Big Red Machine, the band built around a collaboration between Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner, have announced their sophomore album and released a new single. “Latter Days” features singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, whose voice blends poignantly with Vernon’s.
The band have been posting teasers for new music that fans quickly speculated might involve Taylor Swift, given her recent collaborations with both Dessner and Vernon. At 9:00 this morning, the band announced that their next album, How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?, will be released Aug. 27 on Jagjaguwar.
Update, June 30: Big Red Machine have released a second single from How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? In a statement, Aaron Dessner said, “‘The Ghost of Cincinnati’ is one that I play and sing all by my lonesome. It was inspired by a screenplay called Dandelion by the filmmaker Nicole Riegel (who co-wrote the lyrics with me), which my brother Bryce Dessner and I are working on. It’s about someone who feels like a ghost, stalking the streets of their hometown, interrogating the past and contemplating their fate — something I can deeply relate to. I imagine this could be a little bit about myself, or friends I’ve lost or someone who has overextended and overspent themselves to a point where they’ve lost everything, empty and hollow like a ghost. Thanks to Justin, Taylor, Jack, my sister and brother for convincing me to sing more and to finish this song for the album.”
Update, July 2: The band have released a third single, “Renegade,” featuring Taylor Swift. In a statement, Aaron Dessner said, “While we were making folklore and evermore last year, Taylor and I sometimes talked about experimenting and writing songs together some day for Big Red Machine. Making music with your friends just to make it — that’s how Big Red Machine started and has grown — and that’s how ‘Renegade’ came about too. This song was something we wrote after we finished evermore and it dawned on us that this was a BRM song. Taylor’s words hit me so hard when I heard her first voice memo and still do, every time. Justin lifted the song further into the heavens, and my brother Bryce Dessner’s strings and drummer Jason Treuting add so much. The feeling and sound of this song feel very much at the heart of How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? I’m so grateful to Taylor for continuing to share her incredible talent with me and that we are still finding excuses to make music together.”
Indeed, Swift is part of a long list of artists who will be involved with the new album. Among the others: Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes), Sharon Van Etten, Bryce Dessner, and Sean Carey. Talent tied to the Twin Cities is prominent in the mix; other names on the list of contributors include Naeem, Andrew Broder, JT Bates, and Ryan Olson. Van Etten, Shara Nova (My Brightest Diamond), and Lisa Hannigan will appear on “Hutch,” a song “inspired by Dessner’s late friend, Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison,” according to a press release. Swift will be on two songs, “Birch” and “Renegade.”
Dessner himself sings lead, for the first time on record, on three of the album’s tracks. “This is all music I initially generated and feel emotionally connected to, but it has been very interesting to hear how different people relate to it and how different voices collide with it,” Dessner said in the press release. “That’s what makes it special. With everyone that’s on this record, there’s an openness, a creative generosity and an emotional quality that connects it all together.”
Vernon and Dessner have been frequent collaborators since they connected on MySpace in 2008. Big Red Machine has continued as a project even as both artists have risen to stardom; Vernon’s Bon Iver project has produced some of the most acclaimed albums of the past 15 years, while Dessner’s band The National has experienced comparable success. Their involvement with Swift’s 2020 albums Folklore and Evermore further raised the profile of both artists. Big Red Machine released their self-titled debut album in 2018.
Dessner said about the new single (and opening album track), “It was clear to Anaïs that the early sketch Justin and I made of ‘Latter Days’ was about childhood, or loss of innocence and nostalgia for a time before you’ve grown into adulthood — before you’ve hurt people or lost people and made mistakes. She defined the whole record when she sang that, as these same themes kept appearing again and again.”