Buck Meek Talks New LP ‘Two Saviors,’ Songwriting Process & Recording In The Rockies With Big Thief (INTERVIEW)

Photo by Greg GerstenBuck Meek is an inspiring and kindhearted human; his talent is endless and his ability to seek and be in the moment is art in form. He brings a lightness to the room when he enters and he communicates musically with a sense of discovery, dedication, and focus that is rarely witnessed. Anyone who has had the pleasure of watching Meek perform live with either Big Thief or his own band knows that there is fruitful creative energy possessed by Meek that brings warmth and takes you back home. He combines skill, feeling, and humble charisma to create landscapes of unique tone with thoughtfully penned songs that hinge on melody and clever wordplay. 

I met Buck Meek, in the Spring of 2014, and have had the absolute pleasure of following his songwriting and musical journey the last six years. As a founding member of Big Thief, he has toured the world extensively while continuing to share his awe-inspiring solo material with us.

Just prior to Big Thief’s 2021 Grammy nominations for Best Rock Performance “Not,” and Best Rock Song “Not,Glide was fortunate to garner enough cell service to catch up with Buck for a few minutes, as he is currently in the Rocky Mountains making a new Big Thief record. We talked to Buck about his journey, his writing and recording process, Big Thief’s current recording process, what’s in his tape deck, and his forthcoming album, Two Saviors, out January 15th via Keeled Scales. 

Hey Buck, so you’re up in the Rockies? 

Yeah, Big Thief’s making a record up here at a studio outside of Telluride.

I’m trying to picture it in my head – pretty cool set-up? 

Yeah – we’re way up in the mountains above Telluride at about 9500 feet on this ninety-acre property. The owner has a log castle up here – it’s a beautiful wooden house with a big live room overlooking the valley and mountains.

Did you guys take time to acclimate to the altitude before you started recording? 

Yeah, we took a couple of days to take walks and acclimate. It still feels like you can’t catch your breath but we’re getting used to it. 

Totally. 

I was looking back at a show we played together in 2014. It was you and Adrianne (Lenker), Twain, and Michael Chorney. It was an album release I had – I think there were about thirty people there. Made me think about your journey, meeting you and Adrianne before Big Thief. You were touring as ‘Buck and An.’ Do you have any thoughts or insight on your experience in the last six years. You’ve been on the road pretty much the whole time, toured the world – what has it been like?  

Right on. Well, time has definitely folded in on itself in multiple circles in those six years. It feels like twenty years on some levels and feels like a couple of months on others. It’s been, if anything, a labor of love. In 2014, we let go of our apartments and our jobs and bought this old van that barely ran. Played every possible show we could just to move. Played so many empty rooms; broke down so many times out in the middle of nowhere trying to get to some random town for a party or something. That surrender was really vitalizing though. It gave us a sense of purpose that felt really vital. That adaptation to a more transient lifestyle and finding a core within yourself throughout movement. It took a minute to adapt to that and at the same time, of course, there are sacrifices being made that can be hard to swallow. Our relationships suffered in some ways. We (Buck and Adrianne) were in a romantic relationship at the time which in some ways took a back seat to the music. It’s a pretty mixed bag but at the same time, that sense of purpose is really what comes to mind. That purpose permeates the whole experience for me. 

Photo by Robbie Jeffers

Before Big Thief you Adrianne and you were touring as a duo in the van for about two years?

Yeah, about two years.

That was the van on the A Sides B Sides’ album cover, right? 

Yeah, Bonnie

Do you know where Bonnie is now? 

I sold Bonnie to my good friend, Alex. He’s this wild dude from Northern Arkansas. I think he took her way out to West Texas, living out in Big Bend somewhere. He probably drove it off a cliff somewhere and jumped out. 

I love the new singles “Pareidolia” and “Second Sight” – can you shed some light on what “Second Sight” means to you? 

There’s a certain amount of ambiguity in the song. I was trying to touch on working for humankind, working for the collective. Working on a labor of love for all kinds I suppose. 

 

I dig that. Is there a general way you tend to write? 

Yeah, I tend to pick up my guitar and just start to mumble. I’ll try to find words or abstract sounds that feel good in my mouth and look to find a melody that feels moving to me. Usually as an effort to externalize some emotion that I’m feeling, but I tend to start with abstraction –  I try to interpret some emotion or experience into a more abstract form musically – generally it pretty quickly becomes the core of what you would call a song. Some sort of thread you can follow. I’ll try and give myself that open space to begin a song with no rules or regulations or preconceived ideas. Once I observe that something has arisen, I’ll go more into my logical mind and start to carve it into something more lucid or a kind of narrative. Then I’ll develop the idea and repeat the melody or create a pattern. I’ll then create a pattern of verses or whatever form that I want to project onto it. Maybe then a response into a chorus and so on… That’s usually when things start to slow down. That first moment of grace will happen quickly and then it’ll take a lot of hard work to hammer it into something fully formed.

Photo by Robbie JeffersDo you use a recorder right off the bat or are you more pen and pad? 

