THE LEADER OF RISING INDIE BAND BIG THIEF SPINS BIG, UNWIELDY EMOTIONS INTO AN INTIMATE SOLO ALBUM
ORIGIN STORY The 27-year-old Adrianne Lenker was born into a religious cult and spent her early childhood living out of a blue van with her parents. She wrote her first song at age 8, was gigging in bars by 12 and recorded her first album at 13, with her dad as manager. “Who’s formed their artistic vision when they’re 13? I was just a kid,” says Lenker. (Her real solo album—the first one she counts, anyway— was 2014’s Hours Were the Birds.) She skipped high school and got her GED at 16. After a stint at the Berklee College of Music, Lenker moved to New York and formed Big Thief in 2015.
She’s impressively prolific: In less than three years, she has made two albums with the band and her new solo record, titled abysskiss. “I get scared of the songs disappearing,” she says. “It feels good to record them—i don’t have to carry them around anymore.”
SOUNDS LIKE The songs on abysskiss quickly veer into cosmic reflection, which is how conversations with Lenker tend to go. Ten minutes into the interview, she’s expressing her thoughts on the certainty of death and the chaotic miracle of childbirth: “It’s really intense—it’s bloody and it’s loud and it’s wild!” Her songs, delivered in a haunted murmur, are fragile-sounding and sparse. Big Thief uses ramshackle guitar fuzz to emphasize that effect; abysskiss is so quiet, you can sometimes hear background noises from the studio’s kitchen. “There’s a lot of space on the record,” says Lenker, whose solo album relies on hushed arpeggios and idiosyncratic melodies, with most tracks recorded in just one or two takes.
The album was written during a whirlwind two years of touring with Big Thief, in hotel rooms or in a “corner of a venue after sound check.” Perhaps it is because of the childhood spent on the road with her parents, but Lenker has no permanent address. In between tour dates, she crashes with friends or lives in the band’s touring van, inexplicably named “Bonnie.”
BIG THIEF’S BIG FANS Since its first album, Masterpiece, came out in 2016, the band has drawn praise from, among others, Jeff Tweedy, Carly Rae Jepsen and the National, which selected Big Thief as its opening act for tour dates earlier this year. “It’s very luxurious,” says Lenker of touring with them. “It kind of feels like going to Disneyland.” —Z.S.