‘I need to not be violent to myself’: Big Thief on pain, healing and their intense musical bond | Big Thief

It is early afternoon in downtown Nashville, and the get together is already going sturdy. Bachelorettes in pink cowboy hats are flowing, mask-free, in and out of the honky-tonks. The members of Big Thief, although – Adrianne Lenker, Buck Meek, Max Oleartchik and James Krivchenia – are sitting exterior the Ryman Auditorium like dots of oil floating atop the water. Nobody appears to discover that one of many US’s greatest bands is scattered round a patio desk a couple of hours earlier than their present tonight, simply yards above the 24/7 bacchanal.

“There’s a pigeon-keeper up there,” says the band’s frontperson Lenker, leaning ahead in her chair in a horse-print shirt, denims and a bandanna, her gaze fastened on a small skyscraper. She factors, and the remainder of the band follows her finger to a gaggle of birds on high of a constructing, furiously in movement. “They’re flying in circles, so there has to be a cage up there. They solely do this when there may be somebody conducting them.”

There isn’t any conductor in Big Thief, nor do they transfer in circles – however they do keep in formation. Because the launch of their debut album Masterpiece in 2016, they’ve been probably the most prolific working bands as a collective and individually, flying freed from music business greatest practices (two competing and equally sensible albums, UFOF and Two Fingers, had been launched in 2019), Instagrammable perfection, or any kind of pomp and circumstance, with Lenker’s intricate and susceptible lyrics main the best way in songs that traverse indie rock and people. Once they take to the Ryman stage later, they are going to accomplish that with out huge shows or units, uncooked and unfiltered in entrance of a closed stage curtain. They’ve two Grammy nominations and have graduated to huge venues, however would reasonably discuss in regards to the marvel of human consciousness than accolades, discussing the method of making artwork as in the event that they’re astronomers not simply content material to discover the following star, however keen to unveil an entire unseen universe.


All the pieces that makes Big Thief work might be the undoing of every other band. For one, Lenker and Meek are divorced – they met and began the group collectively in New York in 2015, and had been married younger. Bassist Oleartchik lives a world away in Israel, and every band member has a vibrant set of solo pursuits that overlaps reasonably than competes with Big Thief itself. In the course of the pandemic alone, Lenker launched two solo albums, Songs and Instrumentals, guitarist Meek had one, Two Saviors, Oleartchik labored on his jazz materials and Krivchenia launched an ambient album and sat in on drums for quite a few initiatives, together with Taylor Swift’s Pink (Taylor’s Model). “The alchemy of all these issues is what makes Big Thief Big Thief within the first place,” says Meek, who wears all black and smiles as if he’s identified you for ever. “So we’ve all honoured that, and one another, I feel.”

Their new 20-song album Dragon New Heat Mountain I Consider in You comes, in title, from that interconnecting continuum: it’s taken from a line in Something, from Lenker’s album Songs, additional narrowing the gap between what’s hers and theirs, as if that even issues. They bought right here by partaking in a continuous battle in opposition to the ego. “We don’t let ourselves be the cliche of the rock star,” Oleartchik says. “It will possibly really feel like that – you’re on stage, individuals are screaming – however that’s the place you will get misplaced in your self.”

Dragon New Heat Mountain I Consider in You doesn’t attempt to match neatly right into a field that additional defines the Big Thief sound, no matter which will be, or grasp at larger rock stardom. Typically, its songs superbly meander and not using a refrain (Certainty), or the music melds completely with the texture of the lyrics, although not particularly the that means. There are mentions of potato knishes and elbows (Spud Infinity) and microwaves (Dried Roses) that might have made John Prine chuckle, and traces that kick you within the intestine with their sensible simplicity: “I wanna stay for ever until I die,” Lenker sings to a rustic romp.

‘I don’t think we’ve ever made anything because someone else expected us to. If anything, it’s the opposite’ ... Big Thief.
‘I don’t suppose we’ve ever made something as a result of another person anticipated us to. If something, it’s the other’ … Big Thief. {Photograph}: Alexa Viscius

“Perhaps I’m delusional, however I don’t suppose we’ve ever made something as a result of another person anticipated us to. If something, it’s the other,” Meek says, turning to Lenker, who’s rubbing a bottle of water in opposition to her brow to assist remedy a headache. “You write the songs as a result of it’s a type of survival. You’re my favorite songwriter on Earth, and we’re positively my favorite band on Earth. We’re the vessel for music that doesn’t exist that I would like to hear.” This comes throughout as enthusiastic pleasure, not ego, and the music seems like he feels it, too.

“You’re my favorite songwriter!” Lenker responds – this love-in is extra heartfelt and much less corny than it would learn. However Lenker had quite a lot of excavating to do to discover this happiness, and when the pandemic hit, the whole lot rushed to the floor as soon as the crowds grew quiet.

“I had gone via marriage and divorce,” Lenker says in a separate Zoom name later, alone in a resort room together with her canine. “We had to attempt to rework our relationship, to let it die and be reborn, all whereas being on the highway in proximity to one another. And holding area for different individuals via our artwork, writing about it and singing about it collectively on stage. He’s like household now, which I feel is a testomony to the love that we do [still] share.”

