Brooklyn's Big Thief are everything you could possibly want from modern folk-tinged rock and more. Rooted in Adrianne Lenker's pensive songwriting and blown up into grand, explosive arrangements, it's no surprise that Big Thief have found a rapturous fan in Sharon Van Etten and a new home in Saddle Creek—a label responsible for some of the most gloriously wistful indie rock albums in recent memory, from Bright Eyes to Tim Kasher to Land of Talk. Big Thief will release their debut album, Masterpiece, via Saddle Creek on May 27, and we're premiering its second single "Real Love" below.
Lenker met her longtime musical partner, guitarist and singer, Buck Meek, in Brooklyn a few years ago, and they quickly formed a creative bond tempered by the shared experience of traveling down long highways and performing for months on end in old dive bars, barns, and basements. I mention this because it's not only something you can discern from listening, it's also what you visualize, what you feel, and what it makes you want to do. Lenker paints in vivid tones—"the process of harnessing pain, loss, and love, while simultaneously letting them go," as she puts it. "Real Love" is a wandering and intense thought process made audible, and holds a mirror up to your own.
Have a listen, and read our interview with Adrianna and Buck below.
Noisey: Hey! How are you today? Where are you at right now and what are you doing?
Adrianne: I'm well, with the band cruising down the Palisades Parkway in our old van Bonnie, headed away from a farm we've been living on for the past month. Going back to Brooklyn, our bee-hive home.
Could you tell us a little bit "Real Love"?
Playing "Real Love" is like taking a medicinal tincture, and by the end the stress in my body is dissipated. There's no answers in it. Struggle is inherent in love. Without consciousness, human or animal, would love exist? We make love, and love makes us. Maybe that's why it is so hard for us when we feel that we've lost it, as if we've disappeared.
How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before?
I tell them what the outlaw songwriter Billy Mitchel said when we dropped him off at the movie theatre last week. "Pop meets hardcore, with an angel voice."
Your video for “Masterpiece” was released recently and follows you around on the road, and Sharon Van Etten has described your work as “driving songs that take you on a real journey.” I’m curious to know how you feel about traveling and whether it’s something that informs your songwriting?
It's different kind of travel. There's a ceremony every night. We had this show at an old school house deep in the Appalachian mountains of Pocahontas County, West Virginia. It was a really intense drive with steep switchbacks, and we were moving along on time, but got redirected because a log truck went over the side of a bridge and the fire department shut the road down. The truck was literally teetering on the edge, just like in the movies. We had to drive 75 miles out of our way over a mountain pass on this busted muddy four-wheel drive road in a storm. We lost cell phone coverage, gps, got totally lost, asked a few locals to point us in the right direction, and four hours later popped out right on the other side of the bridge. By the time we finally got to the school house, we were six hours late, and expected everyone to have gone home, but they were all there on the front porch waiting for us, cheering us on as we turned into the parking lot and sank into a foot of mud. We left our van right there, crooked and stuck, and were greeted by an incredible group of folks, with popcorn, blueberry cornbread, homemade beer and open ears. At the end of the night a true gentleman coal miner pulled us out of the mud with his truck.
You recently signed to Saddle Creek, which is famously home to Bright Eyes, Hop Along, Cursive, and lots of other great bands of that ilk. It feels like one of those labels a lot of people grew up on. Was that the case for you and were you excited to sign with them?
I grew up listening to Bright Eyes. Head honcho Robb Nansel and the whole team are great, really down to earth and genuine. Saddle Creek was born from a tight knit community of his friend's bands in Omaha, built from the ground up. We relate to that familial quality, coming from a community of artists in New York whose music we hold dearest. There's nothing like the feeling of a community that supports and lifts each other up through the years, challenging each other, through the ebbs and flows of everyone's creative journeys. We felt an immediate connection and trust in a label built on that principle.
What albums that have had a really profound effect on you and why?
Pat Metheny's One Quiet Night. Nothing calms me down like this album, I've spent countless nights listening to this on repeat while falling asleep. It became a structure that I could live in, a shelter. Also, Relatives' The Signs That Mock Me As I Go; this record has been a teacher. The poetry goes far beyond the album, it follows you into your day and into your dreams.
Buck: Life Labors in the Choir by Twain. An album built by angels. Their guide to the human condition. Don't Act Like You Don't Care by Luke Temple. If Shakespeare and Lou Reed had a child, Luke would be that kid's imaginary best friend.
Your debut record is out later this year. Could you tell us a bit about it?
Adrianne: This album memorializes my discovery of the catharsis of rock and roll. Harnessing pain, loss, and love, and simultaneously letting them go. Hearing artists like Twain, Crazy Horse, Steve Fisher, Die Antwoord, Aaron Maine, Michael Hurley, Really Big Pinecone, and so many more taught me about a certain freedom and pulse that I wanted to bring to life inside myself.
You’re about to embark on some cool stuff this year, with the release of your debut album and a US tour with Yuck coming up. What are you most looking forward to?
Buck: Touring in Europe, swimming holes, good BBQ, diners. Good breakfast is reason to tour alone. Everything centres around breakfast for us out there. Meeting new friends and influences. The gift of playing with artists that we love and admire, and the opportunity to learn from them.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Adrianne: A guy is standing on the corner jumping up and down like crazy, waving his arms around. Another guy comes up to him and asks "what are you doing man?" and he answers "trying to keep the elephants away." The other guy says "but there aren't any elephants around here," and he says "works pretty good, doesn't it?"
Tour dates for Big Thief:
Thu. Mar 10 - Chapel Hill, NC @ The Kraken w/ The Love Language
Fri. Mar. 11 - Savannah, GA @ Savannah Stopover Festival
Sat. Mar. 12 - Atlanta, GA @ Aisle 5 w/ Yuck, Sunflower Bean
Sun. Mar. 13 - Baton Rouge, LA @ Spanish Moon w/ Yuck
Wed. Mar 16 - Sat. Mar 19 - Austin, TX @ SXSW
Mon. Mar. 21 - Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom w/ Yuck, Sunflower Bean
Tue. Mar. 22 - Las Vegas, NV @ The Bunkhouse Saloon w/ Yuck
Wed. Mar. 23 - San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar w/ Yuck
Thu. Mar. 24 - Los Angeles, CA @ The Echoplex w/ Yuck
Fri. Mar. 25 - Visalia, CA @ The Cellar Door w/ Yuck
Sat. Mar. 26 - San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall w/ Yuck
Mon. Mar. 28 - Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios w/ Yuck
Tue. Mar. 29 - Vancouver, BC @ Fortune Sound Club w/ Yuck
Wed. Mar. 30 - Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile w/ Yuck
Thu. Mar. 31 - Boise, ID @ Neurolux w/ Yuck
Fri. Apr. 1 - Salt Lake City, UT @ Metro Bar w/ Yuck
Sat. Apr. 2 - Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge w/ Yuck
Sun. Apr. 3 - Omaha, NE @ Lookout Lounge w/ Yuck
Mon. Apr. 4 - Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St. Entry w/ Yuck
Tue. Apr. 5 - Madison, WI @ High Noon Saloon w/ Yuck
Wed. Apr. 6 - Chicago, IL @ The Empty Bottle w/ Yuck
Thu. Apr. 7 - Ferndale, MI @ The Loving Touch w/ Yuck
Tue. Apr. 12 - Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg w/ Yuck
Fri. Apr. 15 - Washington, DC @ Rock & Roll Hotel w/ Yuck
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