Lucy Dacus has always packed a punch.
A songwriter with remarkable emotional impact, each consecutive studio album has found the American artist finesse her craft, doubling down on her incisive lyrical flair.
Novelistic in depth, the sheer musicality of 2021 album ‘Home Video’ seemed to approach world-building from a fresh vantage point.
Released to outstanding acclaim, Lucy Dacus finally included long-time fan favourite ‘Thumbs’ alongside a clutch of superb tracks that took the listener back to her youth in Richmond, Virginia.
New single ‘Kissing Lessons’ is out now, and it’ll be given a seven inch vinyl pressing alongside ‘Thumbs Again’ this March.
With Lucy set to play a sold out UK tour the same month, Clash was invited to interview the songwriter just before Christmas – alas, her trip to London was cancelled. It wasn’t due to COVID, however – the songwriter put her back out, the first topic of conversation when our Zoom paths finally cross.
“Today’s the first day I’m off steroids!” she exclaims. “It’s so weird when your body just like gives up on you. You train your mind to trust it, basically!”
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You played some live shows recently, after a prolonged, coronavirus gap. What was it like to go back out onstage? Was it surreal at first?
They are really intense and surreal and like, euphoric in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s real life. I guess that’s what ‘surreal’ means.
But yeah, I think that people are so like hungry for interaction, like the crowds have been feral. And my theory is that wearing the mask makes people more comfortable with singing along really loud, because people have been singing so much, which is like my favourite thing. So they’ve been the best shows we’ve ever played. And yeah, I’m just really pleased that we got to do it. Hopefully, we’ll continue to get to do it. I’m trying to hold things with a loose grip. Because, you know, we’ve all been taught how fragile everything is.
With all these delays you’ve had a little longer to live inside of the new album; is that something you, as a songwriter, have appreciated?
I mean, every record I’ve made, I put out a year after I finished it, for whatever reason. I like it. Because you get to spend more time, and you get to learn the songs to their fullest. But this felt a little too long. And maybe in the future I want to have less time between recording and putting something out. But what I’m frustrated with now is anything that I write isn’t gonna come out for years… because I’m gonna be touring this record for a while, and then I’ll have to record and then I’ll have to set it up. So yeah, I already have a bunch of new songs. And I have no idea when people are going to hear them.
Your last record was extremely self-analytical – is your new material a reaction to that, do you think?
I feel like I write from all different types of perspectives, and then I’ll realise there’s an album when there’s a theme going on. This record was looking at the past, sure. I’ve been writing other stuff, it just didn’t fit into the record. I don’t know if I’ll ever be done. And I kind of feel like, how could you not write about the past? Because every story is in the past? I guess you could be making up fiction and be talking about the future. I don’t feel stuck in the past, though. I don’t know… I like it. I feel like that’s where you learn things.
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You’ve changed a lot, and Richmond has changed a lot, too. For one thing, there’s a lot less of those horrible statues.
Yeah! And they’re actually, as of today, removing the pedestal that was underneath the Robert E. Lee statue. I think that every trace of those things should be obliterated. It’s really embarrassing that they were there in the first place.
Conversely, the city boasts such a rich and diverse creative community – there’s just something in the air, seemingly. Do you still get a taste of that when you go back?
I think it is changing. When I was in high school, there were tonnes of local bands and house venues, and people would just play shows, like, every night of the week. And I think that that is happening a little bit less. The city is getting a little gentrified, and there’s more developers coming in. So I do feel like it’s at risk of losing some of its soul. But I don’t know, I have faith that it’ll win out, and there’s still some really awesome things going on. It’s just sad to go back and be like: oh, that high-rise wasn’t there last time I was here. But maybe that’s just something that happens as you grow up, because when I go back to my mom’s hometown, she’s like: this shopping mall used to be a field of corn! And maybe I’m just at the point in my life where I have stories like that.
The upcoming tour will include a few highlights, and I can’t wait to hear ‘Thumb’ again now that it’s out. Are people singing along through their masks?
