Written by: Allison LeMaster
I still remember the first time I heard that voice.
My coworker and I were closing down the store: stocking shelves, sweeping the floors, playing our music on the loudspeakers, and catching up on every detail of each other’s personal lives, when I heard a transcendent voice swirl from the speakers, coating the air around me in an all-knowing embrace. I stopped. I turned to my coworker to ask him who the artist was and I watched as his face lit up like a little kid’s.
“Big Thief,” he said. “You should check them out. The lead singer has some really good solo stuff too.”
At 11 p.m. on a random Monday night last spring, I layed on my bedroom floor and let Adrianne Lenker’s lyrics envelope my imagination. Little did I know how her precise poetry would get me through grief, a breakup, and a new chapter in my life.
Lenker’s work is marked by her incredible use of imagery, pulling from visceral childhood memories to colorful nature metaphors to concise yet complex truths. Her detail and diction sets her apart from songwriters who are too scared to get specific about their experiences. Although Lenker fills the listener in on the hardest times of her life, the gentleness of her words ground the music and create a sense of comfort. While Lenker is a gifted musician, the real power comes from her role as a poet with lyrics that tear your heart out one minute, then make you feel at home the next.
Here are some of my favorite lines of her poetry:
Oh, emptiness / Tell me ’bout your nature / Maybe I’ve been getting you wrong / I cover you with questions / Cover you with explanations / Cover you with music
In this song, Lenker personifies the void she feels after a heartbreak to better understand how emptiness impacts her life– even how it impacts her songwriting. The direct address to emptiness confronts her current ways of coping and asks the listener to reexamine their personal relationship with feeling desolate.
If you wanna leave / You just have to say / You’re all caught up inside / But you know the way
This is one of Lenker’s short but impactful lines. Rather than getting angry at someone for leaving, Lenker comes to terms with how leaving a situation can make you feel complete despite its ability to hurt the ones who love you. She looks beyond personal grief and accepts that people need room to grow.
I was your starry-eyed lover and the one that you saw / I was your hurricane rider and the one that you’d call / We were just two moonshiners on the cusp of a breath / And I’ve been burning for you, baby, since the moment I left
After an ill-fated love affair, Lenker is left to consider the passion she once felt for this person while still feeling marred by her departure from the relationship. Although she was the one to leave, Lenker acknowledges her role in the relationship as the person who held on too tight.
Lenker’s carefulness and wisdom in her lyrics give her listeners the uncanny ability to feel like they’ve experienced the same personal journey. Her inclination for deep reflection is showcased throughout her body of work and inspires fans to find the right words for their own experiences themselves.