On a summer afternoon in upstate New York, James Krivchenia and his girlfriend are in the midst of moving their items out of the storage space they had temporarily rented. Krivchenia has found himself in Queens these days, even though home is in Chicago. During our phone conversation, I stupidly asked Krivchenia why wouldn’t he just pack his belongings and move to New York permanently. I already knew the answer before he could deliver his response; the past year alone for him has been nothing but chaos.
On May 27, 2016, his band Big Thief released out onto the world one of the strongest debuts to come out in many years – Masterpiece. The album itself shot the group straight out of a cannon, exploding any and hope of trying to maintain any sense of normalcy. Audience and critics everywhere simply couldn’t get enough of the sheer magnitude that the songs carried on Masterpiece. Tour dates began to quickly escalate rapidly; going coast-to-coast in the U.S., the band also went to the U.K. and Europe twice, and around the world to Australia. “We are just touring so much, so I just decide to sublet when I come back,” says Krivchenia.
The opportunity to join the band (lead singer/guitarist Adrianne Lenker, guitarist Buck Meek, bassist Max Oleartchik) in many ways could be considered a godsend. Krivchenia had around been embedded with mixing/engineering albums and playing music in New York. After Lenker enlisted Krivchenia to help engineer her project Pencil’s EP No. 1, she offered the same role to him with Masterpiece. “After that session, they parted ways with their drummer (Jason Burger) and I said, ‘Hey-I think I could be really good in this band.’” Krivchenia says. “They were pretty new with that formation for less than a year. They were still trying to find their sound and I had a lot of ideas and opinions. The opportunity arose and I wanted to be in the band.”
Seven months after Masterpiece was released, Big Thief went straight back to work on their sophomore effort Capacity via Saddle Creek. For the latest album (released this past June), Andrew Sarlo was once again tapped to help produce the album at the familiar confines at Outlier Studio, a move that Krivchenia said felt natural. “Masterpiece felt like… it felt really good, but it also felt like a baby step. There was still a lot of energy left from that session.”
Upwards of twenty-plus songs were presented to the fold from Lenker, all introducing the equivalent storytelling that floored the masses with the band’s debut. In Capacity, you hear Lenker’s growth continuing to march forward, revealing another layer of the compelling life that she has lived. “Anything that Adrianne writes generally just comes from real experience; something that’s real or she’s felt,” Krivchenia says. “It never feels that she’s making anything up, although a lot of her songs are fiction.”