Adrianne Lenker Isn’t Scared of Sadness

When the singer and songwriter Adrianne Lenker was 21, she was involved in a bike accident that knocked out one of her incisors. For a while, she walked around with a fake, gold-colored cap in her mouth. But after she was able to invest in a porcelain tooth, Lenker realized she actually didn’t want to forget about the injury.

“After all that time with just a gap, it kind of felt strange to not see the scar,” she said in a recent interview.

Today, Lenker’s grin twinkles with a permanent gold replacement. And over the past several years, she has earned a reputation as a songwriter who sees the scars, and turns them into something beautiful. Much of this acclaim has come through her work in the band Big Thief, which since 2016 has released five albums of folk-indebted rock music that’s both stylistically adventurous and totally unguarded — like Fleetwood Mac, if it went to group therapy. Though Big Thief is a band of four equals, Lenker — who sings, writes and plays guitar — is the engine powering its sound.

The music producer Philip Weinrobe, who has known Lenker for nearly a decade, described her unadorned, crisp singing as “so honest and so true.” “She’s willing to go to the edges of her skill without fear or embarrassment,” he said.

In person, Lenker, 32, is disarmingly sincere and attentive. “I still like looking at the world around me with softness and an open heart,” she said at a Manhattan diner in late January, where she’d met to discuss “Bright Future,” her fifth solo record, over coffee and eggs. The night before, she’d stayed out late at the Alphabet City jazz club Mona’s, and hadn’t slept much. She pulled off a beanie to reveal a tousle of brown hair.

“There’s so many opportunities to numb out, and go on autopilot — and that numbness, to me, is the enemy of songwriting.”

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