Adrianne Lenker and her band Big Thief did not officially go on tour at any point during the 2020-21 pandemic. They sure did get around, though.
"There was so much driving involved," said Lenker, listing all the locations where her Grammy-nominated quartet settled to record its ambitiously varied, "White Album"-like new double album.
"We quarantined together for two weeks in Vermont, then went to upstate New York to record for a month. Then I drove cross-country to California for the next session, and from there drove to Colorado, then Tucson."
Remembering the lockdown, though, the 30-year-old singer-songwriter quipped: "What else did we have to do?"
Lenker has led a nomadic lifestyle ever since she left for Boston's Berklee College of Music in her late teens from Minnesota, where she spent most of her youth — and where she returns Wednesday for a concert by Big Thief at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul.
She and guitarist Buck Meek spent a couple of years living out of a van and "playing anywhere and everywhere we could, with no money to our name," she recounted with discernible fondness. They formed Big Thief in 2015 with drummer James Krivchenia and bassist Max Oleartchik while living in New York City, and soon hit the road again.
In the interim, the rootsy and folky but also punky and experimental band has recorded everywhere from the West Texas desert to the redwoods of Washington.
For their tongue-twistingly-named new album, "Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You," Big Thief's members took the time they had originally set aside to tour in 2020 and used it to record. Hence the changes in scenery and the double-LP's worth of material.
The results find Big Thief reaching new musical peaks, either by reinforcing the delicate-to-manic, poetic and confessional folk-rock sounds of past albums (heard here in tracks like "Certainty" and "Sparrow") or by experimenting with new sounds such as the fiddle-laden country ditty "Spud Infinity," the peculiarly muted fingerpicking gem "Time Escaping," or the ultra-flowery charmer "No Reason" (featuring Carole King's longtime flautist Richard Hardy).
Talking via Zoom earlier this month from western Massachusetts — where she has been living of late out of a restored vintage trailer — Lenker revealed that the band had even grander plans for their grandiose album before the pandemic got in the way. Here are highlights from our interview.
On Big Thief's pandemic-spoiled recording plans: "We originally dreamed up this idea to go to like seven different places, one of which was Iceland. And we wanted to go to Italy and record in a castle. We were gonna do it, too, but then the pandemic hit and we had to simplify our plans — in part because we were also going to tour all year but had to cancel all that, so we had more limited [financial] resources."
Why they didn't split the album into two like their 2019 releases "U.F.O.F." and "Two Hands": "We couldn't figure out a way to break these songs up into different records. This record, it felt natural that there were so many different sonic landscapes and textures and types of songs to kind of create this big planet. It feels interesting to me that it takes so many different turns."
On maybe the best of those sonic turns, into a full-fledged country band: "Country music has been a part of my life and Buck's life since we were little. I loved Iris DeMent from the time I was like 11. Buck has long been into John Prine and Blaze Foley. As we've evolved as a band, more dimensions of our individuality are coming out, and we're able to bring out our own music influences and our own personal traits more. That country side has always been there, but it only came out as we put less restraints on ourselves."
Explaining the strange-sounding "Time Escaping": "Buck and I had these two resonator guitars that we slid business cards in, a prepared-guitar type of thing where the strings are muted. So we were finger-picking on these muted guitars alongside the drums. Honestly, it's just a live take of that. The engineer, Shawn Everett, had these cool delays and beefed up the guitars to sound crazier than what's actually happening. We play it live now, but I wouldn't say we 're-create' it, it's more just in the same spirit of how we recorded it."
On her Minnesota family's input in her art (including brother Noah Lenker's jaw-harp performance on "Spud Infinity" and her grandmother Diane Lee's album artwork): "My family are some of the most creative and inspiring people I know. Noah is such a good artist — a visual artist, a good musical artist, and he designs some of Big Thief's merch and travels with us. He was with us cooking at the session in Tucson, and he just whipped out the jaw harp and started playing with us. It was perfect.
"My grandmother is a prolific watercolorist and such an inspiration, too. She used to own an antique store, the Round Barn [still open in Andover]. When I was a kid I'd wander through all the corridors and nooks and crannies there and just get lost in all that vintage stuff. It was magical."
On her newfound relationship with ex-husband Buck Meek: "As you can imagine, it's been a journey. We fell in love when I was like 21. There was a lot of heartbreak involved on both our parts, and for a while we had to create more space between us. Max and James were right there with us, supporting us and going through it with us. We all supported each other through it.
"It's a testament to how strong our friendship is that we were somehow able to still come out the other side of it as close friends and bandmates. I felt closer to him than ever after that, and our collaboration as musical partners has gotten significantly more potent since we separated as romantic partners. We were healing through the music as we were also still hurting. The music became the balm that helped us get through it."
Opening: Kara-Lis Coverdale.
When: 8 p.m. Wed.
Where: Palace Theatre, 17 W. 7th Place, St. Paul.
Tickets: $33-$50, eTix.com.