“We’re standing on the side watching them do this thinking we’re completely insane for asking Sheryl Crow and Brandi Carlile to sing that part”
The 2010s brought an abundance of great music to light, and one standout example is the Los Angeles via Brooklyn indie-pop act Lucius. The band also has Boston roots due to co-founders and co-lead vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig first meeting at Berklee College of Music in 2005.
Their second studio album, Wildewoman, came out in 2011 and garnered a ton of acclaim with their excellent melding of acoustic and electronic elements complemented by outstanding vocal harmonies.
Since then, they’ve had a major presence on the live music circuit and even collaborated with the likes of Roger Waters from Pink Floyd, Chadwick Stokes from Dispatch and State Radio, and more recently Sheryl Crow and Brandi Carlile, among others. The latter two are on Lucius’ fourth LP, Second Nature, that came out in April.
The group will be making a stop at Roadrunner in Boston on April 29 as part of a tour in support of their new album, and I spoke with Laessig ahead of the show about their sonic path, making history with music videos, having fun while making the album, and the upcoming run of shows.
Second Nature seems to have a new wave and disco vibe going on while taking your trademark harmonies into a freshly new direction. What did you and Jess have in mind while making this album and how was the process of making it?
I think when we started writing, we didn’t really have anything specific in mind. We’ve actually been writing another record before that which was super conceptual and really heady, it’s not out yet and it will see the light of day at some point. We decided once lockdown started and everything to write and not think about what we’re doing, how it’s going to come together exactly, or what it’s going to sound like or look like. We wanted to just write and enjoy writing whatever comes out. When we started doing that we were just writing songs, we started co-writing with people for the first time and I think after a handful of songs, themes started to sort of reveal themselves.
Our urge to want to make dance music was because we couldn’t go anywhere; we were stuck inside and we wanted some sort of escape became clearer. Dave Cobb, who co-produced the record with Brandi Carlile, wanted to make a disco record, which is seemingly out of character for him because he hadn’t done anything like that before, but it was super intriguing to us.
The whole record from a musical aspect and a listener’s perspective is intriguing because of how everything sounds and how everything is crafted. I really enjoyed it.
For one of the singles off of the album, “Dance Around It,” I think you and Jess made a bit of history by making the music video through the use of cell phones and selfie sticks with the both of you and a bunch of other people doing dancing selfies for the video. Who had the idea for this concept and how did you go about getting these other people involved?
I initially had an idea for Jess and I to do just a simple video like that. I really wanted to play with time and the feeling of time, the feeling of things moving really slow around you or the feeling of things being really frantic. During lockdown, time was super weird and days would pass really quickly or very slowly and it was hard to keep track of where you were, so I really liked that idea. How you can do it is if you slow down the audio track as slow as it can go while you’re still singing along and record yourself or vice versa by speeding up the tracks as fast as you can speed it up and still sing along. If you record yourself doing that, perform it that way and speed the video up or slow it back down to match the original audio, it appears that you’re singing in real time but everything around you is either super slow or super fast.
When we were talking about it, we thought that maybe we should invite people to do it, maybe they’d be into it, we had no idea. We put out a thing on our socials asking who wanted to be in our music video and I think we got 800 submissions.
Everyone was like, Oh, I wanna do it!, so I sent these detailed emails with an example of the video with myself in my living room singing along to this super slowed-down track or super sped-up track. I then sent along the audio and then sent along specific instructions like making your mouth movements as clear as possible because it’s either going to be sped up or slowed down. Jess had the idea of having different colored groups so that it went through all of the different colors and at the end it would make a rainbow. People were totally up for it, even Sheryl Crow and Brandi were down to do it after I sent them this wacky email with all this stuff in it, so it was great.
Speaking of Sheryl and Brandi, what was it like working with them on the song? They’re two music icons so it must have been pretty special to have them involved.
We’ve sung with them on their stuff before and they’ve always said, Anything you need, we’ll be there for you, so we took them up on it and asked them if they wanted to sing on our record. They said, Absolutely, we will be your background singers, so we had them sing some background. At one point they were singing on “Dance Around” and there’s this sort of goofy background part, they’re singing around the mic, “dance, dance, dance, we dance, dance, dance,” and we’re standing on the side watching them do this thinking we’re completely insane for asking Sheryl Crow and Brandi Carlile to sing that part. They were total team players and they were so, so awesome.
Going back to Dave Cobb, you mentioned that this was his first time ever producing a disco record and it was something new for him while also being something new for you and Jess as well. Having this mindset going into the RCA Studio A in Nashville, which is a pretty historic place to begin with, and the experience of going into this new style for everyone involved while recording it in a way you could put your own artistic stamp on it, what was it like collectively diving in to a new musical territory?
That’s kind of what initially really attracted us to the idea of working with Dave and Brandi on something like this and going to Nashville to make a disco record. None of it really made sense, but I think that’s what we liked about it. Recording at RCA, it’s such an iconic room and you could feel all the magical energy there so it was awesome. Dave is kind of known for doing a lot of country, roots, and that kind of music, but he really pulled from so many different worlds and references as just a music lover who loves all kinds of stuff. At the beginning of every session, we would huddle together in a little living room area of the studio, sit down, play through the song on a guitar, reference a bunch of different music, sounds and things that we could play with while throwing ideas back and forth. We tried to aim for one song a day and it was really fun.
I can imagine and that’s a good way to approach it, doing one song a day rather than getting overwhelmed with the recording process. What are your thoughts of going into this run of shows that includes a stop at Roadrunner in Boston this Friday?
I guess it’s like half and half where we’re super excited but we’re also stepping into the unknown a bit. There is a little bit of a nerve-wracking element of traveling around the states and seeing so many different people when we’re technically not fully out of a pandemic. I think everybody feels that at a certain point you have to get back to work, get back to life, and people need music, need to see live music, and we’re going to be as safe and responsible as we possibly can. We’re very excited to get out there again and play, it’s been a very long time, so we’re ready.
Lucius at Roadrunner, 89 Guest St, Boston. 4.29. bowerypresents.com
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.