Big Thief Capitalize on Critical Momentum with 'Capacity'

Big Thief Capitalize on Critical Momentum with 'Capacity'
Photo: Shervin Lainez
Last year, Brooklyn's Big Thief released their critically acclaimed debut, Masterpiece, which was so good that most people didn't question its overconfident title. It was also a bit of a late bloomer, flying under the radar before picking up steam when it was included in year-end lists. As a result, the album's second wind makes the release of their sophomore album, Capacity (out June 9 on Saddle Creek) even more hasty. With only 54 weeks between the two, it appears that the band — led by singer/songwriter Adrianne Lenker — are establishing one hell of a prolific streak. But sadly, that incredible album-a-year pace is likely a one-off.
 
"I don't have a fixation on releasing a certain amount of albums a year," Lenker tells Exclaim! "The reason we released two albums in one year is because we were following the natural rhythm of our creativity. The only hope I have is to stay in touch with that rhythm. I don't feel the need to make a record unless that thing we're making a record of is interesting and fulfilling. The something has to come first — then you make a record about it."
 
What is so remarkable about Big Thief's output is its quality. Masterpiece and Capacity sound like they could be from the same sessions, à la Radiohead's Kid A and Amnesiac. But despite working with producer Andrew Sarlo once again, the two albums were written and recorded separately. And Lenker herself does not feel they are companions.
 
"I think every single aspect of [Capacity] is intricately different from Masterpiece," she posits. "As a whole, it's one big, different sounding entity. I suppose we're just getting better as a band and as people, and recording songs and making music is just an overflowing of our friendship, of our relationship as we navigate this world together. I think from Masterpiece to Capacity we grew so much. From July 2015 to February 2016 we shed a skin. In a lot of ways, Capacity represents the forming of this band. It's just the beginning step."
 
One area in which Big Thief do tie their albums together is with album art. Both covers feature old photos of Lenker's family that she was gifted to use. She feels the photos are intrinsic to her music.
 
"Masterpiece is a photo of my mom and her two brothers," she explains. "She was probably about 16, give or take a year. My sister sent it to me and it just resonated with everybody. It was the right cover. On the back cover of Masterpiece, there are two little boys and one of them is on the cover of Capacity. That's my uncle Adam, and he was about 14. Both photos make me ask questions, and I like that feeling. I feel like a lot of the work is asking questions, rather than giving answers. They've been very generous and excited about being part of it. They're really important people in my life, so it's great to look at them on the albums."