,” he says, though peering up at the clean, white home on a quiet, residential street, you’d never guess. “A lot of musicians, they want to live in the music and in the creation of the music and around their instruments and around everything. And I’m kind of the opposite of that. When I go home, I want to be home.”

In person, Vore takes no time to warm up. Whether he’s talking about a podcast he’s obsessed with or some new law he heard about in Utah, Vore makes the kind of conversation you’d strike up with an interesting stranger at an airport and get lost in for hours. His collaborators say he’s as funny in the studio as he is online. “He is hilariously forgetful and will often tell a story you just told to him back to you and say he ‘can’t remember who was saying this,’” Hutson says. Yet, when talking about himself, Vore says “there’s a screw missing.”

“If it’s my birthday party and I get tired, I just leave. People go, ‘What the f*ck, it’s your own party. You can’t leave and not say goodbye,’” he says. “And I’m like, ‘What do you mean? I’m tired, and you guys are all having fun. I don’t need to be here.’”

Vore could use some caffeine, so we head outside and climb into his black Tesla, which has the captivating smell of a campfire that’s located near a flower field. (“I think it’s actually me,” he says, extending his arm out for me to smell and make sure.) Having Tesla money, or even fancy perfume money, is new for him. “When I bought the f*cking Tesla,” he says, “I was like, ‘Bro, do the seats fall down because if all this goes away and I own this car, can I sleep in it?’”

The car turns on, and it’s in the middle of blasting a Morgan Wallen song. (He asks me not to include this in the story; I tell him no.) “I love pop country,” he concedes. He grew up in the town of Hailey, Idaho, which had around 5,000 people in it in the ’90s. There was no record store or clothing shop or even a chain of any kind. “I was bursting out of my skin to just see other kids who were alt in any way, shape, or form. And there wasn’t any,” Vore says. “I felt trapped in a picture perfect postcard of a town.”

“Real love is actually just real friendship and you may only have a couple real friends in your lifetime. Phoebe for me is one of those people.”

Vore dropped out of high school and moved to L.A. when he turned 18, and he’s been here ever since. He admittedly “was not good at keeping jobs.” Over the course of his 20s, he worked at two different Whole Foods, a Guitar Center, and a rehearsal space called Bedrock, among other gigs. He doesn’t get why people think the life of a touring musician is such a grind. “I don’t really vibe with ‘this is real work.’ I’m like, ‘No, real work is real work,’” he says. “I had a job for a while where I was f*cking landscaping, and we were digging a f*cking ditch for weeks. And so I’ll never feel like sitting in an air-conditioned backstage with somebody bringing rider food to me is the same thing.”

We pop into a nondescript coffee shop to get our lattes, and I ask if he ever gets recognized in public. Not really, he says. “I orbit people who are famous. So even if somebody does come up to me, which does happen, it’s really not about me ever. It’s like, ‘You are in proximity to someone who I am obsessed with, and therefore, you are a vehicle to them or you could get a message to them.’” That could rankle plenty of artistic egos, but Vore says it’s “actually an awesome spot” to be in. “I would not be very good at dealing with that kind of intimacy. I’m just bad at intimacy in general. If somebody were to say that my music changed their life, I would have no f*cking idea how to respond to that. But I could definitely receive that very gracefully on behalf of someone. That feels like a more comfortable space for me.”

It’s a perspective shaped by years of toiling in obscurity. When we get back to the studio, Vore tells me how he has “failed into success and succeeded into failure.” Throughout his 20s, he poured all of his creative energy into a band called Olin & the Moon, which “just failed for a long time.” But as he approached 30, Vore started being honest with himself. “You can’t try to be a rock star in your 30s for a living. That’s just delusional,” he says. “I told this story to myself that I have to be a successful musician to be worth anything in the world, to be valid, to have crawled out of poverty. To show people that I am something and ultimately to like myself and to love myself.” Realizing that “music is just what I do,” not who he is, “freed me in this way that I can’t even describe.”

In 2014, Vore met Bridgers through Whitford, a Twitter pal of Vore’s who invited him to one of his shows. It was the opposite of love at first sight. “I thought she was really rude, and she thought I was a douchebag,” he says. It wasn’t until they crossed paths again a month later that “we saw each other and we were like, f*ck.” In the early stages of their relationship, Vore would go see Bridgers play at places like the now-closed Room 5 on La Brea and Hotel Cafe, when “no one was ever there but her mom.” He was one of her first super fans.

“We’re a Rorschach test — you see in us what you want to see. If you want to see ‘Silver Springs,’ you see it.”

“She taught me something that I think has literally changed the trajectory of my entire life,” he says. “We went to a visual art museum, and I remember saying, ‘I didn’t graduate high school, and I f*cking grew up in like a trailer and sh*t. There’s something cultural to art that I don't understand.’ And I remember her saying, ‘Oh, no, you don’t get it. It takes nothing to understand this. It either affects you or it does not affect you, and if it doesn’t affect you, it isn’t good.’”

