Interview with Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker at The Haunt in Ithaca, NY on September 14, 2017.
There’s some great lyricism in your songs. They’re very vivid, very beautiful; can you talk a little bit about your process and how you create?
If there was a formula to do it, I would love to know. Then you could just go, “I think I’ll write a song now! Good thing I know the formula,” and you’d just do it. But it depends on so many things, and mostly just the state of my being, and if I’m feeling grateful, if I’m feeling like, in that place, I think just generally, when I’m experiencing gratitude, it’s just generally such a swelling, overflowing place to be in. And when I’m feeling, I don’t know, anything other than that, it just sucks the creativity out of me. Even, I’ll notice, when I’m being triggered by something and it’s taking over me, or being nasty in any way, to myself or to anyone else, it just zaps my creativity. It’s less about a certain way that I chisel out the structure of the songs every single time and more about finding a space where I can be receptive and listen. It’s really just listening to all of these noises and sounds and colors that come in through the days and the months and the years, and interacting with the people and experiencing it coming in, and swirling around. If you can find the stillness to listen to it, it’s like taking little threads and just translating them, and I feel like the refinement comes with finding the clearest possible translation so that people can know what you mean, or what the feeling is.
I recently read in an interview that you were one of a handful of girls at Berklee who played guitar. Can you talk a little bit about the way that’s impacted your experience and feelings in the music industry?
It was just interesting to look around and realize that there weren’t that many women there, and it brought to my attention that it’s been a male dominated industry for a really long time and even though women have started to emerge and there’s been a lot of women who have changed the game, it’s still super male dominated. Venues, even just soundcheck, even just, like, security and sound engineers and musicians.
Our theme for this issue was Idols, you know, the people we idolize and the things we idolize. Not to ask the obvious question, but who would you say your idols are, both musically and in life?
I don’t have any idols. But I have a lot of people who I admire, and I feel like I meet them all the time. It’s not just a specific handful of people who are changing my life, but there’s so many beautiful, interesting and powerful people along the way, and I’ve been trying to pay attention and be curious. I’m working towards treating everyone the same, and with the same attention, and I think there’s always something to learn. Everybody has a different perspective, and they’re all really valuable. I’m just trying to stay open to that.
What kind of person do you think you could inspire in that same sort of way? Do think there’s a specific kind of person that you’re trying to reach?
I want everyone to feel welcome. I want anyone who is drawn to the music in any way to feel welcome and cared about, and everyone beyond that. There’s no specific demographic I’m trying to reach, from 0-150 years old to gender identifying or not, like, whatever. Whoever feels like they’re drawn to some part of what we’re doing, can feel cared about in the music.
What do you feel is the most important lesson you’ve learned in the last year?
It’s a good question. I don’t know if there’s a most important lesson from the last year; there are many, many important lessons that I’ve been starting to learn. With lessons, or with anything that you’re learning, it’s a process of learning. You could learn something, but it could really take your whole life to really learn it, or you could learn of something but really be trying to integrate it into your life for a long time. So, like, I’m learning of the idea of finding a way to dispel this encapsulating, I want to say, self-loathing, this thing that eats away at me. I think I’ve been learning that the only way to untangle all these knots and these things that feel really harsh is through care, and love and kindness and forgiveness. And you could say, yeah, I’m learning self-forgiveness, self-care, self-kindness, but in truth, I haven’t learned it as you would learn a lesson, I’m learning it as in I’m incorporating it in any way I can, but it’s really challenging to stay in touch with all the time. I think it might take my whole life to live it.
Is there anything else that you would want people to hear or keep in mind when they listen to your music?
Just what I said before, about wanting people to feel welcome and that there’s no right way to interpret any of the music and the songs. It can be theirs, it can be infused with anything that they want to breathe into it. It can be a different shape for everyone and that’s okay; I didn’t write them with the intention of communicating,you know, “this is what that song means.” I want it to feel like a familiar and safe place for people to listen, and, you know, take things in.