- 24 Jun 21
As she releases her third album, Home Video, Lucy Dacus sits down to discuss nostalgia, Bernie Sanders, and working with Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker in boygenius.
Five years ago, on her 21st birthday, Lucy Dacus discovered she was famous.
"The local paper in Richmond, Virginia had a picture of me on the cover," she tells me. "And the headline was 'Lucy Dacus turns 21 today'. I was walking around town, and all these strangers were like, 'Happy birthday!'"
Looking back now, the memory still makes her laugh – but she reveals that she also found it "really absurd, and kind of a nightmare."
"That day sums up the absurdity that I felt overall, coming back to Richmond," she resumes. "People always watching, and knowing my name and my face. It's not comfortable."
With a soft-spoken warmth palpable even through a transatlantic video call, Lucy's discomfort with the glare of the spotlight isn't surprising. Still, it's something she's had no choice but to become accustomed to over the last few years. As both a solo artist and one-third of the acclaimed supergroup boygenius (alongside Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker), Lucy has established herself as one of the most captivatingly original forces in modern indie-rock – combining a fearlessly vulnerable poetic quality with a brazenly accurate, and often fiercely witty, view of the world.
Following the release of 2016's No Burden and 2018's Historian on Matador, her new album, Home Video, is her most autobiographical project yet, as she comes to terms with her rapid ascent to stardom by looking back over her adolescent years.
"It's a reaction to starting to do music unexpectedly," she explains. "This happened to me without me even dreaming of it. I've never taken music classes. I never thought I would do this. And then, suddenly, it was my career. So I was reflecting upon the past, trying to see if there was anything I could cling to about myself."
Older generations like to criticise millennials for their 'early-onset nostalgia'. But to Lucy, plenty can be gained from embracing it.
"It's such a gift to be able to be nostalgic," she argues. "If nostalgia is fond memories of the past, isn't that a goal? Don't you want to live a life that you can be nostalgic about? I'd criticise nostalgia when it comes to remaking movies, and not having original art. When art is just referential, it can feel kind of redundant. But in terms of your personal life, go all-in on nostalgia!
"Our generation is also comforted by the past," she adds. "Because the present is bleak, and the future is so uncertain."
Although she says that the deeply personal nature of her songwriting "feels natural now", she admits that she wasn't "ready for it in the past."
"I was writing more generally," she continues. "I was speaking from my experience, but maybe not telling the whole story. But I have this trust with my listeners at this point, where I feel largely respected by them, and there's a mutual respect there. It's like any relationship – as time goes on, and you build trust, it's easier to share things."
One of the album's highlights, 'VBS', offers a tender but somewhat tongue-in-cheek account of Lucy's time at 'vacation bible school' as a kid: "In the summer of '07, I was sure I'd go to heaven / But I was hedging my bets at VBS..."
"It's weird to realise what you thought was normal when you were a kid – because I can't relate to the person who went to those camps anymore," she reflects. "It was my whole life and personality for so long, even through high school. I feel like I've been doing youth again for the past six years, because I've had to figure out who I am without God."
The track also references her first boyfriend, the camp's "resident bad boy", who found an escape from the bible-bashing by listening to Slayer, and snorting nutmeg in his bunk bed.
"I've looked it up since, and apparently it's supposed to have hallucinogenic properties – but I'm not testing it out!" she laughs. "I have not snorted nutmeg personally!"
Even when balanced with a touch of humour, much of Home Video takes the form of a touching tribute to various friendships and relationships – from the forbidden queer love poignantly addressed in 'Triple Dog Dare', to the account of a close friend's visit from her estranged father on the hauntingly intense 'Thumbs'.
Her boygenius bandmates also make guest appearances on the new album. Following the supergroup's guest appearance on Paramore star Hayley Williams' 2020 album Petals for Armor, Lucy tells me that she, Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker jumped back into the studio the very next day, to work together on tracks from each of the trio's recent respective solo albums.
"We all let each other in at the early processes of our own records," Lucy says. "We were all making our things at the same time – sending demos, sending ideas. I feel like a more constant collaborator than the amount of records we have together. We all value each other's advice on our own work."
