Big Thief's 'Shark Smile' Is A Rocking Road Song Ending In Tragedy Lead singer Adrianne Lenker shares how Bruce Springsteen influenced the tune, which tells the story of a doomed car ride through the Midwest.
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Big Thief's 'Shark Smile' Is A Rocking Road Song Ending In Tragedy

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Big Thief's 'Shark Smile' Is A Rocking Road Song Ending In Tragedy

Big Thief's 'Shark Smile' Is A Rocking Road Song Ending In Tragedy

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Indie rock band Big Thief is ready to take off. With two albums already under its belt, the group from Brooklyn has won over fans with deeply personal songs written by lead singer Adrianne Lenker. That's why Big Thief is part of Slingshot, a new emerging artist project from NPR Music and member stations around the country. Jon Hart of KTBG Kansas City introduces us to "Shark Smile." It's a standout track from Big Thief's latest album "Capacity."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHARK SMILE")

JON HART, BYLINE: Big Thief's Adrianne Lenker began playing guitar when she was barely big enough to hold one. She obsessed over the instrument in her teens, looking for ways it could add meaning to the song she was writing. Fast forward to the "Capacity" recording sessions, which took place at a friend's house in the wintertime - "Shark Smile" begins with Lenker's guitar, setting the raw, emotional tone for the story to come.

ADRIANNE LENKER: That's just kind of foreshadowing the turmoil that happens in the song. It's generally upbeat song. And I think it's just giving it tone.

HART: Adrianne wrote her first song at age 8 and still refers to songwriting as a need. Her father saw opportunity for her to become a child pop star. But the drive for self-expression led her to reject that path. And she began making her own music full time at age 16. Now 26, Lenker is writing songs that leave her bandmates reverential. They often take a knee when she occupies the spotlight.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHARK SMILE")

LENKER: (Singing) She was a shark smile in the yellow van. She came around I stole a glance in my youth. A vampire - Evelyn shown quiet as roses sting.

HART: In "Shark Smile," Lenker looks to embody the best of the songwriters that she reveres.

LENKER: And I think, the tone of it, I was imagining that I was Bruce Springsteen. We've been listening to a lot of Bruce Springsteen, specifically "Nebraska." And I was just really feeling inspired by his way of singing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STATE TROOPER")

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) New Jersey turnpike, riding on a wet night 'neath the refinery's glow out where the great black rivers flow.

LENKER: Something of the spirit of it - and I don't even know if any of it carried over. But I think without listening to Bruce Springsteen, this song wouldn't exists.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHARK SMILE")

LENKER: (Singing) Evelyn's kiss was oxygen. I learned over to take it in.

HART: Inspired by Springsteen, Lenker has created protagonists in "Shark Smile" who are living on society's edge.

LENKER: The story is two people. I think they're lovers. They're very close, whatever it is. I think they're escaping. And they're in a car. And you're not exactly sure where they're headed, but they're in the Midwest. It's wild. There's money flying around on the dashboard.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHARK SMILE")

LENKER: (Singing) And the money pile on the dashboard fluttering. And she said woo.

But it ends in a car accident. And one of them dies. And the other one lives.

HART: In telling the story of these characters, Lenker's dealing with loss in her own life and giving us the chance to address our own feelings on love and death through her work.

LENKER: There's also some heaviness around this song because that year three people who were in my world passed away in car accidents. So I think some of that came through.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHARK SMILE")

LENKER: (Singing) It came over me at a bad time. She burned over the double line.

And just the feeling of losing this person - such a swell of love and wildness and the taste of life and the wind blowing, just this freedom and experiencing it - and then just suddenly, it's just brought to a halt. But that's the juxtaposition - that's the contrast or the duality that's everywhere in life.

HART: Adrianne Lenker from Big Thief talked about the song "Shark Smile." For NPR Music, I'm Jon Hart.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHARK SMILE")

LENKER: (Singing) Baby, take me, too.

WERTHEIMER: Big Thief is in the inaugural class of Slingshot, a new collective effort of NPR Music highlighting emerging artists. You can learn more at npr.org/slingshot.

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