Big Red Machine's Aaron Dessner: Writing 'Renegade' With Taylor Swift Was Like 'Getting Hit by a Bolt of Lightning'

Aaron Dessner and Taylor Swift
Francis Specker/CBS via Getty

Aaron Dessner and Taylor Swift at the 63rd annual Grammy Awards in L.A. on March 14, 2021.

"Renegade," one of the new Big Red Machine songs featuring Taylor Swift off the band's upcoming album, dropped early Friday (July 2), and the group's Aaron Dessner couldn't be happier about collaborating once again with her. In an interview with Apple Music's Zane Lowe, Dessner shared, "This song, 'Renegade,' it's as good as anything we've made together."

"I think whatever wildfire happened last year creatively for Taylor and I ... we didn't want to stop writing songs together, and still don't, really," he said of working with the 11-time Grammy winner. Dessner previously co-wrote and co-produced Swift's 2020 albums Folklore and Evermore, while Bon Iver's Justin Vernon -- the other half of Big Red Machine -- co-wrote "Exile" from Folklore and Evermore's title track. "It's kind of like somehow I ended up on the team with the best player, so you just want to keep passing the ball to her."

Dessner shared that he and Vernon were "pretty far along" on their songs for upcoming album, How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last?, when he shared their work with Swift. "She was really inspired by them," he noted.

As for how "Renegade" came along, Dessner revealed that it came about after they finished working on Evermore. "She wrote 'Renegade,' and it was just like, again, getting hit by a bolt of lightning or something," he shared. Dessner elaborated on the song and how he felt when he listened to it. "I, emotionally, was really struck by the first time I heard it, just the way she talks about how anxiety and fear get in the way of loving someone or create an inability for someone to love. And I think it's incredibly relatable, but it's expressed in the context of this fairly experimental sound world."

"You've come a long way, open the blinds, let me see your face/ You wouldn’t be the first renegade, to need somebody/ Is it insensitive for me to say, 'Get your s--- together so I can love you?" Swift and Vernon sing on the chorus. "Is it really your anxiety that stops you from giving me everything?/ Or do you just not want to?"

"I kind of hope we never stopped writing songs together because it's so fun and so illuminating all the time," he later said.

Dessner also heaped praise on his co-writer during his chat with Lowe. "When you get a chance to work with someone like her, she's just ... she's a savant and just this incredibly hardworking and wonderful person," he shared. "Every time we write a song together, we both sort of are a little dumbfounded by it. Or sort of like, 'How is this possible,' because it feels like the shoe fits so well somehow."

Dessner, who is also a member of rock band The National, teased Swift's appearance on their track "Birch" as well, calling the tune "really, really stunning." He explained, "She sings and is a big part of [it] with Justin. ... Justin sort of leads the charge, but she's a huge part of it, and it's a duet, then."

Swift isn't the only artist who will be appearing on the band's upcoming 15-track album. "It's just so many people that I've worked with in the past and close friends," shared Dessner, naming Sharon Van Etten, Ben Howard, Anais Mitchell, and Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold as some of them. "It's a really open door-type project where it feels like there's 29 musicians who play on it," he explained. "I'm really excited about it. I feel really, really lucky."

How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last? is set to arrive Aug. 27. Listen to Dessner's interview -- in which he also discusses Swift's Easter eggs and fans -- and check out "Renegade" below.