- 21 Oct 20
songs and instrumentals is out on Friday.
Adrianne Lenker never planned on releasing an album this year. Big Thief was in the middle of a hectic slew of international tour dates, supporting the two records they’d released just last year. Life was fast-paced, filled with crowded venues, new people to meet, and she was living on a sort of autopilot.
Then the pandemic hit. Big Thief’s tour was abruptly cancelled and Lenker found herself in a rare period of serenity. A quaint cabin within the wilderness of western Massachusetts became her new home for the next few months. Surrounded by nature and her own thoughts, she did what she knows best – Lenker picked up a guitar and started writing.
“Making the songs themselves didn’t even feel optional. It felt like a lifeline. I kind of was experiencing a breakdown, a meltdown. I had just been touring and going, and going, and going, and there was so much that I hadn’t really processed in myself,” she says.
The intensity of the nonstop touring schedule had become automatic.
“There’s something a bit unnatural to every single day, meeting new people,” she reflects. “You have to have some level of defense up, or some level of survival mode happening when you’re on tour. As soon as the pandemic hit, all of those mechanisms just go away.”
When those walls fell, she became reacquainted with a part of herself that she hadn’t seen, or been able to access in a long time. The open space, both physically and mentally, begged her to dig deeper, and exploration through songwriting felt only natural. Throughout her life, it’s the one thing that has always connected Lenker to her innermost self.
“My most direct access point is through making songs, that’s my language for connecting to the deepest part of myself, instantly. That’s the reason I’m so hungry for it, and why I keep doing it. I just feel like I can lose myself sometimes, or become numb, or struggle with a lot of things that just kind of cut me off from feeling good in life. Then when I sit in that space, it’s totally safe.”
songs and instrumentals became a vulnerable collection of grief and catharsis. Recorded on tape with the help of friend and engineer Philip Weinrobe, it brings the listener right into that tiny cabin. Working entirely analog left little room for second-guessing or second takes. When the song felt right, it was time to record. If rain was falling the day a song was finished, it became part of the experience.
“It just came out in the morning, and I really wanted to record ‘Come’ that day because it was the most poignant and present song. It was just raining all day, so it just happened to be that way.”
The rain served as a perfect backdrop for the ode to letting go of life, organic sounds of water complimenting the metaphorical drowning. The darkness that defines the track was something that Lenker felt a need to sit with, and the theme of death prevailed among the songs she wrote during the recording session.
“Especially those nine that I wrote, there’s a lot surrounding death, because I think I was just feeling the collective time of grieving. Phil, one of my closest friends who was there recording with me, was going through a death in the family at that moment. I was going through the death of a relationship, a really intense heartbreak.”
There’s a level of inherent gloom that comes along with conversations of death, but she sought to find reverence in it as well as she explored her grief.
“There are so many layers of everything endlessly, constantly living and dying at the same time. Like, how every creature and every being can simultaneously be living and dying. You’re still being born, your consciousness is still shaping and changing, you’re still growing, and at the same time you exist in the physical world.
“Everything has that duality. Ideas, thoughts, relationships, even the physical passing of people. It’s so bewildering to me, because we don’t see either end of it, see where we came from, we don’t see where we’re going. We’re living enveloped in this mystery, where we have a sense of something that is infinite. We have a sense of feeling connected to either past or future, or to something beyond, like feeling like we’re not just this moment.”
This infinite duality is explored in an almost whimsical nature on ‘Ingydar,’ one of Lenker’s favourites from the album. She sings of images of drying blueberries and the juice of cherries, laying out an omnipresent cycle of time giving and taking life.
“It’s also thinking about a menstrual cycle. ‘The juice of dark cherries cover my skin,’ and on one verse it flips to ‘the cherry juice on the chin.’ The cherry juice, the juice running down your leg was in my mind like, no baby. Being with someone for a while, and not having a baby. That shedding of that lining, becoming a death itself in a way, or just a shedding of a part of you.”
Lenker admits that songs and instrumentals is hard to listen back to. Darkness lingers on within the record, but it’s contrasted with moments of beauty that she doesn’t want to lose sight of.
“It felt like trying to encapsulate something that I really want to remember. Something that I feel is really important, especially in the realm of that relationship, is encapsulating some of that beauty. Some things I just don’t want to forget, some things that were really special to me. It’s like building a sculpture, almost commemorating a tattoo of that time.
“It feels like the most personal thing that I’ve ever made, so I feel extra vulnerable about it.”
This collection of songs is uniquely intimate, and Lenker is grateful for the healing it’s provided her. If not just for her own sake, then maybe her catharsis can provide a space of comfort for someone else.
“I don’t want it to be a loud insertion of myself. And if it’s helpful for someone, they can just put it on, if it’s soothing in any way. It’s like a small and humble offering of something that helped me deal with my own grief.”
songs and instrumentals is out on October 23.