- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
A global pandemic hasn’t slowed the prolific output of Adrianne Lenker, who released her gorgeous solo collections songs and instrumentals this week, not long after making two of 2019’s most celebrated albums with her band Big Thief. On this episode, Lenker chats with Pitchfork Editor Puja Patel about the music that accompanied her occasionally turbulent journey from childhood as a musical prodigy to adulthood as one of her generation’s greatest songwriters. She touches on an early fascination with jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, a teenage encounter with the songs of Elliott Smith, and the story behind her Leonard Cohen tattoo.
Listen to this week’s episode below, and subscribe to The Pitchfork Review for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also check out an excerpt of the podcast’s transcript below. For more on Adrianne Lenker, check out Philip Sherburne’s review of songs and instrumentals and Jayson Greene’s 2019 interview.
Puja Patel: Can you tell us a little bit about how music came into your life with your parents and your early childhood? What part in your life did music play when you were very young?
Adrianne Lenker: My very first experience of music was my dad singing and playing. He played guitar and piano and was always writing songs. He was doing that from before I was born, so just being around that vibration, I think I was soaking it up.
Then the very, very first music that he introduced me to—it’s, like, in our home videos when I’m two years old and spinning around the living room, listening to Pat Metheny.
PP: I love that you chose “Bright Size Life” because it does have have all of these hat tips to the Midwest and traveling. But it’s also just smooth jazz, like it’s a lullaby.
AL: Yeah, but it’s also crazy. Like what he’s playing is smooth, but it’s also so wonky. It’s really comforting to me. It just brings me right back to being a kid.
I think specifically the guitar parts are so full of melody and they sound like a live animal. I think I felt like it was a creature I could follow into the woods and see what they were exploring. And it’s very engaging if you have no associations; when you’re a kid, you’re not like, “Oh, this is smooth jazz,” or like, “Oh, this is this genre.” You’re just hearing it in its pure form. All the notes and melodies really excited me.
PP: There’s this great clip from an old documentary with him from the ’80s where he has recorded all of these barnyard animals. And then he’s made them into instruments for himself to record with. So he’s, like, playing the wolf as backup singers and playing the donkey as a guitar.
AL: I’ve never seen that. That’s cool, that’s wild.
PP: It’s a crazy clip. But it’s interesting that you’re parallel to him making this kind of animal reference, exploring the woods. And he simultaneously was clearly trying to capture that emotion in an instrumental sense.
AL: Yeah, I think he was just an explorer, which is what I like with the guitar.
I fell so deeply in love with guitar from a really early age. Like I asked my dad to show me how to play it when I was six. For whatever reason, the resonance of that instrument is so exciting to me.
And I like that with instruments, you can explore with relatively small consequence. It’s this place you can be free and you can play any notes and nothing’s going to happen. You can just do what you want and explore what you want and put together these clusters of notes and make shapes and find things that make you feel really happy and find things that make you feel really sad and explore all these different emotions in a safe space.
PP: Yeah, totally. So you wrote your first song when you were eight. I was reading this Stereogum interview with you where the song that you wrote when you were 10 was called “So Little Life.” I’m wondering what you were listening to that inspired you to write that at song.
AL: I think that kids just feel it all. They know it all, they see it all. I was listening to my parents. I was listening to bugs and the furniture in our house. And I was listening to the little dark corners that kind of freaked me out like, “What’s over there?”
I think I felt heaviness and kind of an urgency at a young age, too. I needed a place to deal with all the things I was absorbing and all the things that I was feeling, because it was so much.
It’s funny that that was the beginning of the songwriting. ’Cause I often feel like I’m just working on making the same song. Like I’ve been working on writing about the same things since I was a kid.
Originally Appeared on Pitchfork