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

It’s early afternoon in downtown Nashville, and the celebration is already going robust. 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 outdoors 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 just a few 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 bunch 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 try this when there may be somebody conducting them.”

There is no such thing as a conductor in Big Thief, nor do they transfer in circles – however they do keep in formation. For the reason that launch of their debut album Masterpiece in 2016, they’ve been one of the vital 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, have 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. After they take to the Ryman stage later, they are going to achieve this with out large shows or units, uncooked and unfiltered in entrance of a closed stage curtain. They’ve two Grammy nominations and have graduated to large venues, however would somewhat 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 a complete unseen universe.


Every thing that makes Big Thief work might be the undoing of some other band. For one, Lenker and Meek are divorced – they met and began the group collectively in New York in 2015, and have been married younger. Bassist Oleartchik lives a world away in Israel, and every band member has a vibrant set of solo pursuits that overlaps somewhat than competes with Big Thief itself. Through 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 tasks, together with Taylor Swift’s Crimson (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 recognized you for ever. “So we’ve all honoured that, and one another, I feel.”

Their new 20-song album Dragon New Heat Mountain I Imagine 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 obtained right here by participating in a continuous battle in opposition to the ego. “We don’t let ourselves be the cliche of the rock star,” Oleartchik says. “It may well 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 Imagine in You doesn’t strive 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. Generally, 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 may have made John Prine chuckle, and traces that kick you within the intestine with their sensible simplicity: “I wanna reside for ever until I die,” Lenker sings to a rustic romp.

‘I don’t assume 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 assume 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 undoubtedly my favorite band on Earth. We’re the vessel for music that doesn’t exist that I need to hear.” This comes throughout as enthusiastic pleasure, not ego, and the music appears like he feels it, too.


“You might be my favorite songwriter!” Lenker responds – this love-in is extra heartfelt and much less corny than it’d learn. However Lenker had lots of excavating to do to discover this happiness, and when the pandemic hit, every thing rushed to the floor as soon as the crowds grew quiet.

“I had gone by means of marriage and divorce,” Lenker says in a separate Zoom name later, alone in a lodge room along with her canine. “We had to strive to remodel our relationship, to let it die and be reborn, all whereas being on the highway in proximity to one another. And holding house for different folks by means of 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 have been in the course 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.” Swiftly, it appeared like her physique began to “purge every thing out”. Her sister and solo album co-producer Phil Weinrobe each had to remind her to eat on a day by 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 apprehensive one thing may actually be fallacious medically, till it turned clear that it was the grind she had been participating in since she was somewhat woman, and the trauma that got here with it. “I realised it wasn’t about this factor with this particular person,” Lenker says, “it was about previous 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 complete factor within myself, and I used to be residing in a state of self-abandonment. I’m not going to perpetuate that cycle however so as to try 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 ultimately 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, despite the fact that others round her appeared to assume 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 taking part in in, as he places it, “a loopy ragtime swing band”. Meek, from Texas and appropriately well-schooled on singer-songwriters resembling 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 totally 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 strive to remodel 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 Imagine in You, offered the idea to the band one morning over a continental breakfast at a lodge in Copenhagen earlier than the pandemic, typed up and printed within the lodge enterprise centre. The concept was that they might go as a bunch to 4 places – upstate New York, Topanga Canyon in California, the Arizona desert and Colorado mountains – with 4 totally different studios and 4 totally different engineers, every with a sonic aim in thoughts.

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

“It’s like intercourse,” Lenker says of recording, laughing frivolously. “Should you really feel strain to make love nicely and you solely have an hour to show your self, neglect about it!”

Lenker’s songs are a grounding pressure of Big Thief, by no means meant to lead definitively come what may, although extraordinarily revealing on the identical time. “Her writing is extra advanced than, ‘it’s her nature album or it’s her breakup album’,” Krivchenia says. “She desires to depart house for folks 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 method. She’d somewhat keep susceptible with the songs, so she will keep susceptible on stage.

Generally Lenker will be chatty throughout a set. Different occasions, she’s going to say nothing in any respect. “Generally,” Krivchenia says, “Adrianne rambles for 5 minutes and we’re like: let’s do a track, 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 attempting to come into this radical acceptance of what’s taking place, 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 have now quirks, and we experience with them. Hopefully folks within the room can really feel a wave of inspiration to embrace precisely how they’re within the current second, joyful or odd or chaotic. I feel we need extra of that on the earth.”

Meek remembers one thing that Krivchenia advised him at a present in New Orleans just a few nights earlier as they gathered in a huddle. “You stated: ‘Bear in mind to hold saying sure,’” he says. “In order that complete evening I stored reminding myself that: simply hold saying sure as a result of it’s really easy to say no. Even when you 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, immediately,” Lenker cuts in, “you’re creating one thing.”

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

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