What’s funny is that people do actually sing, but really quietly. It’s a really intense song. Like, I was playing it a lot before it came out. And it was intense then, and it’s intense now, because people brace themselves. There is kind of a weird divide, where like, ‘Thumbs’ and ‘Please Stay’ have a similar effect on people, and I feel like some people are showing up to the show because they want to hear those. And then there are other people who maybe would wish that I wouldn’t play them like they’re just trying to have a good time…!
The way ‘Thumbs’ spread was really special – you held on to it for so long! Are you wary now that some of the magic has been removed?
Well, it’s so brutal! I kind of wish sometimes that I would feel more dull about it. But it still feels fresh. And that is good in some ways, and takes me by surprise in ways that like really unsettled me sometimes. I’m just grateful I have it.
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Do you notice your songs subtly evolve from show to show?
Playing with the band changes things so much. The band has favourites to play that are different from the ones that were my favourites to record. But it’s always fun. We played a boygenius show for charity two weeks ago, which was amazing. We’re all so busy, it’s really hard to hang out. So really, we used this as an excuse. We were all very emotional, like, putting on our jackets that we hadn’t worn since 2018. And, yeah… so much has changed.
Is it nice to detach from live duties sometimes? Do you find yourself longing to be alone?
I mean, it doesn’t feel like work at all. Being physically within our friendship is a very, very joyful atmosphere.
Was it a wrench to have to cut yourself off and recover from this back injury, then? How did you fill your time?
I knitted an entire sweater! I’ve been reading, I have been watching TV. I’ve been watching Great British baking show. Which is just such as gentle, gentle watch. I’ve only been able to lay down so it really limits what I can do. But yeah, just scheming about the future. Scheming and dreaming!
Would you ever do anything creative outside of music? Like a book of short stories, for example?
I would love to be able to do that. I think that I’m a coward as of now. I think that I will just have to get brave enough, which may never happen. But yeah, I love books, and interacting with books, and talking about books even more than I like interacting with and talking about music… and I love music! I just really, really love books. So I’m a little bit worried that if I entered that realm, it would like spoil the mystery or something. Because right now it’s like… I know how music gets made. And I don’t know how somebody could write a book. And I wonder if I would prefer to just not know!
I’ve definitely tried over the years. Like, as much as I’ve tried songwriting, as a kid I would try to write. I’d be like: I’m writing a book! And write like 15 pages and then stop. It felt like no one was there to interact with it and be like, this is good.
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Have you read Japanese Breakfast’s book Crying In H Mart?
Oh my gosh, yes! Michelle is such a powerhouse! I’m so happy. I almost feel like rooting for her, is like I’m rooting for a sports team. I love watching her take over the world. And that book is really incredible and we talked about it a bit throughout the year she was writing it. And like I said, she’s not a coward. She’s brave. Like, she would write 1000 words every day on tour on tour! I think she deserves everything coming to her.
Finally, you’ll hopefully be touring a lot in 2022, and returning to the road carries its own challenges. Do you have a pre-show ritual?
My trick is to try and forget that I’m having a show. I try to just not look at the clock. And then someone will be like ‘five minutes!’ and it’s like, oh, shit, I better put on my lipstick! And I put on my shoes, and I put on my outfit, and basically rush to get onstage! So I don’t really have to think about it.
Actually years ago, we were opening for Sylvan Esso. And the green room was in this mall that had a bowling alley, and we were bowling. And someone was like: hey, you’re a minute late to the show? And so I just threw the bowling ball and ran onstage, in my bowling shoes! And it felt so chaotic that I just got a lot of energy from that.
I think maybe a related thing that helps is that I think of every show as the last show I’ll ever play. I’m like, this could be the last tour we ever do. Who knows? Because that’s what happened the past couple years. And so I just feel really grateful and it makes me want to give everything to the moment.
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‘Home Video’ is out now. Lucy Dacus will tour the UK this March.
Main Photo: Ebru Yildiz // Inset Photo: Erin Soorenko
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