"The songs circle around the same question: can hope combat the worst horrors and the biggest fears?" hmv.com talks to Lucy Dacus
Expectations for Virginia songstress Lucy Dacus's debut album No Burden weren't exactly sky high. Recorded in just one day and released on tiny label EggHunt Records, the album emerged quietly in February of 2016. But it didn't stay quiet for long. By the end of that year, Dacus had picked up rave reviews, signed to Matador Records and had re-released the album with a full label machine behind her. Now she arrives with a follow-up.
As her new album Historian comes to shelves (you can purchase it on the right-hand side of the page), we spoke to Dacus about recording quickly, living and working in Nashville and why this album takes on the darkest lyrical subject matter...
How did you want this album to move on from what you did on No Burden?
"Overall, I wanted to be more intentional with Historian. No Burden sort of came together on a whim, but now, I know people will hear it and I know I'll be supported by a label, so I wanted to react to that responsibility by expressing something more vital in the songs. I was more hands-on during arrangements and recording as well. I didn't want to come out of it feeling like it was a happy mistake of coalescing odds and ends. I wanted it to be a happy victory, thought-through and hard-won. Luckily that has happened- I can look back at every decision made on the album and take full ownership."
You did the album with Collin Pastore, what did he bring to the recording process?
"Collin and I have known each other a long time. Our past and our friendship have provided a context and vocabulary for understanding each other that would be impossible to replicate with anyone else. We recorded the album in a week, which was luxurious compared to recording No Burden in one day, and I think that's possible because of the short-hand communication we've developed along with Jacob Blizard, our guitarist and co-producer. And beyond that, Collin is constantly working, learning, and becoming better and more creative with his craft as an engineer, producer, and mixer."
You made the album in Nashville, how did you find living and working in the city?
"What I like so much about Nashville is that even though it's a centre for music, people are still down to hang on a daily basis. People work hard, but I haven't encountered the same manic, around-the-clock productivity that defines New York or Los Angeles. There is a distinct aesthetic that pins me as an outsider. Tight denim jackets, healthy and expensive hair, vaguely Southwestern hats, and leather boots, all together performing Southern charm and outlaw country sensibilities. It seems like everyone might have played in their church worship band during high school. I say this with love. The only challenge in Nashville is not eating myself into oblivion."
What kind of album is this lyrically? Do you think there’s a theme running through it?
"I noticed I had enough material for a record when I realised that these songs were circling around the same question: can hope combat the worst horrors and the biggest fears? The album is a progression of loss, from a breakup to identity crisis to contemplating your own death and the passing of those around you. But in every song, there is an effort to cope and look forward. It's heavier material than No Burden, but I feel like I need to look here, at what I perceive to be the root of most human conflict, before I can move on to other things."
Which song on the album took the longest to get right?
"'Nonbeliever' is an amalgamation of three songs, the first of which I wrote in 2011. The three songs were written at totally different times about different circumstances, but none of them felt right. In 2016, I realized what they all had in common and dissected the songs to put the best parts together. Now, it's a song about the moment when expectations crumble, when you realize you can't continue on the path that has been laid out for you. It's an oppressive feeling to look around and believe that everyone else has figured it out while you're lost, but there is solace in knowing that everyone feels that at times."
And which came together most quickly?
"'Night Shift' came to be after many months of confusion and contemplation, like my subconscious had been working at full speed in order to find words for how I was feeling, and once my brain put it together, I had to spit it out. It reminded me of writing I Don't Wanna Be Funny Anymore because it appeared fully baked. The recorded arrangement doesn't differ much from our first try."
When did you settle on Historian for the title? Were any other titles in contention?
"My first idea for a title was Good Grief, but then I found out about the Lucius album of the same name. Penultimatum was another option. If the final ultimatum is death, the penultimate ultimatum is life, and the album is largely about facing life and deciding how to live. But it's a bit annoying and I could tell I wouldn't want to stand up for the sub-par wordplay."
"I also thought of Big Bright Shadow, but it sounded a little emo. Historian felt right immediately because I wanted to acknowledge my place in the record. The last song is Historians, and I wanted to show that I am one of the two characters in that song."
What are your plans to take the album out live?
"Tour forever! That's the plan. I hope we go all over. We already have tours booked in the US, UK, Europe, and Canada. I'm really looking forward to the shows."