Big Thief’s Buck Meek Talks Solo Debut

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Photo by Adrianne Lenker

Photo by Adrianne Lenker

Having spent the last four years as the lead guitarist of indie rock quartet Big Thief, co-founder Buck Meek’s solo aspirations were put on hold while he devoted most of his time to hitting the ground hard, building the band’s momentum.  Now that Big Thief has taken off, Meek stands ready to bestow his own finely-crafted song cache upon the world.

A front porch troubadour, the Texas-born songwriter weaves a tapestry of simple and intimate folk tales on his self-titled debut. The record feels like a winding country road and introduces listeners to the myriad of charmingly real characters they might meet wandering down it, from honorable mechanics to runaways to gamblers. Many of these characters are admittedly fairytale versions inspired by the people in Meek’s life. “I’m most inspired by my friends, I’d say,” he explains. “As a creative person, it gives me more seed for exaggeration in my own mind and for developing archetypes and characters that can go far beyond the reality of their personality.”

While the people around him help personify Meek’s thematic ideals, there is a common thread in what he finds most exciting about the stage of players. “One of the most inspiring things for me in humanity is the heroism in the smallest of details in people’s character,” says Meek. “Like in the persistence and the subtle elegance that I find in everyone really, and just trying to find that gives me hope.”

Buck Meek is out now on Keeled Scales.  I sat down with Meek at Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion this year to talk about the record.  Check out our conversation below.

Vinyl Mag: [The first single “Cannonball!” premiered on NPR.]  Can you tell me a little bit about the concept and what that’s about?

Buck Meek:  It’s a feeling of when what we perceive as linear time of our life seems to fold over itself.  And for me, like in this song…like the moment of experiencing the bittersweetness of the feeling of relationship as a living thing, but as a memory—feeling the relationship and the power of it, the weight of it in memory—while also experiencing the pain of whatever loss.  Like how that can just become this web of feeling. That’s what I was trying to get at with the song.

VM:  So this is about a relationship. I feel like when I look back at past relationships, it’s like I’m watching a movie.  It almost feels like it happened to someone else, in a very emotionally disconnected way. But this song is also partly mourning.  Can you talk a little bit more about the actual emotions that you’re expressing?

BM:  Yeah, I guess it’s that dichotomy of celebrating the eternal quality of that relationship while also mourning its loss.  Facing the loss of it almost intensifies the power of it at the same time, which is probably why loss is so hard for us. Suddenly we’re faced with how meaningful something was to us when we don’t have it anymore, I suppose.  I wrote it almost as a medicine and a mourning process, celebrating and letting go…it’s probably healthy to callous and move forward, and I guess for me, writing songs like this helps me celebrate what was while also externalizing it to the point where I can let go.

VM: Do you reopen it every time you hear it or play it, or does the writing of it give you complete catharsis?

BM: I do re-experience it, but because it’s in a form outside of myself—even if I’m singing it—something about it being in song form helps me not fall prey to the emotions as much.

VM: What was the timeline of writing these songs between Big Thief and touring; when did that line up?

BM:  This collection has been falling together over the last four years.  “Cannonball!” I probably wrote three or four years ago. My writing process is generally pretty slow and arduous.  I’ll often write the first verse of a song as a response to something that happens to me, or a connection that I would make, or a character that I would observe in passing.  I’ll often come up with the initial idea there, and I feel like maybe the first verse and chorus will come to me in 30 seconds, and then it’ll take me six months to finish the song, almost as if I’m reflecting upon that initial experience.

VM:  Once you get the first nugget, how does the process unfold?  Are you waiting for the rest to come to you, or do you set time to sit down and work it out?

BM:  I think that initial burst comes at me randomly.  That first source comes unplanned. Like, it’ll come to me sometimes while I’m playing a show with Big Thief, or while I’m on a bicycle or in mid-conversation with someone, and I’ll just scramble to write it down and play it as soon as I can.  But the finalizing process of really hammering out the song is more deliberate and often very private. Like when I find a moment of peace, which is rare on tour. I’ll often wait until I get home to finish a handful of ideas that have come to me on tour.

Although on this record, there are maybe three or four songs that came as part of this song-a-week project that I did with a really inspiring group of artists in New York. With Adrianne from Big Thief and Mat Davidson from Twain and Mikey Buishas from Really Big Pinecone…and a couple of other people.  I’ll leave it somewhat anonymous. We had a song-a-week project for two months, and it was really hard to have that. We each had to write one song individually per week, and it was really difficult to be limited like that, but also I feel like it really pushed me to rely more on my instincts and less on my intellect.  Because often I would wait until the last minute, like Sunday night.

VM: Like songwriting bootcamp.  Do you feel like that’s still affecting the way that you write now?

BM: It’s taught me a lot about relying on my instincts, which I feel has been really helpful for me, because I often will get in these cycles in my head where I start taking it too seriously or overthinking it, and that forced me to just rely on…basically not judge myself and to rely on my initial impulses in the creative process, and at least not judge myself in the process.  A lot of these songs came from that project initially, and then later on I would go back and edit them maybe after some time had passed and I had some space to reflect on them. But it’s been really helpful for me to dig into that impulse from a more confident place.

VM: Why do you think now is the time to be bringing these songs forward?

BM: I spent the last four years devoting almost all of my time on the road to Big Thief, because we started touring maybe three and a half year ago…playing 250 shows a year or something, and that really didn’t leave much space for my solo project…I’ve been aching to bring these songs to people for the last four years, really.  It’s been more of a decision to devote myself to Big Thief, because it needed that intention to come to the place where it is now.  I’m really excited to finally have the opportunity to have a more balanced schedule with that.

VM: You said you’ve been aching to get them out.  So you’ve been sitting on them for awhile.  Because you’ve had them for so long, were they constantly changing from start to now, or do you know when you’re done?

BM: Some of them have changed completely.  One thing that’s kept it fresh was that I’ve had some of these songs for four years, but the band that I’ve put together for this record was in flux until like the last year really it really came together.  I’m so happy with these players, and we really made this record in the last year together pretty quickly, really.  We recorded it really fast, so that breathed a lot of new life into these songs.

VM: Where do you go from here?

BM: Hopefully going to Europe with my band probably in the fall, realistically.  Trying to play as much as possible. I really want to hit the road with this band and get to that point of instinctual mesh with them.

Buck Meek is out now on Keeled Scales.  Grab a copy of the record here, and be sure to catch Meek on his upcoming tour (dates below).

Buck Meek Tour:

May 30 | Kerrville, TX at Kerrville Folk Festival
June 07 | Allston, MA at Great Scott
June 08 | Brooklyn, NY at Rough Trade
June 09 | Washington, DC at Songbyrd
June 10 | Durham, NC at The Pinhook
June 12 | Nashville, TN at The High Watt
June 13 | Bloomington, IN at The Bishop
June 14 | Chicago, IL at Schuba’s
June 15 | Millvale, PA at The Funhouse
June 16 | Philadelphia, PA at Johnny Brenda’s

June 7-16 with Sam Evian
June 7 & 8 also with Katie Von Schleicher

Emily is an over-enthusiastic lover of music, books, movies, fashion, and culture in general. Her love of music spans across all genres (what is a genre anymore? she waxes poetic to herself), though she was nursed on true punk and will never understand “redneck country” music – tractors are not and cannot be sexy. Emily currently lives in Brooklyn, NY and considers herself to be a great wit, though she is still waiting on validation from a credible source.

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