Buck Meek learns not to overthink it on sophomore solo album

On the heels of recent record 'Two Saviors,' the Big Thief guitarist brings his band to Ace of Cups for a show on Monday, Nov. 8

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
Buck Meek

While working with engineer and producer Andrew Sarlo on the first four Big Thief albums, guitarist Buck Meek and Sarlo noticed a recurring phenomenon in the studio. Sometimes the band would spend huge chunks of time obsessing over a certain song, recording and re-recording sections while pursuing the ideal version of the tune. Then, after losing perspective, Sarlo and the band would go back and realize the first or second take best captured the spirit of the song.

Armed with that knowledge, Sarlo had a few conditions when Meek asked his friend to record Two Saviors, Meek’s second solo album that came out earlier this year. Meek and his bandmates would have to record live to eight-track tape in an old New Orleans house in the middle of the summer. They’d record a live set in the morning, take a long break, then play another set in the evening, and they’d have to do it all in a week, with no playbacks allowed until the final day of recording. 

The approach made perfect sense to Meek. “It was exciting, and it felt a bit wild,” Meek said recently by phone. “It honestly felt like such a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I felt lighter and more energized. Often, after a long recording session you feel exhausted. … This was just making music with my friends in a room.”

It also required a good bit of trust in Sarlo, which wasn’t misplaced. The comfy vibe of the sessions comes through clearly on Two Saviors, like a loose-fitting, well-worn T-shirt, faded and softly frayed at the edges. In lesser hands that lived-in quality could sound overly breezy and ephemeral, but Meek’s emotionally anchored songwriting belies his casual delivery.

Folk music forms the base of Meek’s songs, but his Texas roots come through in his subtle drawl and occasional vocal honk, and country music touchstones like pedal steel and fiddle provide additional Southern overtones. Meek said his songwriting often starts with an emotion, which he tries to explore from different angles, then creates an environment for the song using specific observations in hopes of making something honest and true but with plenty of room for ambiguity.  

On Meek’s self-titled debut album, he tended toward characters and story-based songs, whereas Two Saviors is more confessional. Meek wrote many of the songs while living in the mountains of Topanga Canyon in Los Angeles County, California, and listening back now, he’s struck by how often birds made their way into the songs. On “Pocketknife,” for instance, Meek references sparrows, a hawk and a murder of crows in a song haunted by the leftover items of a departed lover. “Found a paper in my coat/Forgotten months ago/She stole my lighter so I'll use the stove,” Meek sings. 

“A lot of the record deals with resiliency and transcendency,” Meek said, wondering aloud if, perhaps, he unconsciously tied those themes to the freedom and flight of birds in the songwriting process. 

Meek and his band recorded the album in the summer of 2019 in hopes of releasing it in 2020 but eventually pushed it back to 2021 due to COVID. On the road with his solo act for the first time since the pandemic hit, Meek and his bandmates will stop by Ace of Cups on Monday, Nov. 8. In this strange limbo of not quite peak pandemic but not post-pandemic, either, Meek said the live shows have had a unique intimacy to them.

“Everyone is grateful to be there. … Attention is super lucid right now, and I’m hoping that sustains,” he said. “Live music is all about that connection with the audience, and right now it’s built in. To be in the room at all is something really special.”