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How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last?

Big Red Machine Album | August 27, 2021

How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? is the second studio album by American indie duo Big Red Machine, consisting of American musicians Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon. It was released on August 27, 2021 via Jagjaguwar/37D03D and features collaborations with Taylor and other friends of Dessner’s.
Big Red Machine is the ever-morphing creative collaboration between the National’s Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? comes on the heels of Dessner’s 2020 production and songwriting collaborations with Taylor  on her chart-topping folklore and evermore albums, the former of which won the “Album of the Year” Grammy in March.

Paradoxically, Big Red Machine’s sprawling collective effort grew into something deeply personal. As Dessner and the other musicians put together the songs, largely remotely, themes coalesced: childhood memories, lost innocence, struggles with mental health. And after years of working in the background — with The National and as a producer for other songwriters — Dessner has stepped forward, for a few songs, as a lead singer.

«Establishing and contributing to a musical community matters so much to Aaron. He’s technically in the music ‘industry,’ but really all he wants to do is play and make music with his friends.»

Table of Contents

Background and Recording

How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? marks Big Red Machine’s second album and follows their 2018 self-titled debut. The new material began taking shape in spring 2019, when Justin Vernon came to visit Aaron Dessner at his Long Pond studio in upstate New York. The first week produced songs such as “Reese,” “8:22am” and eventual album opener “Latter Days.” Later on in the process, Aaron Dessner’s recent collaborator and friend Taylor joined the project. In the early stages of the pandemic, Taylor approached Aaron 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 Taylor 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. 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.»

In a December 2020 interview for Rolling Stone, Aaron Dessner said that Taylor had been writing songs for the upcoming project of Big Red Machine, a supergroup consisting of Dessner and Vernon; two of those songs, “dorothea” and “closure“, ended up appearing on the track-listing of evermore instead. Dessner further produced two tracks on Taylor’s 2021 re-recording, Fearless (Taylor’s Version). Two songs—”Renegade” and “Birch“—were recorded by Taylor for Big Red Machine, at her Los Angeles home studio, Kitty Committee, in the week ending March 19, 2021, the same week Taylor and Dessner had won “Album of the Year” for folklore at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards. Vernon recorded additional vocals at his studio, April Base.

Aside from Taylor, How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? boasts additional guest vocal and writing contributions from Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold (“Phoenix”), multiple Tony winner Anaïs Mitchell (“Latter Days”, “New Auburn”), Sharon Van Etten, Lisa Hannigan and My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Nova (“Hutch,” a tribute to late Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison) and Naeem (“Easy To Sabotage”), plus orchestrations by Dessner’s twin brother and National bandmate Bryce:

«For me to feel like something deserves to exist, it needs to feel emotion. I try to give voice to some deeply felt feeling or sentiment, and that often conjures a scene for people to write to. I think that’s why I’ve had these amazing relationships with different songwriters.»

Taylor Picked the Album Title

Aaron Dessner and Taylor had not stopped working together since their two 2020 projects. Extending their creative streak, Taylor contributed heavily to the new Big Red Machine album. For example, Aaron Dessner told Variety in June 2021 that the song “The Ghost of Cincinnati’ wasn’t written as a song for Big Red Machine: “That’s one that I played for Taylor, and she said, ‘This has to be on the record.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, but it’s just me playing guitar by myself.’ She said, ‘No, it’s perfect. It’s exactly what this record should be.’”

That sense of shared experience extended to the new album’s title, which was coined by Taylor after Aaron 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.»

Aaron Dessner added, “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.”

Critical Reception

How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? received positive reviews upon release. Ian Gormely of Exclaim! dubbed the album a “masterclass” in production, and an “austere collection” of songs successfully blending Vernon’s fondness for electronic music with Dessner’s guitar and piano compositions. NME critic Elizabeth Audrey wrote the album’s lyrics encompass “the full range of human emotion”, while its music takes a braver direction than Big Red Machine’s debut record. Sean Kerwick of DIY commented “there’s a terrific bounty to be enjoyed in the centre of the Vernon-Dessner Venn diagram”, appreciating their chemistry and guest singers’ contributions.
General Information
ArtistBig Red Machine
ReleasedAugust 27, 2021
StudioApril Base (Fall Creek)
Kitty Committee (Los Angeles)
Long Pond (Hudson Valley)
Aaron Dessner
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