Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker talks about Masterpiece and the future
Catch Big Thief with Mothers 3/20 at Gasa Gasa
Big Thief’s debut album Masterpiece was among my favorite records of 2016. There is something remarkably confident about this record. At its helm Adrianne Lenker manages to create a sound that modulates itself between folk and grunge. Where the subject of the songs is expected folk territory, the sentiment is amplified by the orchestration of the music itself. This album is tremendously affecting in no small part due to Lenker’s magnificent voice and its interplay with the guitar driven sound. I talked with Lenker about this process and the nature of her music. During the course of the interview she uttered one of the great descriptions of the magic contained in a song I have ever heard. We were discussing how songs take their shape as part of the live performance. “I think that they just naturally take different forms and shapes over time…I don't think it's very intentional. It's just an effect of living with the same songs for a while. Sometimes I feel like they're just shells or vessels that hold energy for a certain period of time…It’s not necessarily a conscious decision that we're developing the songs. But they just naturally develop.” So often we talk about the intentionality of music. There is a desire to reveal deeper levels of meaning and understanding. Sometimes we let this desire for knowing a song come between ourselves and the feeling of the song. A song as a vessel that holds energy for a while is a wonderful metaphor for musical expression. It encapsulates the rush of discovering something new, the feeling inherent in the live performance and leaves open the possibility of its impact dwindling over time. Lenker feels this acutely as she composes. I asked her about the reflexive nature of songwriting but her process is much more immediate and matches her philosophy of music. “I haven't really ever separated any of it. I think the songwriting, the guitar-playing, the singing…They’re all just these tools that work together simultaneously. And usually songs, they all come out all at once…So even the content of the songs, I don't necessarily separate from myself when I'm writing them. I just feel like a part of it. Rather than it being part of me, I feel like a part of it. And I feel really grateful to be part of it.”
Part of this songwriting process is allowing the songs to develop not just in her mind but also as a collaborative effort among her bandmates. “But the best we've come up with so far is sitting in a room together for hours with our instruments. And then, you know, just…Kind of saying, "yes" to each other's ideas as much as possible and letting the creativity breathe. I think that space is so important, especially being on the road so much. We crave time to be still and to be in a practice space together where we can just stretch out and try new ideas.” It is clear in retrospect that the stillness at the center of Big Thief’s process is a significant part of what gives these songs their impact. Lenker mentioned that their current live show consists of a lot of new material that was composed in December. It will be great to see how they followup the excellence of Masterpiece.
The Athens, Georgia based Mothers will be opening for Big Thief on Monday night. Their record When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired was number nine on my top ten list for 2016. There is something about this record that is hauntingly familiar and stunningly foreign all at once. There are elements of multiple genres that all swirl around singer and songwriter Kristine Leschper’s amazing voice. This is going to be a truly excellent night of music. Don’t miss it.
BUKU Rises Again
With each passing year the BUKU Music + Art Project gets a little more confident and a bit more certain of its position in the local scene. The lineup remains solidly eclectic with a focus on the electronic end of the spectrum with a generous smattering of hip-hop and the occasional rock performance. Now in its sixth year the festival not only has a place it has a following. Just as pattern have emerged over the years for Jazz Fest or French Quarter Fest fans we are beginning to see the same from BUKU. There is an expectation and excitement attached to the rituals of the festival that gives it considerable staying power. There is a tremendously positive vibe that accompanies this event every year. As the mass of humanity at the festival travels from stage to stage there is an air of camaraderie that marks the events. I honestly couldn’t be happier with the way the festival has grown. Additionally this year saw marked improvements in sound production across the festival with the amplification conforming to each of the varied spaces perfectly. At this rate BUKU will be garnering much more national recognition very soon.
To Do This Week
Tonight Brian Ferry is at the Saenger. Tomorrow check out Mykki Blanco at Gasa Gasa. On Saturday Jon Cleary will be at The Carver and GGOOLLDD will be at Gasa Gasa. Monday don’t miss that excellent Mothers and Big Thief Show at Gasa Gasa. Wednesday Cherry Glazerr will be at Siberia and Anvil will be at Southport Hall.
To Listen This Week
- New video from ANOHNI via Youtube
- Check out Portugal. The Man’s excellent new single via Youtube
- Alt-J have previewed their new record by releasing the first epic single (I am very excited about this one) via CoS