Lucy Dacus: An Interview

By Rosie Accola

Hooligan was pleased to get to know Richmond, Virgina singer-songwriter, Lucy Dacus, as she talks vulnerability, her songwriting process, and accessibility in the music community. Having just signed to Matador Records, she will release a reissue of her debut album, No Burden, on September 9th, 2016. Catch her on tour across the country this summer, making stops at Chicago’s Lollapalooza, as well as landmark venue Thalia Hall with Daughter.

Photo by  Baohien Ngo

Photo by Baohien Ngo

What is your earliest memory of creating music?

Lucy Dacus: When I was a little kid, I would sing instead of talk—probably to the annoyance of everyone around me. If somebody asked me a question, I’d respond in sing-song and this would go on for a full day at a time. My first memory of writing a song was for a contest at my elementary school to honor firefighters. I came in second and got a five-dollar bill which rocked my world at the time.

Tell us about your style of songwriting. Do you start with a riff or chord progression and write around it or do you write the lyrics first?

LD: Always lyrics first. Lyrics and melody at the same time. Sometimes I’ll write an entire song without even picking up the guitar. I actually have very little control over songwriting because I can’t just sit down and decide to write a song. Whenever I’ve tried that, it comes out too saccharine or lacks subtlety. I kinda have to wait around and not have expectations.  When words start coming, I just listen to them and see them as valuable instead of just humming some gibberish on the streets, which is probably what it looks like to everyone else.

You reference being from the South multiple times on No Burden—has the region shaped your relationship to music in any way?

LD: I wasn’t exposed to specifically southern music much growing up. I’ve been more affected culturally than musically. Richmond is right on the edge of being southern, but it was also the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Some people hold on to this history with pride, and some people want [to be] through with it—want the monuments of rebel soldiers taken down. Because of that, race, racism, classism, historical fact and fiction, and political activism are readily talked about.

Despite the tension, there’s a strong feeling of togetherness and familiarity. Creatively, people are supportive and share in each other’s successes.

What track on the album did you find the heaviest for you to create?  

LD: “Dream State…” and “… Familiar Place” were originally the same song: “Dream State, Familiar Place.” It’s the least hopeful song on the album—just a plain statement of fear, anticipation of loss and the associated loneliness. It’s perhaps the hardest feeling I’ve ever felt, even harder than the loss in question.

Where does the name No Burden come from?

 LD: I found some notes from a filmmaking class I took in high school where I had written all the reasons I would ever make a movie, what I would want to communicate, and all I wish people understood about themselves. It’s pretty cheesy, but one phrase popped out at me: “You are no burden.” As a sentence, it sounds like something a crafty mom would paint on driftwood and hang in a bathroom, but I hope No Burden communicates that idea.

Photo by  Baohien Ngo

Photo by Baohien Ngo

What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had from touring thus far?

LD: It’s so nice to tour with a record! We went on three tours without any records and it was like one long apology. “Sorry, maybe next time!” We would make hardly enough money to pay for gas. Now, people have the chance to listen to the record before coming to the show and I can tell from onstage who knows the words and who really cares. That’s the best feeling in the world. The best compliment is to know you’ve been worth somebody’s time.

The absolute most memorable tour experience so far was in Carrboro, NC. This chick came up to us after the show and pointed at her thigh. It was a tattoo of an owl and next to it was the lyric, “Without you I am surely the last of our kind” from “Dream State…”. It took a second to realize what was going on, but I was shocked. I laid down on the concrete ground making guttural noises for second, then got up and thanked her for caring so much. I never imagined something like that would happen.

Photo by  Baohien Ngo

Photo by Baohien Ngo

In your music there’s this wonderful tension between the brazenness of rock and roll and vulnerability. Has music helped you be more honest about these feelings?

LD: Being vulnerable takes a lot of strength at first, but then it becomes really easy when you realize everyone wants to get to that point, but is waiting for anyone else to jump first. Ideally, being vulnerable in front of a crowd gives everyone else permission to do the same.

Who or what are some of your biggest influences in the art world?

LD: Oh man, good question. Recently, I’ve taken a very conscious exit from the art world because I’m disappointed in it’s inaccessible and wealth-oriented infrastructure. However, I will always love Miranda July and Agnes Varda—two ladies who value vulnerability and blunt honesty. I would describe them as fearless, but what’s actually so good about their work is that it contains fear, but looks it straight in the eye. It takes strength to admit fear.

I’ve also had life changing experiences with pieces of art [where] I haven’t known who the artist is. For the longest time, I was obsessed with what I would later find out was the painting Half Caste Child by Arthur Boyd. For years, it didn’t matter who made it or what the context was, I just couldn’t stop looking at that painting. 

Read the rest of the interview on pg. 19 here.