Brooklyn’s Big Thief released their aptly named debut ‘Masterpiece’ last year and are this week embarking on their first Australian tour, starting it all off at PIAF’s Chevron Festival Gardens with special guest, Katy Steele, on Wednesday, February 22.
Photo: Sasha Arutyunova
Big Thief formed in the wake of Adrianne Lenker’s solo album release at the start of 2014, followed by a collaborative project with fellow member Buck Meek later that year. It has been an undeniably swift development from solo project to working with a full band for Lenker, acknowledging just how integral the rest of the band is to the creative ingenuity of her music.
“Just in December, we gave ourselves some time to just be in our practice space,” she says. “We hadn't been able to practice there since we made the first record.
“There's something about taking the time to play and experiment and stretch out that I feel is so important for our creative process. It really fuels us; having that time to experiment and to make things that aren't necessarily for any final product.”
Ensuring experimentation through removing any preconceived notion of what the band should be is important to Lenker, prioritising communication and simply “taking care of it. Making sure we have all the basic things we need. Taking care of our relationships and friendships. We're all friends and that always has to come first.
“I don't have any idea of what shape I want the band to be in. It's more like nurturing something and appreciating the shape that it's in.
“It’s been a process for me in coming to accept what it is and to accept myself as a person and as an artist, and everyone in the band for exactly what they are and what they have to give. Then, coming together and doing that every night but with other people and accepting what the audience have to bring. It's not like trying to put it into a certain shape or say, ‘This is what we want to be and we'd like to get here someday’, but it's more so just trying to stay present and allow it to be what it is and allow it to continue to grow and hold space.”
Still working on their second album, Big Thief are heading out on tour with warm, familiar favourites and signs of what’s to come for the freshly devised four-piece.
“There'll be a mixture of songs from the first record and then songs from the second and then also songs that don't have a home yet at all.”
When it comes to the speed at which this act is touring and developing new music, it would be unsurprising if their debut is falling from the spotlight of their live sets and the heart of the band, however Lenker assures this is not the case.
“I haven't lost my feeling for the first songs at all. They are changing. The way that it feels to play them and my relationship with those songs is changing a lot, but it doesn't feel like I've lost those songs.”
As a band that has been touring almost relentlessly since the release of ‘Masterpiece’, Lenker is accustomed to ever-changing environments.
“I just go day to day. I don't even know where we're going to be or where we are, for that matter. I'm not quite sure where we are," she laughs. "I like going day-to-day like that.
“There'll be a plan and it takes work to plan everything out ahead of time. When the tour is coming together, there'll be a serious time where I'll allow myself to see the structure of the tour and see where we'll be and to sort of internalise it and then there'll be a point where I just stop. Usually that point is the first day of tour. Then, I'll just take it one day at a time and not always have a map in my head of ‘okay. We're going to be here and then here and then here...’ Usually, if somebody asks me, I have to look it up.
“I'm realising that for me, I need to create some form of stability and routine within the constant shifting and travelling. That's my way of preserving my little neighbourhood. I can go for a walk in the morning and I'm not thinking about every single street sign that I'm going to see on my walk. I can just put one foot in front of the other and look at the sky and notice the things that are around me. I preserve that by not knowing every place we're going and everything we're going to be doing tomorrow and the next day and the next day. Trying to be as present as possible and I think that's what's been helping me stay somewhat centred.”
The band will be hosted by an exceptionally diverse group of venues while in Australia, from outdoor venues at PIAF’s Chevron Festival Gardens and Melbourne Zoo, to Newtown and Northcote Social Clubs and even Wombarra Bowls Club with hosts, Spunk Records. When it comes to Lenker’s ideal venue however, the answer goes beyond a particular city or sound system.
“It would be a space where everyone feels like friends and you can immediately feel that friendship. Without even saying anything, there's a trust.”
“When I go right to an edge and step just a little bit beyond what I feel comfortable with and then I can feel everyone around me - the band and the audience doing the same and pushing themselves a little out of their comfort zone. Moving a little bit more and relaxing a little bit more, and it just goes like that back and forth into a warmth which builds into a thing that encompasses everyone. Suddenly, there's no specifics anymore. There's no venue or stage or lighting that looks like ‘this’, or the sound is like ‘this’ or ‘this’ is like ‘that’; there's none of those props. Just this wave of experience. I think that would be my perfect performance space.
“Sometimes I want to tell people that right away, before the show even starts,” Lenker muses. “Go up on stage and make a little announcement, ‘Hey, so anybody who's afraid: it's okay. If anything that comes up that you don't like or that you feel uncomfortable with then it's okay’.
“There's so many shows where I sense everyone - including myself - on edge or seeing each other’s projections, rather than getting right down to the source of what we're all trying to say to each other.”
Big Thief appear at PIAF’s Chevron Festival Gardens with special guest, Katy Steele, on Wednesday, February 22. Tickets via www.perthfestival.com.au.