An Interview with Lucy Dacus, The Most Selfless Indie Rocker Around

Author: Zoey Knox

I had the absolute pleasure of chatting with Lucy Dacus before her show at the Majestic Theater earlier this month, where she played in support of her 2018 album, Historian, and her EP, 2019, which is set for release on Nov. 8. In addition to performing as a solo artist, Dacus is a member of the indie rock supergroup boygenius.

I want to talk about your holiday series, because I’m a huge holiday person. What made decide to do a series of holiday themed pieces? 

We had all these songs recorded and I was like, “How will I share these?” I looked at them and tried to find a common theme. It just so happened that we created this template for the songs to come out through. A lot of these we recorded two years ago, for no reason other than wanting to record them. “Dancing in the Dark” is over two years old. “La Vie En Rose” is pretty old. A song that isn’t out yet called “Fool’s Gold” is like two years old. That’s an original. I was sad that nobody’s hearing them, so it’s been cool — like unexpectedly cool — this year to slowly put out things. It felt like, zero pressure. It’s just been a little gift here and there to anyone that would care, but it doesn’t feel like it’s defining my sound, it feels low stakes. 

Do you think that is something that you might want to do more in the future, work on songs on their own as opposed to trying to create a full album? 

Yeah. We learned so much doing this EP. Everything that we recorded has been between Historian and now, and so everything we’ve learned we’ve been putting into the third record. Even just including instruments like keyboards that we didn’t include before, or synths. I’m learning more about mixing and tricks you can do with recording and gear. I don’t really care about gear, but it’s cool to know about it so that you can do what you want more easily.

Is mixing something you ever had experience with before?

Not personally, no. I don’t really vibe with computers. Not that I’m, like, 65 — not to diss people who are 65. I just don’t really like to look at computers, so I’m glad to have other people doing that. But I’m definitely over their shoulder like “Yeah, let’s do that, make it nicer.”

I read an interview where you talked about your “Dancing the Dark” cover as being both dated and ageless. Was that part of the idea behind doing covers, bringing new life into songs that you’ve heard before? 

I think that when doing a cover, there’s lots of different reasons to do it. For me, I just thought it would be so much fun. “La Vie En Rose” doesn’t sound like an upbeat bop or anything, but it made me so excited to hear it, it’s this overwhelming positive feeling. So I wanted to make a version that communicated the urgency that I felt listening to it. But then “In the Air Tonight” is as close as we could get to the original. It’s just so much fun to play them live because it just feels like karaoke. 

It’s easy to feel like the show is really self involved. It’s just like, “here are thoughts.” The event is called Lucy Dacus, which is just my name. It feels really self involved, so to do other people’s songs does feel like a reach out to make it more about music in general, and not just my music. 

Do you have a go–to karaoke song?

I like to do slow jams at karaoke so that other people doing their heavy hitters can shine.

You’re a very kind karaoke participant.

I also sing on a stage for a job. It’s not my moment, you know.

I really enjoyed the article that you wrote for Vanity Fair about Bruce Springsteen, where you talked about rebelling against your dad’s music taste, which I think is something that a lot of people relate to. Are there like any other artists that you’ve come around to as you’ve gotten older? 

Crosby, Stills, Nash and sometimes Young, sometimes “Y.” I just thought they were boring. I’ve come to love them again, actually through Phoebe [Bridgers]. The boygenius album cover is mimicking a Crosby, Stills & Nash cover. I’m didn’t really care about them, but I’ve been revisiting that album and it’s so good. I mean, just so tight. It’s beautiful music. I have not been converted to the Grateful Dead. But then, my mom loved Prince so I didn’t rebel against her, because I just couldn’t rebel against Prince. Who rebels against Prince? 

boygenius. Photo courtesy of the artist

The last time you were in town you were with boygenius. Are there things that you miss about performing in that group?

Yeah, every day. I just miss them, Julien [Baker] and Phoebe. We don’t live in the same place. We make a point to see each other. In the past two months, we’ve all met up in Nashville twice to hang out and touch base. The band is really about the friendship right now and not really the music. I miss playing those songs, I miss looking to my sides and seeing two angels, and feeling so capable and supported all the time. That was a life changing time, and not in the way that I would just say it. It truly changed me to the core. lt opened up so much positivity that I now have access to, and I’m a much better person now. I’m just being corny, but I love them.

Do you think you’d ever want to do something like that again?

Sure. Want, yeah, I don’t know about timing. Each of us needs to put out our own record, or next record. I think once we have those things checked off our list, maybe we’ll regroup. We still like each other.

