Adrianne Lenker uncovers the mystery of Big Thief

Adrianne Lenker uncovers the mystery of Big Thief

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Big Thief’s new album, “Two Hands” is out now. It’s incredible and honest and mysterious. And I’m hoping that you’ve listened to this masterpiece. We love it, too, and we wanted to know more about this ethereal piece of beauty.

This is our conversation with Adrianne Lenker, the lead singer of Big Thief.

Big Thief | Courtesy of the artist
Interview with Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker

One of the things in listening to this album and other albums is that I love the mystery of Big Thief. There is something mysterious that you capture and have in your music. So I appreciate you giving me the time right now to swim in that mystery and kind of pick things up and put them down. And I appreciate that because it’s something that is really special about your band.

In “Forgotten Eyes,” you talk about “the forgotten tongue” and I wanted to know, what is the forgotten tongue?

I think there is a language that exists that we have forgotten. It brings our commonalities to surface rather than creating more separation. It’s more so what we’re paying attention to, there is a lot of distraction.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve felt like I was in a dream. I’d ask my mom, “Am I in a dream?” all the time. Randomly, I would just get this overwhelming sensation because a lot of it feels like an illusion to me. It’s this Matrix-y kind of vortex of focus on something that isn’t the thing itself.

Everything that we’re conditioned to focus on since we were kids — the text that we were taught in grade school, and the conversations we had about history or health — you learn about sex, but you learn about the least important part of sex. You learn about history, but you come to find out that it’s all biased and written from the perspective of the conquerors. Everything is always preparing you for something else in the future, which is basically embedding this anxiety in you.

It’s all coming to this point of being able to have some kind of a job that would give you stability. Its ultimately financial stability that we’re taught to strive for. We’re not taught how to find nourishment for our individual spirits as kids, or how to find meaning, or how to be able to work through our vulnerabilities and insecurities with other people, and how to listen to other people, and to practice non-judgement or nonviolent communication. Those aren’t the things that we are really focusing on. So it feels like this wash of distraction that keeps us locked up and only inhabiting some small percentage of our capabilities as human beings. I actually feel that there is this connective tissue threading through everyone on planet Earth that we’re aware of, but we are distracted from being able to feel it.

It’s this thing that ties us to the Earth herself. We’re actually just one organism, and if you zoom out even just a little bit, you see that we are one ball floating in space, and Earth is like a body that’s breathing and living, and it’s the only home that we have. There are so many languages that we learn, languages of separation, like political jargon saying “Are you right wing? Are you left wing? What religion are you? What’s your orientation and your gender?” And this and that. We’re just taught to compartmentalize all of these things as opposed to focusing on the stuff that binds us together. We don’t usually tap into what that stuff is.

I think music is a language that brings everyone together. Even if you don’t understand the words that are being said, you can understand the spirit of what’s happening. There is a language of love being the focus, being the beginning, middle and end of everything, being that ultimate connective thing. Like the love between a mother and a child. Maybe all of us having relatively short lifespans in comparison to Earth, we’re all, in a way, like children. And we aren’t practicing this language of love and reciprocity with the Earth. It’s because we’re not really taught and we’re not sitting down with our elders and asking stories, or having wisdom passed down to us. All of our elders are actually sitting in nursing homes tucked away. I think it’s something we know deep down in our spirits the way that we know how to breath, but it’s just forgotten.

With getting caught up in what we’re supposed to do, and like you said, ultimately the financial burden of what we’re conditioned to do. How do we break free of that? How have you broken free of that?

Well, I haven’t really broken free of that because the very thing that I do does depend on some level of navigating through the system that exists. I think that ultimately, it’s a pretty radical paradigm shift that needs to happen. And people get very freaked out when you start talking about dissolving borders, or money not existing, or having money not be the focus of it all. And finding a way of life where we can actually gather the nourishment that the Earth provides. The Earth provides everything we need, and there is plenty if only we learn how to, for instance, grow our own food, and only take what we need. To play a small part focused more inwardly on the various microcosms where maybe you only focus on one patch of the earth and the community that’s around you. Be a part of that rather than focusing on all the distraction in the conversation that’s happening in the maze of constant political crisis.

You know, what if you just shut that off for a second and focused on healing what’s right in front of you, and even in yourself too?

You are in a position where you also have to focus on so many people. How do you navigate that? Trying to concentrate on giving a loving relationship with yourself, the people around you, and with the body at large.

Well, I think what’s also daunting is navigating the wilderness of my own psyche. Going in there is what feels the most difficult at times. But the more I work on cultivating my own spirit, it’s just natural. I don’t have to think about how to give to other people, I can just be in that space of trying to work on myself and hopefully that light shines a little bit.

I find that to be difficult because, for whatever reason, sometimes it’s easier to give to other people than it is to give to myself. Then I find myself just getting depleted if I’m neglecting, or if I focus on trying to make music that pleases anyone else. I think the only thing that really works at the end of the day is concentrating on wanting to practice this self-forgiveness and a form of unconditional love for my own being. And staying there in presence with myself the way I would if I had a child. You know, just being there, and paying attention and giving as much care as possible.

Adrian, that’s beautiful. I think that that’s really important and it’s a really difficult thing to do.

I think anyone would collapse under the pressure or idea that they could hold everyone in their space. It can be overwhelming in a beautiful way. Just getting to play a festival, or a show, and looking out and seeing so many faces and so many people showing up with open hearts. It’s really a gift. We’re making ourselves really vulnerable and baring our souls, and the audience ends up doing that in return.

This is really amazing. Thank you so much for this.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee