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Adrianne Lenker Isn’t Scared of Sadness

Adrianne Lenker Isn’t Scared of Sadness


When the singer and songwriter Adrianne Lenker was 21, she was concerned in a motorcycle accident that knocked out one among her incisors. For some time, she walked round with a pretend, gold-colored cap in her mouth. But after she was in a position to put money into a porcelain tooth, Lenker realized she truly didn’t need to overlook concerning the harm.

“After all that point with only a hole, it form of felt unusual to not see the scar,” she mentioned in a current interview.

Today, Lenker’s grin twinkles with a everlasting gold substitute. And over the previous a number of years, she has earned a status as a songwriter who sees the scars, and turns them into one thing stunning. Much of this acclaim has come via her work within the band Big Thief, which since 2016 has launched 5 albums of folk-indebted rock music that’s each stylistically adventurous and completely unguarded — like Fleetwood Mac, if it went to group remedy. Though Big Thief is a band of 4 equals, Lenker — who sings, writes and performs guitar — is the engine powering its sound.

The music producer Philip Weinrobe, who has identified Lenker for practically a decade, described her unadorned, crisp singing as “so sincere and so true.” “She’s keen to go to the sides of her talent with out concern or embarrassment,” he mentioned.

In individual, Lenker, 32, is disarmingly honest and attentive. “I nonetheless like trying on the world round me with softness and an open coronary heart,” she mentioned at a Manhattan diner in late January, the place she’d met to debate “Bright Future,” her fifth solo document, over coffee and eggs. The evening earlier than, she’d stayed out late on the Alphabet City jazz membership Mona’s, and hadn’t slept a lot. She pulled off a beanie to disclose a tousle of brown hair.

“There’s so many alternatives to numb out, and go on autopilot — and that numbness, to me, is the enemy of songwriting.”

Lenker has devoted her life to sustaining shut entry to her feelings, and her music comes first. She doesn’t have a set dwelling base; when she isn’t touring, she rotates across the nation, staying with household and buddies. She was married to her Big Thief bandmate Buck Meek for 3 years; they separated and divorced whereas remaining on tour and carried on, remaining shut. (Though she’s expressed reluctance to outline her sexual identification, Lenker is presently courting a girl.)

Though she’s been bruised up to now, Lenker is rising right into a second of readability and confidence. “Bright Future,” due March 22, is a renewed assertion of goal: proof that she’s navigating the storms, and that her cultivated resilience someway hasn’t hardened her to an typically merciless world.

The title, Lenker famous, isn’t inherently optimistic — it may very well be the brightness of a dawn, or an explosion. Yet its austere preparations and calmed feelings faucet into one thing peaceable: a way of acceptance concerning the world, and all its human joys and miseries. There’s additionally a agency dedication to remaining related with different folks, relatively than floating off in isolation. “To reside on this life is to be burdened by the heaviness of no matter existence is,” she mentioned. “I really feel that burden via every individual I do know — it’s like a loop.”

The album consists of uncooked, contemplative songs like “Sadness as a Gift,” initially written within the wake of romantic heartbreak. But its mournful lyrics are threaded with a sense of nourishment and appreciation: “You may hear the music inside my thoughts/And you confirmed me a spot I’ll discover even after I’m outdated,” Lenker sings, her voice tender and understanding, her band enjoying warmly round her.

“If you possibly can actually permit your self to really feel it, your unhappiness doesn’t must be so scary,” she defined, noting that her therapist had nudged her into seeing this attitude. “You wouldn’t really feel it in case you didn’t have this immense care — and so you possibly can see your personal love via the lens of the unhappiness, which is a stupendous factor.”

OVER THE COURSE of a half-day and a follow-up cellphone name, Lenker was snug providing many self-reflective and curious observations — about herself and her work, but additionally the world round her. Though her music has a status for being severe, she is way more off the cuff. (Weinrobe referred to as her the “goofiest, funniest individual I do know.”) And when she did snicker, it someway sounded considerate, like she’d instantaneously and secretly processed why one thing was humorous, and welcomed you in to share the joke.