We were jamming during soundcheck to “In the Air Tonight.” Do you think is that the best Halloween bop? Is that at the top of your list for Halloween songs?

I don’t know if it has been widely recognized as a Halloween bop, but I think it is certainly the most underrated Halloween bop. I can’t think of what the best Halloween bop is, I’m just stupidly thinking of Monster Mash. I can’t get it out of my head. People definitely were like, “Oh my god Halloween, you gotta cover ‘Monster Mash,’” and I was like, “It’s already a perfect song.” 

Are you a big Halloween person? Do you have your costume picked out?

I do have my costume. I used to be a big Halloween person, and now we tour through Halloween. It’s weird when you get older and it’s like, the whole candy thing and tick-or-treating.. There’s parties, but even then, I feel like there’s less than less parties. I’m usually the one that throws parties when I’m home. I don’t know, holidays are weird.

That’s part of why I did this thing, is because like I wanted to experience the holidays differently now that we’re displaced so much. Holiday has a lot to do with family and community, and when you’re not around your family or your community it looks really different. This year we’re playing Meow Wolf, outside Santa Fe, which is a giant installation art, black light fun house. People say it’s like being on acid, but sober, just to walk around. There’s a fridge that you walk into and it’s like an other vortex and crystal caverns. It seems really wild, and they have a venue in the middle. So I’m stoked on that. 

That seems like the perfect place to be for a Halloween show. 

Lucy Dacus at the Majestic Theater

I really enjoy the song “Mother and I.” I am a fellow Taurus, so I identify with that one. In that song, you’re singing about someone specific. Does it feel different singing about someone when they are specific to the audience versus on your previous records, where the subject was more ambiguous? 

It’s tough. Super nerve racking, very uncomfortable, ultimately rewarding. I was worried about what my mom would think, and we had a conversation about it and now she loves it. A lot of my new songs are really specific, and I’m gonna have to have some tough convos with a lot of people in my life. I have back-burner butterflies about that at all times. 

How did you decide that you felt more comfortable singing about specific people? 

Doing this for a couple of years and putting out two records, and hanging with Phoebe and Julien, I feel like I’m allowed to do stuff that I wouldn’t have let myself do in the past. I’ve written specific songs before, but it feels self indulgent. I didn’t see what their use would be to other people. Now, I’m like, “That’s stupid.” I don’t need to think about servicing other people, maybe people actually do want to hear about me. 

I already said it once in this interview, I really don’t want to become a selfish or self involved person. An offshoot of that thought is, don’t just say things about yourself, say things that are useful to other people. But sometimes your personal story is useful because it shows solidarity. The record’s not out yet so I don’t even know if it works, but I am excited to be a little more vulnerable.

Do you think that the sort of experimentation that you’re doing with with the 2019 EP is something that you definitely want to keep incorporating into your music going forward? 

Yeah, my music, and I would love to start producing. I feel like I’m getting good, and better, ideas. I don’t always want it to be about me forever for the rest of my life. 

Is there anyone that comes to the front of your mind that you’d love to produce with?

No. Actually, yes, but I wouldn’t do a better job than he would. Quinn Kristofferson, he was the Tiny Desk winner. We took him on tour in September, and the song that he played to win the contest is great, and every other song that he plays is even better. Truly a treasure. We were all crying and flipping out and his show every night. He hasn’t made a record yet, it was super overnight. Winning the contest just launched him into this world, maybe a little underprepared, but he’s exceptional. Whoever makes that record, it’s gonna be really good. 

For the final question: what are you curious about lately?

I love that. First I’ll talk about the question. You know how people ask, “So what do you do?” as a get to know you question? In Europe, a lot of places think that’s really rude. They ask, “What are your hobbies?” to get to know someone, which makes so much more sense. because “How do you spend your energy in a way that fulfills you?” is what you actually want to know. Here, it’s so American to want to be like, “So how do you make money?”

What am I curious about? I have been reading Tarot for a couple of years. I’ll never not be curious about Tarot, but a lot of the same cards have been coming up for other people, so I’m curious as to what is trying to come out of the deck. They’re just paper, they’re images on paper, but it’s wild what you can read out of them. I’m always curious about what that process is: symbolism and how we read it and all the clarity that it brings, just from these pieces of paper lined up together. Basically what work you’re doing in your brain to find an answer that you already know is there that the cards can’t really tell you, you have to tell yourself the answer, or be guided to it by someone that knows what they mean. I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently.