Posts in Saddle Creek Records
Adrianne Lenker, Big Thief

Back in June 2016, Alaina Moore of Tennis (whom I interviewed for this site) emailed me about a new band she discovered. She wrote, "I just found a band called Big Thief with a debut album, Masterpiece. It's unbelievably good, and the song "Real Love" has a guitar solo that literally made me cry." 

That guitar solo is played by Adrianne Lenker, Big Thief's vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter. Since Masterpiece's release last year, the band put out Capacity, and on the strength of those two incredible albums (both on Saddle Creek Records), the band has leaped to the top of many critics' short list of best new bands, or just best bands period. And for good reason: the music is powerful and Lenker's lyrics are intensely personal. Much of this has to do, I think, with how Lenker travels through this world. She treats everything she sees and everything she hears as a work of art. The world is her palette. "My mind puts frames on everything," she told me.

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Tim Kasher, Cursive

Tim Kasher of Cursive is a multidisciplinary writer:  he writes songs, but he also writes screenplays and short stories.  It's no surprise that the process of songwriting and the process of writing long form pieces influence each other.  What does surprise me, though, is that the process of the former has made him more disciplined when it comes to the latter: Kasher has long been able to sit for long stretches and write songs, something that's more common to fiction writers.  Then again, Kasher's songwriting process is somewhat unconventional: this a guy whose ideas come best in the morning after a good night's sleep. That's rare among the 120+ songwriters I've interviewed, most of whom say they work best in the late hours of the night. The phrase "in the morning after a good night's sleep" is not often associated with indie songwriters.

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Hutch Harris, The Thermals

One of the things I always ask writers to do here is describe their ideal writing environment, where they would be the most productive.  Most mention someplace scenic, whether it’s the water, the woods, or high above a landscape looking down.  Whatever it is, it’s a place of beauty.

Then there’s Hutch Harris of The Thermals, the anti-hero of the picturesque writing environment.  Whatever is in front of him, it’s probably too much.  He doesn’t want the sea, the trees, a gazebo, or a bay window.  He wants nothing.  Just white walls.  Anything else is a distraction.  That’s why I told him that if he ever does time, he could write The Great American Novel.  Or if he ever becomes a monk, that would also work.

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Orenda Fink, Azure Ray

If you are an Azure Ray fan, you can thank a psychic.  Not just any psychic, but a single online psychic back in the internet's infancy of the mid 1990s.  We don't know this person's name--we know it's a man, at least--but he told Orenda Fink to start writing songs as a method of catharsis to deal with some issues in her life.  This was during a time when she was writing what she calls "sugary pop," so it was quite a shock for someone to suggest this sea change in her songwriting themes.  But she listened to him, and you are reading this now.  And if he really is a psychic, he'll know about this interview and read it too.

The newly reformed Azure Ray, consisting of Fink and Maria Taylor, drops Drawing Down the Moon on Saddle Creek Records this month. 

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Laura Burhenn, The Mynabirds

First year writing courses, those introductory classes that many students are required to take in their first semester of college, can sometimes be a challenge for teachers. I taught it as a TA when I was getting my PhD.  To be sure, I always loved it because I got to expose first-year students to lots of great writing from a variety of genres.  I wanted my students to be as enthusiastic as I was about writing and about great works of literature. But the reality is that not everyone shared this enthusiasm.  However, every so often a student would show up on that first day of class whose obsession with literature matched mine, whose eyes also lit up at the mention of a Galway Kinnell poem.

Enter Laura Burhenn, leader of the Mynabirds, her new band.  I was Laura’s first year writing teacher.   Laura and I caught up on the eve of the tour to support the band’s acclaimed debut What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood on Saddle Creek RecordsGiven the amount of literary references she drops in this interview and the impressive awareness of her writing process, I’ll take credit for most of her success!  Ok, that’s a bit of a stretch, but you won’t see many songwriters who claim Wallace Stevens and Elizabeth Bishop as influences.  Laura’s writing process is very animated—literally—and she is a big believer in freewriting as a way to generate ideas (she thanks one of her college professors below—ahem—for teaching her about it).  As you’ll see, she has a keen sense of what works for her. 

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