Lucy Dacus wasn’t trying to become a hyped musician. The hype came to her. She still doesn’t quite know why.
After her debut album, No Burden, sneaked through the ears of the underground indie rock scene via CD, Matador Records caught wind and reissued it on vinyl in 2016. A whirlwind tour followed, and Dacus slowly trekked across the country, making a name for herself on intimate but confident songs. Thus what began as an art school project suddenly became a career, and her sophomore album Historian—another nod to the fact that she views herself as a historian, not a musician—proves she deserves it. On it, she catalogs the things, people, and places she sees in the world through lyrics, approaching her songwriting like a archivalist would instead of a cliche-ridden singer-songwriter. The result is no less a form of poetry than what the latter would create, though, as she’s able to make detail-rich narration come to life over newfound horns, strings, and synths.
“I’m happy with how ‘Pillar of Truth’ came out because it’s about my grandmother without being too saccharine, too sweet, or too sad,” explains Dacus. “It’s dignified and honorable, just like her. A lot of that song came from knowing her and observing her, and I’m happy I found a way to represent her to other people. Whether people realize it’s about her or not, it’s an easy one to resonate with. Capturing people is difficult. Representing them in a way they’d want to be represented is a huge task. It’s easiest when you love the person. And that song is a case where I tried my best to nail that.”
To explore her tendency to study the world around her, we interviewed Lucy Dacus for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask musicians questions inspired by their song titles. With Historian as the prompt, her answers reflect her kind and attentive personality, which she may or may not hide when headlining the Sinclair this Wednesday.
1) “Night Shift”
DIGBOSTON: Have you ever worked a night-shift job?
DACUS: What’s funny is I’m working a night shift now doing concerts. I’ve gone to bed at 3 am most nights while touring. It’s extra funny because the relationship I’m talking about in the song ended and I started touring a lot. So essentially I wrote it when I began to take this so-called night shift that is playing music as a job.
DIGBOSTON: Which of your addictions was the most difficult one to put an end to?
DACUS: In general, being addicted to people has been the hardest challenge. I’ve had trouble quitting my connections to toxic people because I have a lot of hope and faith that relationships could turn out well. A lot of the time, you need to just cut it. Not everything has to be healthy if it’s unhealthy. You just have to admit it. That’s still a growing process for me given there’s a lot of individual situations that need tending to.
3) “The Shell”
DIGBOSTON: If you think of friendships as the act of someone slowly getting closer to your core, what’s the hardest exterior layer for someone to get through when they want to be your friend?
DACUS: This is a super good question. Nowadays, I think the biggest barrier for making friends is people thinking I’m too busy. In some ways that’s correct, but I like to think I’m a really warm person. There’s just not enough of it to go around. So I’ve had a lot of friends say, “Oh, I didn’t reach out because I didn’t want to bother you. I don’t want to put more on your plate.” Trying to be respectful of my time winds up being a barrier… But then they don’t ask for my time and I don’t spend time with friends. So it’s a strange, circular problem.
DIGBOSTON: What do you think is the most ridiculous conspiracy theory?
DACUS: This isn’t really my scene. I do know that there’s a conspiracy theory about a mole king, though. You know that one, right? Basically, there’s a mole king that’s apparently the supreme ruler of the urban underground, I think in London but maybe in New York also. There’s the mole people. During the day, they live in the abandoned subways. At night, they come out and are very pale and scavenge for food. They’re moles, but people. And I don’t think I’ll ever believe that. [laughs]
5) “Yours & Mine”
DIGBOSTON: Who is the last person you shared food with?
DACUS: Oh, me and my band! We got juice for breakfast. All of us like to drink green, frothy liquids in the morning with bananas, kale, cashews, stuff like that. It’s a good way to start the day because it’s healthy and energizing.
6) “Body to Flame”
DIGBOSTON: Do you have any tricks to staying warm during winter?
DACUS: I’m an especially cold person most of the time, actually. I guess wear a scarf that is also a blanket. That way when you’re out in public, you can look normal while swaddling yourself like a newborn baby simultaneously. It’s one of those giant scarves, like the Lenny Kravitz scarf.
DIGBOSTON: When is the last time you fought very hard for something?
DACUS: I feel like I should ask Jacob, who’s right next to me. [repeats question to bandmate and both go back and forth] Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. I bought a house this year, and it was a horrible fight. It was months of fighting through the worst. We had a lot of jerks involved in the process, as the last owner of our house was really a pain. They promised to do a bunch of repairs that they didn’t do, and they stopped paying their bills so the utilities were cut off. It’s making my heart rate rise just talking about it. So that rattled me for a while this past year. But now I have a beautiful house in Richmond and my friends live with me, so energy well spent.
8) “Next of Kin”
DIGBOSTON: Which of your relatives are you closest to?
DACUS: I don’t know. My parents are both my friends at this point in my life. I guess that’s my immediate family, though. I don’t live in the same state as most of my relatives, so I don’t get to see them often. But my dad drove from Richmond to Denver, and then Omaha, just to come to our shows. My mom meets up with us in Chicago to go to shows there. They’re supportive. I’ve liked getting to know them as people. I’m excited for the moment that any kid gets to know their parents in that way. I think I’ve become more [empathetic] to them once I realized their whole life was spent raising me and there’s more to them than that.
9) “Pillar of Truth”
DIGBOSTON: What are three true facts about you that you don’t think will ever change in your lifetime?
DACUS: Well, there’s stuff I can’t change, like how I’m adopted. So that’s one. I’ve never dyed my hair before and I don’t think I ever will, so that’s another one. Though I am going gray, and I’m stoked about it. For the last one, I’ll have to think. I can only think of lame things. Well, I don’t drive, and who knows if that will change. I really don’t want to because I was on my way to get a driver’s license and had what felt like a near-death experience driving back to Richmond after recording No Burden. I was driving on the highway and spun out when someone merged entirely, and luckily there was a median and there weren’t cars for me to bump into. Ever since then, I’ve been shell-shocked and don’t have a huge desire to drive ever again.
DIGBOSTON: If you had to dedicate your life to the study of something or someone, what would it be and why?
DACUS: These are good questions because most interviews you have the same answers stored in your head. I actually have to think for these. A couple answers came to mind, though. The first was that I studied Russian in high school but I’ve lost a lot of it, and I feel like there’s enough great Russian literature to be stuck on that for a lifetime. The other option is childhood development. That’s always interested me. Maybe in tandem with that is the study of social services for children. There will always be work in that department, and it’s something that matters to me a lot.
Lucy Dacus is raising money for Richmond organization ART 180, which stops the school-to-prison pipeline, at their tour merch table. They encourage making online donations regardless at ART 180’s website.
LUCY DACUS, AND THE KIDS, ADULT MOM. WED 4.11. THE SINCLAIR, 52 CHURCH ST., CAMBRIDGE. 7:30PM/18+/$16. SINCLAIRCAMBRIDGE.COM