Yeah. I need a recording device to remember it: I’ll always keep one by me, but at the same time if I turn the recorder on right away that “witness” seems to bring self-consciousness that can disrupt the process. As soon as something comes that I like I’ll record it in its rough form. Then I’ll turn the recorder off and keep writing without it. Once I’m really onto something I’ll turn the recorder on and let it run just in case something happens. That’s just my own private experience. I feel the pressure of a witness with the recorder on, so I’ll wait until something has arisen first. I have the pen and pad as well.  

Yeah, sometimes as soon as you press the record button it’s hard for that not to alter the experience in some way. 

Yeah. Even with the pen and pad I usually wait to open the notebook until I’ve begun the process of hammering out a form. Once I have some narrative, I map it out on the page and that helps me structure it. I find it easiest to write with only my guitar at first. 

I love the sound of your recordings. It sounds to me like it comes out of the same world as Twain and others in your crew. Something to the sonic vibe. Can you tell me what I’m hearing there? 

Well, more or less it is probably that we’re sitting around eating at diners together all the time drinking the same water. (Tommy laughs) On a technical level, I made my record on a Tascam 38 tape machine, on an 8 track. I believe Matt (Twain) has recorded a lot of his records on either a Tascam 388 or maybe a two-inch here and there. We’re all pretty devoted to running through the tape and to that immediacy that comes from working with tape. The lack of flexibility can be really freeing in the process. It’s a limitation that takes a lot of the pressure off me. That may be one unifying factor. My record was made on a Tascam 38 with eight dynamic microphones in a room in a home in New Orleans. You’re hearing a lot of bleed; you’re hearing the room. I know that Matt (Twain) has made a lot of records with a similar mindset and Adrianne too. She just made her solo record up in a cabin in New York state with a similar tape machine. 

Tell me about the microphone set up you’re using to record. 

It’s eight tracks with eight dynamic microphones. We get really close to each other in the room. The whole band squeezed together with microphones that have a small enough cardioid pattern to not have too much bleed. My friend Andrew Sarlo produced this record, “Two Saviors” (out January 15th via Keeled Scales) – it was his idea. When I asked him to produce the record, he agreed under his conditions that we would make the album in New Orleans with an eight-track tape machine and only dynamic microphones, with no headphones, in one week. Trying to remove as many of the distractions as possible. 

I’ve got a fun set up that Mike Coykendall put together for me. It’s a 4-track with this old amp that can send just reverb. It shoots out this great reverb into the room and lends to a super vibey sound for demoing or writing. 

Oh yeah, that’s awesome. It can be so helpful for things to sound inspiring in the writing or recording process. Big Thief is recording right now and we started off by isolating. My guitar amp in a booth and Adrianne was in an isolation booth. We spread everything out a bit and it sounded really good and tight, but we felt disconnected. We ended up throwing that out and all moving into the same space as close as we could get to each other. It feels so much more inspiring to react to each other’s acoustic sounds and be able to see each other’s eyes and really hear the room and not be stuck in the headphone world. Of course, there’s more bleed and etcetera but I feel like the emotions translate. 

That makes sense to me. Especially with Big Thief and your sound being so rooted in feel and comradery. 

Yeah, that’s the thing I recognize in the music that means the most to me, generally. Just a feel

Your new record “Two Saviors” is out on January 15th with Keeled Scales. Keeled Scales is really cool. Tell me about working with them. 

Yeah, Keeled Scales is the best. Tony Presley, who runs the label down in Austin TX is a kindhearted man with great values. I’ve always felt super safe with them as a label. He works so hard and has put together a beautiful collection of artists with Twain and our friends The Deer, who are a lot of great artists. It feels really safe. A devoted little gang. 

What’s in your tape deck? 

I stayed up really late last night listening to Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hammer’s record. They have this beautiful album of children’s songs. I’m always listening to Michael Hurley. James Krivchenia, who is the drummer of Big Thief, has been turning me onto a lot of ambient music. It’s been a really beautiful companion for the times in between. When I don’t really have the space for lyrical music. And, Julianna Barwick, Alex Summers, and Grouper and artists like that. 

So… are you going to record today? 

Yeah, we’re recording today. We’ll record every day until Thanksgiving. 

Is this another two-album session for Big Thief? 

 I’m not sure. We’re just making music. We’ll see what happens. 

I love that. Was it planned last time when Big Thief made two records?

Yeah, we had planned it that way with “UFOF” and “Two Hands.” We had a collection of maybe thirty songs we had demoed and we divided them up with the intention of two sessions and tried to put them in their own separate spaces: “UFOF” being more ethereal and mystic, and “Two Hands” being more abrupt. 

Oh! You know who you should listen to if you haven’t yet is Tucker Zimmerman. You know Tucker Zimmerman? 

I don’t!

Listen to the album with the Levi Strauss Waltz on it. All the songs on that record are brilliant. 

 

Preorder “Two Hands” HERE out January 15th via Keeled Scales 

Photos by Greg Gersten, Josh Goleman, and Robbie Jeffers

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