Big Thief makes hardcore music with an angelic message
Adrianne Lenker, Big Thief’s main songwriter, lead singer and rhythm guitarist, creates music that slips hazily between genres with traces of folk, pop and hardcore. The songs on Masterpiece, the band’s debut, show off her emotional range, as both a writer and a singer. Sometimes her vocals are submerged in the mix, fighting against lead guitarist Buck Meek’s avant-garde noise. On other songs, her singing is the quiet whisper of a friend, baring all, in a confidential midnight conversation.
The songs on the album grapple with love, loss and the specter of mortality. “We’ve all had losses of different kinds,” says Lenker. “From the time you can form memories, you learn about losing things. Eventually, you become OK with losing everything in your life, until you’re even resigned to losing your body.”
The band—Lenker, Meek, Max Oleartchik on bass and Jason Burger on drums—made the LP with producer Andrew Sarlo in a studio they put together themselves, in an old house on the shore of Lake Champlain, N.Y.
“We wanted to capture the spirit of the live show, so we played all the songs together as a band, in one room,” says Lenker. “We only overdubbed a couple of things here and there.”
On Masterpiece, Big Thief’s diverse sonic palette creates startling juxtapositions. “Randy” is a soft electric-guitar lullaby with a hushed vocal; “Little Arrow” sounds like a folk song being played on an Edison cylinder from the 1920s; the title track is a murky, mid- tempo rocker with an impressive, distorted guitar solo.
“‘Masterpiece’ was a last-minute addition to the album,” says Lenker. “Andrew gave us five minutes to learn the song, then we went in and tracked it live, so we didn’t have any time to think. We just played it.”