That’s now the barometer whenever he makes music. When something makes you feel something, he says, “Pay attention to that. Invest in that. Now as someone with a studio, I’m searching for that. I don’t care about somebody that just got signed and has 20 million streams or a bunch of followers. If I push play and I don’t feel anything, I can take it or leave it.” (Indeed: He co-wrote the Rebecca Black song “NGL” with newcomer Luke Huff, who records as Glitch Gum, after stumbling upon a cover of “Kyoto” Huff made and inviting him to collaborate. “He flew out here with his parents and they stayed in a hotel,” Vore says.)

Sometimes, though, that standard can feel impossible. There’s one song he and Bridgers have been working on since 2019 and have yet to finish. “I went to her house a few days ago, and we did a full maybe six hours of writing and we got nothing,” he says. “Not one line was added to this song. Not one, because nothing was hitting that f*cking spot.”

Vore and Bridgers never planned to write together, but she took a liking to some of his earliest songs and fleshed out one that would eventually become “Scott Street,” from her 2017 debut album, Stranger in the Alps. Their process works the same today, with one of them usually asking the other: Hey, I’ve got this song. What do you think I should do with it?

When they started collaborating, Vore says American singer-songwriter music was overrun with that “dusty cowboy hat whiskey kind of mentality — suspender sh*t.” Bridgers impressed him with her refusal to write “pseudo poetry” and a willingness to be unflinchingly direct about what was happening in her life.

“When we were writing ‘Motion Sickness,’ it was like, why don’t you just say ‘You gave me $1,500 to see your hypnotherapist’?” he says, referencing the song about Bridgers’ ex-boyfriend Ryan Adams, whom she accused of emotional abuse in a 2019 New York Times story alongside other women. (Adams initially denied the allegations and later wrote a public apology letter.) “When we finished the album, I was so joyful, because [I thought] this is so funny, but it’s also like real, real. I didn’t think it was going to blow up, but I just knew that this is the record I want to hear as a listener.”

That’s true even for the songs about him and their breakup. Take “Smoke Signals,” on which Bridgers sings, “One of your eyes is always half-shut / Something happened while you were a kid.” Or “ICU,” from 2020’s Punisher: “I hate your mom… I used to light you up, now I can’t even get you to play the drums.” Vore doesn’t think being the subject of a song is that unique. “A lot of people have dated musicians or are musicians themselves and had a breakup and then had their ex send them a song that’s obviously about them,” Vore says. When Bridgers first did that, it “didn’t sting.” Instead, he thought, “Damn, OK, I still got it.” And then: “What should the next line be?”

Still, fans are fascinated by their dynamic as exes and creative partners. I tell him there’s a clip floating around TikTok of them intimately singing into one mic, evoking the iconic footage of Stevie Nicks singing “Silver Springs” directly at bandmate and ex Lindsey Buckingham. (The podcast Significant Lovers calls Bridgers and Vore “our generation’s Fleetwood Mac or something.”) Vore pauses to write down “silver springs” so he can maybe use it in a song later. “We’re a Rorschach test — you see in us what you want to see,” he says. “If you want to see ‘Silver Springs,’ you see it, you know?”

“You can’t try to be a rock star in your 30s for a living. That’s just delusional.”

He is clear-eyed about why they’ve been able to keep working together. “Phoebe broke my heart bad, bad. It’s the only real true grief I’ve ever gone through,” he says. “When we broke up, it was weird because I think the thing that I was most afraid of was losing Phoebe. And I found out that, actually, real love for me doesn’t really have to do with sex. Real love is actually just real friendship and you may only have a couple real heavy friends in your lifetime. Phoebe for me is one of those people.” When their relationship ended, “instead of us being resentful, we just converted it into what it should have always been, which is like a life partner.”

Bridgers agrees: “Our relationship is better now than it ever was when they were dating.” And she credits him with changing her life as much as he does with her. “My life started when I met Marshall,” Bridgers says. “I was writing songs, but they weren’t very good” until he helped her figure out how to finish them. “I sometimes call him my emotional support ex-boyfriend.”

Occasionally, when they’re on stage, they will shoot each other the same look: Can you believe this? “If all of it were to go away tomorrow, I could accept that because I got to see what this looks like behind the curtain. And that to me, that’s winning the lottery,” Vore says. “If I’m 50 years old working at the f*cking airport bar in Burbank or something, I’m just going to be like, ‘Bro, I witnessed writing a song on my bed and seeing 3,000 people singing it in Singapore. That's a ticket you can't buy. Even if you’re Jeff Bezos.’”

He twists around in his chair and looks down. “If all I ever am is Phoebe’s drummer,” he says, “I’ve made it.”

Photographs by Zoe Donahoe