She talked about how her friendships with older musicians like Tucker Zimmerman and Steve Fisher — veteran songwriters who didn’t obtain a lot conventional success, however by no means stopped working — had helped her conceive of songwriting as a craft she may proceed to refine for the remainder of her life. She requested concerning the goal of music criticism, in an earnest manner that didn’t telegraph the skepticism of somebody who’s been written about by many music critics, and inquired concerning the definition of “autofiction” when it got here up in dialog. (“I’m completely satisfied to know that time period as a result of I believe that’s what a number of my songs are,” she mentioned.)

“She’s somebody who wakes up day by day and appears like she’s on the very starting of attempting to unearth the depths of her life,” Meek mentioned in a cellphone interview. “I believe the reward for good work is extra work, together with her.”

Lenker was born within the Midwest, and briefly raised in a spiritual cult. Constantly transferring across the nation, her household solely fleetingly lived in what she referred to as a “actual home” (the title of the opening monitor of “Bright Future”). She began writing songs at 10: “It’s been a pal to me greater than something,” she mentioned because the diner slowly crammed up, and she or he completed what wouldn’t be her final cup of coffee. “Sometimes, I really feel I’ve to test: Is that 10-year-old nonetheless in me?”

As a teen, she dropped out of faculty to concentrate on music; a number of years later, she enrolled at Berklee College of Music in Boston off the power of a private audition for the dean of admissions, and acquired a full scholarship. While there, she met her future bandmate Meek, later reuniting with him after they have been dwelling in Brooklyn.

With the bassist Max Oleartchik and the drummer James Krivchenia, Big Thief launched into what Lenker described as an limitless cycle of recording and touring — 9 months out of the 12 months, for six straight years. Beginning with its 2016 document “Masterpiece,” the band received vital reward and intense devotion from a rising fan base interested in its continually altering reside reveals (set checklist are by no means repeated) and countercultural allure. They appeared like a gaggle of individuals you’d meet at a well being meals retailer, and find yourself at their all-night potluck dinner.

Big Thief’s woodsy vibe additionally masked a severe virtuosity: All of its members attended Berklee, and solid a telepathic musical connection born from repeated apply, in addition to pure expertise. Lenker, Meek mentioned, has “this actually exploratory relationship with the guitar that, in case you analyze it, is tremendous advanced — however to her, it’s all intuitive within the service of the music and the phrases.”

But constructing an indie band right into a dependable model exerted large stress on Lenker, each emotionally and bodily. “I had a turbulent childhood, and a number of ache in there,” she mentioned. “It was all put apart after I was working — it wasn’t doable to take care of it on the highway.” When all of it caught as much as her, she described it as operating at full velocity right into a brick wall: “I actually, bodily, couldn’t transfer.”

In 2020, proper after the coronavirus pandemic started, she was hospitalized. Since then, she’s labored onerous at abandoning what she referred to as a shortage mind-set, a holdover from her previous. “I used to play reveals for a bag of coffee beans, after I was a teen,” she mentioned. “It felt bizarre to not be afraid that it may all collapse, or one thing. But I really feel like I’ve gotten higher at simply trusting that it’ll all be OK.”

Though she now pays nearer consideration to her bodily and psychological well being, Lenker is mainly all the time writing songs. “I used to be pent up with a number of stuff that I used to be holding to myself, and it needed to come out,” she mentioned of “Bright Future.” It was recorded within the fall of 2022, following an unusually tumultuous interval for Big Thief. That summer season, the band had introduced plans to carry out live shows in Israel — the place Oleartchik was born, and presently lives — however canceled the dates after intense social media blowback.

