Birch

How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last? (Big Red Machine Album) | 2021

“Birch” is the fourth track from American indie duo Big Red Machine’s second studio album, How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? (2021). The song features vocals from Taylor. She worked on the song together with Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon near the end of the writing process for her eighth studio album, folklore (2020).

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. Dessner produced the album at his Long Pond studio in upstate New York, and it features an array of guest vocalists including Dessner’s recent collaborator Taylor, who sings on two tracks, “Birch” and “Renegade.” Aaron Dessner and Taylor had not stopped working together since, including on the first of Taylor’s full-album re-records, Fearless (Taylor’s Version), which came out in April. Extending this creative streak, Taylor contributed heavily to the new Big Red Machine album. Aaron Dessner told Loud and Quiet in an August 2021 interview:

«Obviously, Taylor had approached me to collaborate remotely which led to sharing a lot of ideas back and forth, and folklore happened, and then we just kept going, and evermore happened. Along the way, I had played for her a lot of new Big Red Machine songs, and ideas, and she loved the first record, and then Justin was obviously collaborating on folklore and evermore. At some point it just felt like she, we were all part of the band. It was very natural writing stuff. She loved the song 'Birch,' so she actually sang that first, before writing 'Renegade.' That was actually toward the end of her writing folklore, that she recorded her vocals for 'Birch.' And then it was always in the air, that she thought that she would want to write more for Big Red Machine. It just felt like it was another spoke in the wheel that we were working on. It wasn't something we discussed very much in a, 'Hey, would you do this?' kind of way. It was literally just like, 'We're making stuff, and it's fun, and it's inspired,' and that's very much where she comes from also. That was the energy between us: just make music, make songs, and see what it is later in a way.»

Aaron Dessner

Lyrical Theme

The long weeks Aaron Dessner spent on the road with his band The National in 2019 were exhausting, and he found himself in a bad place. It was during this low period that he began penning “Birch.” He told Uncut magazine, “I wrote it because I kind of was letting go of the idea of Big Red Machine. I felt a little bit done, or a little bit lost with music. I was just kind of stuck, I think. But that song came out and I sent it to Justin. We hadn’t talked in a while. I just said, ‘I’ve been making this stuff, not feeling so well.” He further elaborated in an interview with Apple Music:

«It’s actually a beat that The National’s drummer, Bryan Devendorf, made in his basement. He will make these kind of loopy, trippy beats in his basement on a drum machine, and then send them to me as a Voice Memo. I wrote music to it and developed it and played all the parts to it and made it. It was during a time where I wasn’t doing that well, actually — maybe in fall 2019. I sent it to Justin, and good friends sometimes know when you’re going through something and maybe he felt that. He wrote the words and melody to it.»

Aaron Dessner
Justin Vernon immediately wrote the lyrics and vocal melody. The song’s meaning is difficult to decipher, but it appears to be about someone struggling with the way his life is working out. Eventually, he comes to terms with it and makes peace with his existence. But what the meaning of the “His birch ain’t my tree” line is unknown. Justin Vernon’s contribution enthused Aaron Dessner and reignited the whole process.

Lyrics

[Verse 1: Justin Vernon]
The way I woke up was old, was all fucking choke
And it ain’t easier after a week
We’re on a long byway standing still

[Chorus 1: Justin Vernon & Taylor Swift]
Well, if you cannot tell I’ll tell you right away
If I’ll stay a spell, or if I cannot stay
I am less at ease, not the best at these
See the forest trees, call what’s these what’s these

[Verse 2: Justin Vernon & Taylor Swift]
Hey Madeline, thanks
For to case out the fog, for Jennifer
Seems she needed you badly

[Chorus 2: Justin Vernon & Taylor Swift]
So I beg on knees, can we share IDs?
Will you always need?
We have common needs, we can sure deplеte
We can be rеplete, address table needs
It is swift your speed

[Verse 3: Justin Vernon]
The way I wake up now, is a brand new way
And no it ain’t that way, like it was before

[Chorus 3: Justin Vernon & Taylor Swift]
So I cannot leave, yes I must here stay
Cause I know what’s good and I’ll die that way
No I cannot seem to get a moment’s peace
If there’s a man like me his birch ain’t my tree

[Verse 4: Justin Vernon]
The way I woke up now is a brand new way
It ain’t like the way it was before

General Information
AlbumHow Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?
FeatureTaylor Swift
ReleasedAugust 27, 2021
Recorded2020
Written2019
GenreAlternative
Length5:30
Label37DO3D
Jagjaguwar
SongwritersAaron Dessner
Bryan Devendorf
Justin Vernon
ProducersAaron Dessner
Justin Vernon
HOW LONG DO YOU THINK IT’S GONNA LAST? CHRONOLOGY
PhoenixBirchRenegade
Lyric Video
Official Audio
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