Much-loved indie rock outfit Big Thief sure know how to pull at our heartstrings. With the recent release of Two Hands, the Earth twin to the celestial UFOF, the band keep delivering folk songs with an emotional intensity that’s both uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time.
2019 is a big year for the band. Not only did they turn out two releases in the space of six months, they’re also touring non-stop (what’s new?). It's just our luck then that guitarist Buck Meek found some time to chat about the art of gigging.
When did you first start performing? My first show was with a blues band in a little dive bar, when I was 15 years old. I got a job washing dishes at a Mexican restaurant, and one of the bartenders took me under his wing when he found out that I played guitar. He taught me how to play rhythm guitar, and we would play blues and shuffle. My job in the band also involved kicking the amp. Whenever it would short out, he would give me a yell and I would boot it as hard as I could to bring it back to life.
How does your personality change when you’re onstage? I feel like the more abstract, true parts of myself are allowed to release and show themselves. It’s amazing to be able to move and express myself through sound, in a way that is so outside of the traditional forms of human communication.
Do you have any pre-show rituals? We always sit with each other for half an hour before we play and write a set list. We also breathe together in a circle, arm in arm, just for a few minutes before we play. It's pretty simple, just making sure we get together a bit before we go on stage really helps.
How do you win over a crowd? The most important thing for me is eye contact; so much unspoken connection comes from that. Beyond that, we've found that as long as were connecting with ourselves and with each other on stage, it will translate.
How has your performance evolved? Over time we've developed a sense of trust musically, where things can fall apart and come back together almost telepathically. There is a greater sense of flexibility in the band now, so we can colour outside the lines without feeling like it's going to fall apart.
What’s your favourite way to unwind after a gig? Cooking together on the road. Preparing dinner before a show has become a part of the routine. We’ll toss everything in the crockpot and when we come off stage we all eat together. It’s important to us to have a family aspect to the band, and to have time to reflect on the gig, to make jokes or sift through whatever challenges we had.
What’s been the most influential performance you’ve seen? Seeing Michael Hurley at a folk festival in Brooklyn. It was in a massive cathedral, he sung so softly and ran through all of his incredible old songs like a stream of consciousness. That was a big one for me.