Editors’ Notes Adrianne Lenker had an entire year of touring planned with her indie-folk band Big Thief before the pandemic hit. Once the tour got canceled, Lenker decided to go to Western Massachusetts to stay closer to her sister. After ideas began to take shape, she decided to rent a one-room cabin in the Massachusetts mountains to write in isolation over the course of one month. “The project came about in a really casual way,” Lenker tells Apple Music. “I later asked my friend Phil [Weinrobe, engineer] if he felt like getting out of the city to archive some stuff with me. I wasn't thinking that I wanted to make an album and share it with the world. It was more like, I just have these songs I want to try and record. My acoustic guitar sounds so warm and rich in the space, and I would just love to try and make something.” Having gone through an intense breakup, Lenker began to let her emotions flow through the therapy of writing. Her fourth solo LP, simply titled songs (released alongside a two-track companion piece called instrumentals), is modest in its choice of words, as this deeply intimate set highlights her distinct fingerpicking style over raw, soul-searching expressions and poignant storytelling motifs. “I can only write from the depths of my own experiences,” she says. “I put it all aside because the stuff that became super meaningful and present for me was starting to surface, and unexpectedly.” Let Lenker guide you through her cleansing journey, track by track.

two reverse
“I never would have imagined it being the first track, but then as I listened, I realized it’s got so much momentum and it also foreshadows the entire album. It's one of the more abstract ones on the record that I'm just discovering the meaning of it as time goes on, because it is a little bit more cryptic. It's got my grandmother in there, asking the grandmother spirit to tell stories and being interested in the wisdom that's passed down. It's also about finding a path to home and whatever that means, and also feeling trapped in the jail of the body or of the mind. It's a multilayered one for me.”

ingydar
“I was imagining everything being swallowed by the mouth of time, and just the cyclical-ness of everything feeding off of everything else. It’s like the simple example of a body decomposing and going into the dirt, and then the worm eating the dirt, and the bird eating the worm, and then the hawk or the cat eating the bird. As something is dying, something is feeding off of that thing. We're simultaneously being born and decaying, and that is always so bewildering to me. The duality of sadness and joy make so much sense in that light. Feeling deep joy and laughter is similar to feeling like sadness in a way and crying. Like that Joni Mitchell line, 'Laughing and crying, it's the same release.'”

anything
“It's a montage of many different images that I had stored in my mind from being with this person. I guess there's a thread of sweetness through it all, through things as intense as getting bit by a dog and having to go to the ER. It's like everything gets strung together like when you're falling in love; it feels like when you're in a relationship or in that space of getting to know someone. It doesn't matter what's happening, because you're just with them. I wanted to encapsulate something or internalize something of the beauty of that relationship.”

forwards beckon rebound
“That's actually one of my favorite songs on the album. I really enjoy playing it. It feels like a driving lullaby to me, like something that's uplifting and motivating. It feels like an acknowledgment of a very flawed part of humanness. It's like there's both sides, the shadow and the light, deciding to hold space for all of it as opposed to rejecting the shadow side or rejecting darkness but deciding to actually push into it. When we were in the studio recording that song, this magic thing happened because I did a lot of these rhythms with a paintbrush on my guitar. I'm just playing the guitar strings with it. But it sounded like it was so much bigger, because the paintbrush would get all these overtones.”

heavy focus
“It's another love song on the album, I feel. It was one of the first songs that I wrote when I was with this person. The heavy focus of when you're super fixated on somebody, like when you're in the room with them and they're the only one in the room. The kind when you're taking a camera and you're focusing on a picture and you're really focusing on that image and the way it's framed. I was using the metaphor of the camera in the song, too. That one feels very bittersweet for me, like taking a portrait of the spirit of the energy of the moment because it's the only way it lasts; in a way, it's the only way I'll be able to see it again.”

half return
“There’s this weird crossover to returning home, being around my dad, and reverting back to my child self. Like when you go home and you're with your parents or with siblings, and suddenly you're in the role that you were in all throughout your life. But then it crosses into the way I felt when I had so much teenage angst with my 29-year-old angst.”

come
“This thing happened while we were out there recording, which is that a lot of people were experiencing deaths from far away because of the pandemic, and especially a lot of the elderly. It was hard for people to travel or be around each other because of COVID. And while we were recording, Phil's grandmother passed away. He was really close with her. I had already started this song, and a couple of days before she died, she got to hear the song.”

zombie girl
“There’s two tracks on the record that weren't written during the session, and this is one of them. It's been around for a little while. Actually, Big Thief has played it a couple of times at shows. It was written after this very intense nightmare I had. There was this zombie girl with this really scary energy that was coming for me. I had sleep paralysis, and there were these demons and translucent ghost hands fluttering around my throat. Every window and door in the house that I was staying in was open and the people had just become zombies, and there was this girl who was arched and like crouched next to my bed and looking at me. I woke up absolutely terrified. Then the next night, I had this dream that I was with this person and we were in bed together and essentially making love, but in a spirit-like way that was indescribable. It was like such a beautiful dream. I was like really close with this person, but we weren't together and I didn't even know why I was having that dream, but it was foreshadowing or foretelling what was to come. The verses kind of tell that story, and then the choruses are asking about emptiness. I feel like the zombie, the creature in the dream, represents that hollow emptiness, which may be the thing that I feel most avoidant of at times. Maybe being alone is one of the things that scares me most.”

not a lot, just forever
“The ‘not a lot’ in the title is the concept of something happening infinitely, but in a small quantity. I had never had that thought before until James [Krivchenia, Big Thief drummer] brought it up. We were talking about how something can happen forever, but not a lot of it, just forever. Just like a thin thread of something that goes eternally. So maybe something as small as like a bird shedding its feather, or like maybe how rocks are changed over time. Little by little, but endlessly.”

dragon eyes
“That one feels the most raw, undecorated, and purely simple. I want to feel a sense of belonging. I just want a home with you or I just want to feel that. It's another homage to love, tenderness, and grappling with my own shadows, but not wanting to control anyone and not wanting to blame anyone and wanting to see them and myself clearly.”

my angel
“There is this guardian angel feeling that I've always had since I was a kid, where there's this person who's with me. But then also, ‘Who is my angel? Is it my lover, is it part of myself? Is it this material being that is truly from the heavens?’ I've had some near-death experiences where I'm like, 'Wow, I should have died.' The song's telling this near-death experience of being pushed over the side of the cliff, and then the angel comes and kisses your eyelids and your wrists. It feels like a piercing thing, because you're in pain from having fallen, but you're still alive and returning to your oxygen. You expect to be dead, and then you somehow wake up and you've been protected and you're still alive. It sounds dramatic, but sometimes things feel that dramatic.”

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