Big Thief on “Capacity”

Official Bonds

Aug 31, 2017 Photography by Shervin Lainez Issue #61 - Grizzly Bear
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The second album in as many years from Brooklyn's powerful folk rock group Big Thief is that work of impact that propels a band from a warm reception to commanding the discussion. Formed from a coalescence of peaking creativity and internal chemistry, Capacity expands on a cherished notion, that of connecting with people through intimate channels.

Singer/songwriter and guitarist Adrianne Lenker has become increasingly aware of music's correlation with humanity in this way, something that came across in mentioning what recently impelled her to make the acquaintance of a New York concert promoter who had always worked hard to book Big Thief. "I found out that artists never really talk to promoters, and I was like 'that's weird,'" muses Lenker. "I'm always reminded it's an important relationship, but then I thought how strange it is to have a relationship where you don't know a single person?... It occurred to me because all the people we work with, we chose because we got a really good feeling from them. They're all actually becoming real relationships."  

The importance in forming bridges is central for Lenker and the others in Big Thief, who confessed that if it were up to them, they would probably just play a bunch of dive bars, presumably to intensify this feeling. Relatability through craft starts from within the close family dynamic of the band itself.

"Honestly, it was the connection we felt with them as people," remarks Big Thief co-founder and guitarist Buck Meek about finding drummer James Krivchenia and bassist Max Oleartchik. "We felt an immediate kinship. The music was almost secondary to that alchemy. What it came down to was being a family that could take care of each other."

Another member of the family is the producer of both Big Thief albums, Andrew Sarlo, whose presence is especially felt through Capacity's rich, cohesive sound. "Andrew is one of my dearest friends," beams Lenker. "We played shows together at Berklee [College of Music] and he was recording me even then. We're all very close.... He's one of the most well-listened, passionate, and honest people I've ever collaborated with. I can always trust what he's telling me."

From this internal bond came Capacity. Big Thief retreated with Sarlo to the upstate New York studio Outlier Inn Recording to record the new album and the experience of fellowship transferred a tangibility that reaches the listener. It's as though you're getting to know them a little better with each song and those on Capacity have eerie staying power. The intimacy is further deepened through Lenker's transparency, the force of which is boosted by guitars imbued with distinct personalities, at once tender and robust. According to Meek, the oxymoronic polarity of comfortable disturbance was intentional.

"I have so much to work with in designing guitar parts for Adrianne's songwriting. 'Shark Smile,' for instance, has this thread of deep love between two people that's polarized by this deadly car wreck. In that moment of facing death, there's this absolute peace in their love. My role was to elaborate on the physical chaos of the situation and

I was imagining them driving on the Mexican border somewhere with the local AM radio still playing in the background as the car is turned over in a ditch," pictures Meek. "A lot of her songs are like that. There's a thread of tender love sonically illustrated, and the harsher elements expand the story."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Summer 2017 Issue (July/August/September 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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