Minnesota singer of Big Thief relishes ‘healing through music’ ahead of St. Paul gig

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Adrianne Lenker and her band Big Thief did not officially go on tour at any time during the 2020-21 pandemic. They undoubtedly moved, however.

“There was so much driving involved,” Lenker said, listing all the places his Grammy-nominated quartet set up shop to record their ambitiously varied, “White Album”-like new double album.

“We quarantined together for two weeks in Vermont, then went to upstate New York to record for a month. Then I crossed the country to California for the next session , and from there I drove to Colorado and then to Tucson.”

Recalling the lockdown, however, the 30-year-old singer-songwriter quipped: “What else were we supposed to do?”

Lenker has led a nomadic life since moving to Boston’s Berklee College of Music in her late teens from Minnesota, where she spent most of her youth – and where she returns Wednesday for a Big Thief concert at the Palace Theater in St. Paul.

She and guitarist Buck Meek spent a few years living in a van and “playing anywhere and everywhere we could, with no money in our name,” she recounted with noticeable affection. . They formed Big Thief in 2015 with drummer James Krivchenia and bassist Max Oleartchik while living in New York, and quickly hit the road.

In the meantime, the roots and folk but also punk and experimental group have recorded everywhere, from the desert of West Texas to the redwoods of Washington.

For their twistedly-named new album, “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You,” the members of Big Thief took the time they originally reserved for a 2020 tour and used it to record. Hence the changes of scenery and the value of the material of the double LP.

The results show that Big Thief is reaching new musical heights, either reinforcing the delicate to manic, poetic and confessional folk-rock sounds of previous albums (heard here in tracks like “Certainty” and “Sparrow”), or experimenting with new sounds. like the fiddle-laden country song “Spud Infinity,” the particularly understated gem “Time Escaping,” or the ultra-flowery charmer “No Reason” (featuring Carole King’s longtime flautist Richard Hardy).

Speaking via Zoom earlier this month from western Massachusetts – where she recently lived in a restored vintage trailer – Lenker revealed the band had even grander plans for their grandiose album before the pandemic hit. get involved. Here are the highlights of our interview.

On Big Thief’s pandemic-shattered recording plans: “We originally came up with this idea of ​​going to seven different places, including Iceland. And we wanted to go to Italy and record in a castle. We were going to do that too, but the pandemic hit and we had to simplify our plans – partly because we were also going to be touring all year but had to cancel all of that so we had more limited [financial] Resources.”

Why they didn’t split the album in half like their 2019 releases “UFOF” and “Two Hands”: “We couldn’t find a way to divide these songs into different records. This record, it just seemed natural that there were so many different soundscapes and textures and song types to kind of create this big planet. C It’s interesting to me that it takes so many different turns.

On perhaps the best of these sonic turns, into a full-fledged country band: “Country music has been a part of my life and Buck’s life since we were little. I’ve loved Iris DeMent since I was 11. Buck has been in John Prine and Blaze Foley for a long time. as we’ve evolved as a band, more dimensions of our individuality come out, and we’re able to bring out more of our own musical influences and our own personal traits. That country side has always been there, but it never appeared. than when we are less limited.

Explanation of the strange “Time Escapeing”: “Buck and I had these two resonator guitars that we slip business cards into, kind of a prepared guitar thing where the strings are cut. So we were just fingering these muted guitars next to the drums Honestly it’s just a live take The engineer, Shawn Everett, had these cool delays and beefed up the guitars to sound crazier than what’s actually going on We’re playing it live now, but I wouldn’t say we ‘re-create’ it, it’s more just in the same spirit of how we recorded it.”

On bringing his Minnesota family to his art (including brother Noah Lenker’s jaw-dropping performance on “Spud Infinity” and his grandmother Diane Lee’s album cover): “My family is some of the most creative and inspiring people I know. Noah is such a good artist – a visual artist, a good musical artist, and he designs some Big Thief products and travels with us, and he was with us cooking during the session in Tucson, and he just took out the Jew’s harp and started playing with us. It was perfect.

“My grandmother is a prolific watercolor artist and such an inspiration too. She owned an antique shop, the Round Barn [still open in Andover]. When I was a kid, I would wander down every hallway and nook and cranny and get lost in all that vintage stuff. It was magical.”

On her new relationship with ex-husband Buck Meek: “As you can imagine, it’s been a journey. We fell in love when I was 21. There was a lot of heartbreak on both sides, and for a while we had to create more space between us. Max and James were right there with us, supporting us and going through this with us. We all supported each other through this.

“It’s a testament to the strength of our friendship that we were able to kind of come out the other side as close friends and bandmates. I felt closer to him than ever after that, and our collaboration in as musical partners has become much more powerful since we broke up as romantic partners. We were healing through music because we were still hurting. Music became the balm that helped us through this.

big thief
Opening: Kara-Lis Coverdale.
When: 8 p.m. Wed.
Where: Palace Theatre, 17 W. 7th Place, St. Paul.
Tickets: $33 to $50, eTix.com.

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