Her work with boygenius, who released their self-titled debut EP in 2018, has also had some bearing on the new direction of her solo work.
"The range of emotions is wider now," she reflects. "I'm more comfortable being funny, and taking a few lyrical and sonic risks, but I'm also more comfortable dwelling in darkness. I used to want to go to the dark place, but also show people how to get out of it – whereas now I think it's fine to just represent a feeling, and not always have it be a teaching moment."
Of course, there's been important personal growth over the last few years too. On her 2018 breakthrough hit 'Night Shift' – which has since clocked up over 30 million Spotify streams – Lucy laments a lost relationship, singing: "In five years I hope the songs feel like covers / Dedicated to new lovers..."
As of April 30th, it's finally been five years since that break-up.
"I have this little calendar," she says, waving the notebook in question. "I have the exact same one every year, and I used to mark off 'one year since the break-up', 'two years since the break-up'... And this year, it was actually five. Here, I'll cover up the name..."
She opens up the diary, and holds it up to her webcam to show me her recently scrawled entry: 'Five years of not dating...
"It felt like a big milestone, mostly because of writing that lyric so long ago," she notes. "And it does feel like that song doesn't belong to me anymore – it feels like anybody else's as much as it is mine."
The last few years have featured plenty of landmarks for Lucy – including a performance at a Bernie Sanders rally, during his 2020 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
"I was so nervous," she recalls. "I've never been that nervous for any show. We met briefly afterwards. I was like, 'Thank you for everything!'
"And then he patted me on the back like a kind grandfather," she laughs.
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Like many other Bernie supporters, Lucy often finds herself wondering how the Vermont Senator would be running the show right now...
"I think about that all the time," she sighs. "What would the world look like? Because Biden is certainly not doing nearly enough. I'm not surprised, but still disappointed.
Although her songwriting is remarkably personal, it's also important to Lucy to be able to use her voice to speak on wider issues.
"Having a platform is a responsibility, whether you think about it that way or not," she posits. "And I would feel really weird and selfish if I didn't use it in ways like showing people how I think the world should be. I know that not everyone feels that way, and that's fine. But I learn about things from people that I respect, so I get annoyed by people who say 'keep politics out of it' – because all of life is innately political."
In fact, she recently used her platform to support the Protecting the Right to Organise (PRO) Act, a proposed US law that would expand protections for workers' rights to join a union.
"It's funny when you read through what the PRO Act is attempting to secure in terms of rights for workers," she remarks. "Because it's like, 'Wait this isn't already offered? This isn't already a thing?' That's the most remarkable thing – there's so little protections. People have basically been getting away with stealing from the working class for decades.
"If you've ever worked a job, you know what being mistreated feels like," she continues. "I've worked for below the minimum wage before, and I've worked for the minimum wage, and I've worked for a few dollars more than the minimum wage. You don't even have the time to research your rights or dream of what could be better – because you're working. There hasn't been that much progress made, because the people who would benefit from it the most are busy labouring. So it's important to pick up what other people can't, when you can."
It's a passion that she hasn't allowed to fall by the wayside over the course of the pandemic, either.
"I'm working at an anarchist bookstore," she grins. "That's been cool. There's a whole labour section. It's nice to keep in touch with current political theory. It's not the arts – but politics at its best is the most creative or imaginative field. I appreciate people who have an expansive idea of what the world could look like."
If her burgeoning career in the book shop isn't keeping her too busy, the gradual return of live music will have Lucy returning to these shores before long. It could also give her a chance to reconnect with her roots...
"I'm adopted – my birth mother is Irish, and my birth father is Uzbek," she tells me. "I actually just recently found that out. And my bassist lives in Donegal, so I want to go and see his place.
"We actually played Electric Picnic," she adds. "We were on a stage between two DJs, who were playing at different times and in different keys, so it was kind of like being in the middle of a nightmare! But the festival itself was really cool. We've never played a headline show in Ireland – but there are plans in motion..."
Home Video is out tomorrow, June 25, on Matador. Lucy Dacus plays The Button Factory, Dublin, on March 21, 2022.
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