Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker Dug Down Deep To Create The Darkly Excellent ‘Capacity’

Cultural Critic
06.07.17

Shervin Lainez

Capacity, the intense and excellent sophomore release by Big Thief due out Friday, unquestionably derives from the perspective of the Brooklyn band’s 25-year-old singer and songwriter, Adrianne Lenker. A Minnesota native who spent part of her childhood in a cult, and another part of her childhood pursuing a career as a kiddie pop star before opting to refine her craft at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College Of Music, Lenker had an uncommon wealth of life experience on which to draw upon when Big Thief released its exceptional debut, Masterpiece, in 2016. But Lenker says that she pulled from an even deeper place inside of herself when Big Thief started work on Capacity in upstate New York last summer, around the time that Masterpiece came out.

“This record, I feel, it’s just more intricate,” Lenker said when I spoke to her over the phone last month. “There’s a more intricate layer of translating these things that Masterpiece just set out to uncover. The dark stuff is heavier and darker, the lighter stuff is lighter.”

It was early in the press cycle for Capacity when we spoke, and Lenker had not yet figured out how exactly she wanted to talk about some of the album’s songs. While not strictly an autobiographical songwriter, Lenker does draw on real life for her penetrating, vividly cinematic songs. (This intimacy even caries over to the album art — Lenker’s mother is on the cover of Masterpiece, and her uncle is on the cover of Capacity.) Sweeping lead single “Mythological Beauty” describes an accident that occurred when Lenker was 5, in which a railroad spike from a backyard treehouse struck her in the head and almost killed her. “Shark Smile” similarly wraps entrancing music around a narrative about doomed teenagers who have a tragic misadventure on the highway. The album’s most disturbing track, “Watering,” recounts an assault from the perspectives of both the victim and the attacker.

The line between Lenker and the characters in her songs appears to be blurry in some songs, and nonexistent in others. As a result, talking to Lenker about Capacity, at times, felt invasive, as conversations with strangers about personal trauma tend to be.

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