Big Red Machine, the team-up of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and the National’s Aaron Dessner, has been an embarrassment of riches lately. Their highest profile collaboration, of course, came with Taylor Swift both on Folklore and the first single for Big Red Machine’s upcoming album. But Vernon and Dessner have a lot of contacts in showbiz and their upcoming album features tons of exciting collaborations, including this new one that features Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold and indie singer/songwriter Anaïs Mitchell.
The result is “Phoenix,” a soaring ode to 1970s folk in the vein of the Band and the Grateful Dead. In a press release, Dessner explains just how collaborative the creation was after he put the bare bones together and sent the song over to Vernon.
Justin first heard it while driving and immediately the chorus melody came into his head. I shared the sketch with Robin Pecknold, who I’ve been a fan of forever and who I’d been dreaming would join us on this record. Robin wrote the verses and pre chorus as a kind of dialogue with Justin, recalling a conversation they once had backstage in Phoenix. Later Anais wrote words to the chorus and the Westerlies added their magic to the instrumental. JT Bates rumbles around in rare form on the drums on this song. I think it’s what I always imagined Big Red Machine would sound like.”
“It was a high, high honor to work on this song, and beyond that it was a really interesting creative challenge,” Pecknold said. “Justin’s vocals and the beautiful chorus were already in place before I got my hands on it, so I felt my job melodically and lyrically was to set his entrance up in the best possible way. I felt like a pilgrim putting questions to an elusive sage, not needing clear answers, but happy for the chance to ask.”
The whole album is out next month. You can hear the other singles below.