Only five months after the release of their acclaimed album U.F.O.F., American folk rock band Big Thief surprised fans with another release titled Two Hands this October. Having released two albums this year, the Brooklyn quartet is in the midst of a world tour, with the band’s first-ever appearances in Japan set for May 2020. Metropolis spoke to the band ahead of their Japan debut to discuss the new album, touring and what they’re listening to on the road.
Metropolis: How is your world tour going?
Big Thief: The tour is going well. We just had a kind of three week break coming back from Europe. It’s our first time touring in a bus, which is a whole new experience for us, like a new dynamic. In terms of traveling, it’s been really inspiring to go to all these new places. We’ve been to the UK a half dozen times and it feels comfortable, which is a really interesting feeling. I never imagined going growing up. We’ve also been touring Australia and New Zealand, which was like totally wild and incredible. I think we are trying to come to Japan next year or so. It’s always been on my list and it would just be really cool if I get to go there.
M: It has been about five months since U.F.O.F was released. How have audiences reacted to the album being played live?
BT: They’re reacting well I think. It’s cool to play songs from it because it’s a totally different feeling when people know what you’re playing. We often play so many new songs, stuff that’s not even on the most recent records, stuff that’s not live, and yeah it feels good to play the old songs but that’s not something that we ever really prized or let us hold us back. It’s not about playing an album. It’s about playing a show, playing songs that feel good to us at the moment, even if they’re not from the most recent albums. But it’s still nice when you notice people singing and connecting.
M: Why did you release two albums in one year? Was it intentional?
BT: Yeah, it was intentional. We had all these songs and there were too many good ones to only cut them down to one album. We didn’t want to have a double album. We kind of thought it would be interesting to bring all these songs to life as two albums, dividing semantically, doing them in different places. Just trying to make them both really unique and powerful on their own and doing it kind of next to each other.
M: What was the recording process like for Two Hands? Was it similar to that of U.F.O.F?
BT: It was somewhat similar. We did U.F.O.F in three weeks up in Seattle and we took five days off. Then we recorded Two Hands for three weeks in El Paso, Texas. So it’s kind of the same time period would be allotted to each one. We didn’t want them to be labored, to take too long. But just being in a different environment and having already done one record, it was a different experience. We did most of this record live, started playing together so there was excitement, vulnerability in that and just hearing what you actually sound like, not doctored up after a million takes to be perfect. It felt like part of the same big trip or the same journey.
M: The lead track from the new album “Not” is a very powerful song. Releasing two albums within the same year isn’t easy in the sense that artists may struggle to differentiate between the two projects. Did you guys decide to take a different approach from U.F.O.F or did “Not” just come out like this? BT: It was kind of both. We like premeditatively try to divide the songs. We want [Two Hands] to be a little more raw and a little more full-band-focused and a little less overdubs and just a little like harsh clarity. So then the tracks rationally divided up along those lines. But also, just the way we did this record was really all about high-energy takes and the rawness of the take. It’s sort of that we set out to make them sound different, but we wanted to show exactly how the song came about.
M: The band’s world tour has been scheduled through March 2020. Can we expect more dates following October’s release?
BT: I don’t know about the release and more dates this month. We’re definitely working to put the stuff together for more touring next year. We’re going to play a lot next year. But I don’t know when. It’s complicated on moving parts forward to come together. Yeah, it’ll happen.
M: I noticed that Big Thief doesn’t have many music videos. Is it the band’s policy?
BT: It’s not a policy. We’re really particular when it comes to marrying the visual to the music. If there is any endeavor with the band, if you’re going to do it, we want to go all in and [make it] as good as it can be, not just do it because people think we need the music video. So it’s hard between our touring and making albums and writing songs. It’s hard to find time to put creative energy into music videos. But we are not against it. It just has to feel like the right time.
M: Could you tell us what kind of music/artists you guys have been listening to while touring?
BT: It’s cool because everyone in the band has such different music tastes. We’ve been listening to Sara Davachi who is like an ambient kind of artist. A lot of this person Kara-Lis Coverdale. She [also makes] more of a digital-y, new classical drawn, really amazing, interesting music. Also Twain. We listen to Twain often on the road. The new John Prine album we’ve been listening to a lot. It’s amazing. But we listen to all sorts of things. It’s really nice that everyone has different input on musical styling, which is definitely fun because a lot of bands we have been in previously were like, everyone loved the same thing. Big Thief is like, everyone likes different things and that’s kind of the power of the band.
Big Thief Japan Tour 2020
13-17 Udagawacho, Shibuya-ku
1-1-14 Oyodomimami, Kita-ku, Osaka