‘My heart was broken into smithereens’ ... Adrianne Lenker.
‘My coronary heart was damaged into smithereens’ … Adrianne Lenker. {Photograph}: Alexa Viscius

Big Thief had been in the midst of a European tour when the pandemic hit in March 2020; they’d been on the highway incessantly for 3 years, and Lenker had began a brand new relationship, with the musician Indigo Sparke, which got here to an finish early in quarantine. “My coronary heart,” she says, “was damaged into smithereens.” Abruptly, it appeared like her physique began to “purge the whole lot out”. Her sister and solo album co-producer Phil Weinrobe each had to remind her to eat on a every day foundation, and she got here down with shingles and multiday migraines, ending up in hospital in Brooklyn earlier than retreating to her sister’s cabin in western Massachusetts.

She anxious one thing would possibly actually be fallacious medically, till it turned clear that it was the grind she had been partaking in since she was somewhat woman, and the trauma that got here with it. “I realised it wasn’t about this factor with this individual,” Lenker says, “it was about outdated trauma manifesting in present life.” She doesn’t say particularly what that trauma was (although she has spoken elsewhere about how tough her childhood was), however the breakdown of the 2 romantic relationships “triggered this entire factor within myself, and I used to be dwelling in a state of self-abandonment. I’m not going to perpetuate that cycle however so as to do this I actually need to not be violent to myself. And that’s not one thing that simply occurs in a single day.”

Lenker was born in Indianapolis, raised in a cultlike Christian sect that her dad and mom finally distanced themselves from, and she began writing music earlier than she was 10; her first album, Levels of the Solar, got here in 2006 and reveals the origins of her penchant to incorporate nation or people textures into her work, though others round her appeared to suppose she was extra destined for pop stardom. Lenker, clearly, was bored with that.

After attending Berklee Faculty of Music in Boston on a scholarship and transferring to New York, Lenker met Meek in 2015, who was enjoying in, as he places it, “a loopy ragtime swing band”. Meek, from Texas and appropriately well-schooled on singer-songwriters akin to Townes Van Zandt and Man Clark, made an ideal busking companion for Lenker within the early days. Oleartchik was a jazz participant and son of Alon Oleartchik, a well-liked Israeli musician and member of 70s breakthrough rock band Kaveret, whereas Krivchenia, born in Minnesota, was established on the punk scene. As soon as the foursome shaped Big Thief, everybody dedicated absolutely to the collective.

‘We had to try to transform our relationship, to let it die and be reborn’ ... Big Thief performing in Dorset, England, in 2018.
‘We had to attempt to rework our relationship, to let it die and be reborn’ … Big Thief performing in Dorset, England, in 2018. {Photograph}: Roger Garfield/Alamy

Krivchenia, who produced Dragon New Heat Mountain I Consider in You, offered the idea to the band one morning over a continental breakfast at a resort in Copenhagen earlier than the pandemic, typed up and printed within the resort enterprise centre. The thought was that they’d go as a gaggle to 4 areas – upstate New York, Topanga Canyon in California, the Arizona desert and Colorado mountains – with 4 completely different studios and 4 completely different engineers, every with a sonic purpose in thoughts.

“Earlier than he completed we had been all like: oh my God, sure,” Oleartchik says. Krivchenia actually believed within the idea, however he additionally didn’t need to upset the ability stability within the band – or the dearth of 1, actually. “There’s a communal factor with this band the place all opinions are crucial,” he says. “I simply wished to examine my ego to be certain I wasn’t positioning myself in any kind of position.” Principally, he wished the band to assist create a while, some freedom from a ticking clock.


“It’s like intercourse,” Lenker says of recording, laughing flippantly. “In case you really feel strain to make love properly and you solely have an hour to show your self, overlook about it!”

Lenker’s songs are a grounding pressure of Big Thief, by no means meant to lead definitively someway, although extraordinarily revealing on the similar time. “Her writing is extra complicated than, ‘it’s her nature album or it’s her breakup album’,” Krivchenia says. “She needs to go away area for individuals to add their personal that means,” Oleartchik provides. Her bandmates speak about her songwriting so she doesn’t have to; she doesn’t take pleasure in deconstructing her personal work in that manner. She’d reasonably keep susceptible with the songs, so she will be able to keep susceptible on stage.

Typically Lenker will be chatty throughout a set. Different instances, she’s going to say nothing in any respect. “Typically,” Krivchenia says, “Adrianne rambles for 5 minutes and we’re like: let’s do a tune, we’re getting chilly again right here!” She is so resistant to cultivating a efficiency or persona over an genuine shared expertise that she will get emotionally worn down and can “really feel like a flat piece of cardboard” after an evening or two of touring. “An enormous a part of our craft is making an attempt to come into this radical acceptance of what’s occurring, and our imperfections and idiosyncrasies,” Lenker says – Big Thief’s music voices a relentless craving to heal, and her personal course of is ever-evolving. Not too long ago, she shaved her head to confront her insecurities about her face and magnificence. “I’m nonetheless on that journey, and it might be a lifelong one … We’ve got quirks, and we experience with them. Hopefully individuals within the room can really feel a wave of inspiration to embrace precisely how they’re within the current second, glad or odd or chaotic. I feel we need extra of that on this planet.”

Meek remembers one thing that Krivchenia informed him at a present in New Orleans a couple of nights earlier as they gathered in a huddle. “You mentioned: ‘Keep in mind to maintain saying sure,’” he says. “In order that entire evening I saved reminding myself that: simply maintain saying sure as a result of it’s really easy to say no. Even if you happen to play the fallacious observe. Simply go: ‘Sure! I performed the fallacious observe! Sure!’”

“It’s like an improv skit,” Krivchenia says, “Saying no fucking kills the skit.”

“And, all of a sudden,” Lenker cuts in, “you’re creating one thing.”

Dragon New Heat Mountain I Consider in You is launched on 11 February on 4AD.

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