Lenker freely introduced this up, calling it “naïve and never thought out” to consider they may play the reveals with out arousing criticism, and mentioned she felt it was the kind of inside turmoil that might break a band up. They finally labored via it, over hours of speaking with one another and reaching out to “people who find themselves smarter than us.” Lenker expressed each gratitude that the incident had pushed her to recollect, “All proper, I’ve to work on myself, all the time,” and discomfort with the web vitriol she’d acquired.

Though she didn’t instantly make the connection, it appeared clear that every one this had influenced her angle on “Bright Future.” “When I collaborate with Big Thief, I put a lot vitality into that — it brings this complete different a part of me out,” she mentioned.

Her two final solo information, “Songs” and “Instrumentals,” launched collectively in 2020, had been recorded within the early days of lockdown, and derived from “desperation” and “heavy grief,” each for the world and in her private life. But on “Bright Future,” she tried a extra relaxed method. “Quiet will also be highly effective and intense — after I’m simply sitting and enjoying, I like that feeling of not having to push in any respect,” she mentioned. “And I actually needed to push into the naturalness of not pushing.”

Lenker recruited Nick Hakim, Josefin Runsteen and Mat Davidson, multi-instrumentalists with their very own sturdy careers whom she thought-about buddies. (She’s identified Hakim since they have been youngsters.) Before recording, she instructed Weinrobe, who produced the album, that she didn’t need to inform anybody what to play. Instead, they labored out every association in actual time. “It was simply her and her buddies enjoying music collectively,” Weinrobe mentioned. “There was no psychological imposition on the mission; we have been in a position to keep on this tremendous pure music-making atmosphere that had nearly no recording studio-ness about it.”

The group recorded on the New England studio Double Infinity, the place Lenker and her collaborators lived on-site, and spent all of their time collectively: taking lengthy walks via the close by wooded areas, cooking group meals, listening to information by Joni Mitchell and Beverly Glenn-Copeland. “I don’t suppose anybody had their telephones out for the entire time,” she mentioned.

Lenker makes no distinction between songs she writes for herself and those she writes for her band: “Vampire Empire,” a Big Thief reside staple for years, seems on “Bright Future” in a quicker, scrappier take. The craving ballad “Free Treasure” encompasses a number of kinds of love, she mentioned: parental love; romantic love; the platonic love she felt whereas recording at Double Infinity; even the love of her canine, Oso.

“I believe someplace in our hearts, all of us need for that: to be really seen and be made time for,” she mentioned. “Even if somebody has 5 minutes to provide you, that’s 5 minutes that feels infinite. I discover myself eager for that as an grownup.” This was very totally different from an early Big Thief music, she identified, the place she sang “Real love makes your lungs black/Real love is a coronary heart assault.”

“Finding anyone who offers you that endurance and understanding and time in a really mild manner — I don’t suppose I’d have even been receptive to that, 10 years in the past,” she mentioned.

In New York, Lenker carried out a few of the “Bright Future” songs with Hakim for a non-public viewers at Electric Lady Studios, and was nonetheless understanding the kinks. “But there was one thing particular about it as a result of it was simply very current,” she mirrored. “The not-perfectness of it’s becoming to the document, anyway.”

Part of Lenker’s anti-celebrity appeals from the way in which her songs can seem to be a pane of glass positioned between herself and the broader world — fragile, however a method of seeing her clearly. Some of the songs on “Bright Future” had been written about particular heartbreaks, and particular experiences of affection. Yet she was chasing one thing larger, and needed listeners to listen to that as a substitute — one thing that transcended what folks anticipated of her, or sought to discern from her relationships.

“We come into it not understanding the place we got here from, or the place we’re going,” she mentioned, as strangers ambled by her post-diner perch on the High Line. “All I do know is we lose the whole lot, and everybody we’ve ever come to like — which, no surprise life’s so onerous.”

As she spoke, her voice grew quicker and extra passionate; her pauses turned extra intentional. “All we actually have is the situation of our hearts and our souls, so my predominant objective is to situation myself to be extra humble, extra mushy, extra swish.”

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