|Format||2LP Red Vinyl|
Bryce, Aaron Dessner has consistently sought an emotional outlet and deep human connection through music - be it as a primary songwriter in The National, a founder and architect of beloved collaboration-driven music festivals, or collaborator on two critically acclaimed and chart-topping Taylor Swift albums recorded in complete pandemic-era isolation at his Long Pond Studio in upstate New York, among many other projects. Through it all, Dessner has brought together an unlikely community of musicians that share his impulse to connect, celebrate and, most of all, process emotion and experience through music.
This generous spirit and desire to push music forward has never been more deeply felt than on Big Red Machine’s ‘How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?’, the second album from Dessner’s ever-morphing project with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. In 2008, while assembling material for the charity compilation ‘Dark Was the Night’, Dessner sent Vernon a song sketch titled ‘big red machine’. Vernon interpreted ‘big red machine’ as a beating heart and finished the song accordingly - a metaphor Dessner says “still sticks with me today. This project goes to many places and is always on some level about experimentation, but it shines a light on why I make music in the first place, which is an emotional need. It’s one of my therapies and one of the ways I interrogate the past.”
Released in 2018, Big Red Machine’s self-titled debut album evolved from improvisation and what Dessner calls ‘structured experimentalism’, with an ear toward building tracks that would work well in a live setting alongside visual elements. “Big Red Machine started as this thing we would do for fun, and we fell in love with the feeling of it,” says Dessner. Vernon agrees: “I remember it feeling really easy, but we never knew what would happen. It was exciting. As time went on, we just kept doing things together. And our friendship has grown strong, alongside all the collaborative
In the early stages of the pandemic, Taylor Swift approached Dessner to work with her on what would become the sister albums ‘folklore’ and ‘evermore’. Dessner describes this period as a ‘creative blur’, during which he’d be writing material for Swift and Big Red Machine simultaneously. “I think this was an intense growing period for me, I was
learning so much from Taylor and the process. Along the way, I shared all of our unfinished Big Red Machine songs with her and she really found them inspiring and gave me so much positive feedback and encouragement,” he says. “I think that helped me realize how connected this Big Red Machine music was to everything else I was doing and that I was always supposed to be chasing these ideas. I was finding new sounds and ways of working through these songs. I just hadn’t been able to finish them. So, I did.”
Beyond Vernon and Swift’s encouragement, many of Dessner’s previous collaborators and friends show up for him here, continuing the reciprocal exchange of ideas that has come to define his creative community. Songs feature guest vocals and writing contributions from artist friends including Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold (‘Phoenix’), Ben
Howard and This Is The Kit (‘June’s a River’), Naeem (‘Easy to Sabotage’), Sharon Van Etten, Lisa Hannigan and My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Nova (‘Hutch’, a tune inspired by Dessner’s late friend, Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison) and Swift herself (‘Birch’ and ‘Renegade’ - the latter an instant-classic Taylor earworm summed up by the poignant lyric “Is it insensitive for me to say / get your shit together so I can love you.” The song was recorded in Los Angeles at the Kitty Committee studio in March 2021, the same week when Swift and Dessner took home the GRAMMY for Album Of The Year for ‘folklore’).
Musically, ‘How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?’ features what Dessner calls maybe the ‘clearest distillation’ of his varying songwriting and production styles. Songs like ‘Reese’, the Dessner-sung ‘Magnolia’ and the elegiac ‘Hutch’ are built on the kinds of tear-jerking piano melodies millions of fans have come to love from The National, but then move at their own pace toward unusual sonic destinations. “Aaron’s greatest gift as a collaborator is his ability to evolve and experiment with the emotional sound that is so natural to him,” Vernon says of the material.
A sense of shared experience extended to the new album’s title, which was coined by Swift after Dessner told her he wasn’t sure what to call the new album. Intuitively summing up the themes, she suggested titling it ‘How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?’, a question which she pointed out could refer to multiple subjects addressed therein: “childhood, family, marriages, a depression, a losing streak, a winning streak or a creative streak. Taylor saw it all so clearly,” Dessner says. “A year ago, we’d never even worked together. It’s so cool that this community keeps extending and that everyone who contributed to this album connected so naturally to the emotions at the heart of the music.”
Latter Days (feat. Anaïs Mitchell)
Phoenix (feat. Fleet Foxes and Anaïs Mitchell)
Birch (feat. Taylor Swift)
Renegade (feat. Taylor Swift)
The Ghost of Cincinnati
Mimi (feat. Ilsey)
Easy to Sabotage (feat. Naeem)
Hutch (feat. Sharon Van Etten, Lisa Hannigan and Shara Nova [My Brightest Diamond])
8:22am (feat. La Force)
June’s a River (feat. Ben Howard and This Is The Kit)
New Auburn (feat. Anaïs Mitchell)