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Lucy Dacus’ new album will break you—and you’ll thank her for it

Lucy Dacus’ new album will break you—and you’ll thank her for it

In conversation

Text: Redzhanna Jazmin

Ahead of the release of her third studio album, we spoke to indie rock songstress Lucy Dacus about love, self, religion, and music.

“The future is a benevolent black hole.” That is a lyric from the end of ‘Cartwheel’, a track on Lucy Dacus’ brand-new album, Home Video. It marks just one of eleven frank explorations into the singer-songwriter’s past. Dacus logs onto the Zoom call, framed from the shoulders up. Dressed in a royal blue button-up, she wears her hair down and her lips are painted in her signature red. 

When asked why that lyric is a particular favourite of hers, Dacus, 26, explains: “I think that’s what I believe. [The future] consists of nothing. It doesn’t really exist, and it’s kind of sucking up time… but it’s benevolent—it shouldn’t be scary, or if it is scary then it’s not supposed to be. You’re just kind of caught into the stream of time.”

That pretty much sums up the new album—a poignant, well-considered body of work that is as confronting as it is comforting. It’s a sober recollection of her past; an opportunity for her to reckon with the person she used to be. The person in question? According to Dacus’ ‘VBS’, she’s a preteen Vacation Bible School (VBS) attendee with a moral superiority complex. In other tracks like ‘Christine’ and ‘Triple Dog Dare’, she has a few more years of life on her, her faith in the religion is faltering, and she is struggling to come to terms with being queer. All in all, Home Video is a collection of her experiences between ages seven to seventeen.

In fact, that is exactly what makes the album’s title so perfect. The singer explains that most of her life has been documented—first by her father through home videos (roll credits), and now, in adulthood, by herself. “From the first day I was born, I’ve always been used to being watched and being taught that impulse to document everything,” she begins. “So, when I started writing these songs, I thought that they were sort of short stories or clips of my life in the kind of the way that his videos are. Only recently have I really [made the connection] that these songs are documentation for me in the same way that the videos were for him. I’ve inherited that skill—or burden (laughs)—whatever it is, from my dad.”

I ask if exploring her past through her music has been a healing experience, to which she confidently replies: “It’s been good, even if it’s been uncomfortable because I feel that the more I look back and have perspective, the more I can find out about myself.”

“I’ve realised how I used to be a person that I wouldn’t like now, and now I’m a person that perhaps a past version of myself wouldn’t like, but that’s just life,” she continues. “You just change. I could definitely be someone that my future self hates! I can’t imagine that now, but maybe it’ll happen. So, I’m trying to not take it too personally (laughs)—the imagined disapproval of who I used to be.”

The album doesn’t stop at self-reflection, either—Dacus covers an array of darker themes alongside religion, love, and self. In ‘Thumbs’, arguably the most intensely heartbreaking song on the album, she confesses to a vengeance fantasy wherein she violently murders the abusive father of a dear friend. In ‘Partner In Crime’, she describes a toxic relationship riddled with power imbalances and manipulation. The album brings out a side of Dacus that we’ve never been allowed to see before. This begs the question: Why is now the right time for Home Video?

“I think that I was just finally able to reconcile with the fact that [these experiences] are true for me,” she muses. “I really wanted to avoid having negative traits. For a long time, I resisted understanding violence and toxicity, or I wanted to feel that those things couldn’t touch me and so I didn’t think about them that much. But there are people from my past that have really shown me what those things mean, and it’s been more helpful to look straight at them than to ignore them. So, I think I’m at a point in my life where I’m willing to talk to myself about those things, so it makes sense that I’m writing songs about them.”

As a listener, the album is certainly painful (emotionally, not musically), but it’s also liberating in a way—between each emotional gut-punch of a song is a cheeky sliver of hope and refuge. Like her boygenius bandmates Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker, who feature on the tracks 'Going Going Gone' and 'Please Stay', Dacus has a talent for crushing your soul and keeping you coming back for more. You cannot help but see yourself in her writing, joining the singer in her catharsis.

This relatability is almost by design. The singer describes her songwriting process as a conversation with herself; a way to process her feelings and experiences. Still, though she is incredibly vulnerable in her work, she keeps her lyrics open-ended for the most part. That’s why it’s so easy for listeners to project themselves onto her music. Further, when she’s writing with her boygenius bandmates, while the rubric of subject matter is more limited (“I keep them in mind [while writing], the lyrics are something that all of us need to be able to get behind”), their collective experiences culminates in the broad, yet pointed tunes that resonate with fans so greatly.

It makes you wonder how she separates herself from her work, as someone who puts so much of themselves into their music. Apparently, the answer is not well. “I have a hard time doing that, because I’m not very good at pretending, and I really don’t like having secrets. I feel like I don’t really want to be a mysterious person, but I do want to be a private person. So, some things stay sacred, but mostly what you see is what you get.”

While the album is musically diverse, smartly subverting expectations to keep listeners captivated, there is one song that stands out on the album: ‘Partner In Crime’. This track alone features a huge shift in the production of Dacus’ vocals, particularly with the uncharacteristic use of autotune.

According to the singer, it was an accident at first. Following a vocal injury that she had sustained in June of 2019, Dacus spent all of August silent but for two hours a day when she would be singing. “During that day when we were recording, I wasn’t hitting the notes right, so we just put on autotune temporarily,” she explains, rightfully pleased with her decision. “But then I realised that it fit the meaning of the song so well because the song is about falsifying yourself to become more attractive to somebody, and that’s exactly what autotune does. It fakes your voice to make it more perfect, but it’s not real.”

Considering how much thought Dacus puts into her work, it should come as no surprise that Home Video flows so beautifully as a record. It’s all intentional. The singer explains that she wanted to take the listener on a journey, and in order to do that, she painstakingly sat down and worked out the tracklist before recording—something she did for both of her other records, too.

“I wanted to figure out the full album as something someone would interact with from start to finish,” she says, adding that “the way that I figured it out was with this graph. Every song was on the grid this way (gestures y-axis), and then the number was at the other axis of the grid. So, I marked off the songs that I knew couldn’t be first or last, and it was a process of elimination until we got to where we did.”

Needless to say, her hard work has paid off. The album’s release comes a few years after its initial conception, and it has turned out to be a fantastic record that is guaranteed to exceed expectations. 

As for what is coming next? Dacus has a few ideas. When it comes to music, she’ll be exploring more avenues of subject matter, especially when it comes to love. “I’ve never really written a love song,” she says. “I have a breakup song, I have a song about having a crush, I have all these songs about friendships that maybe are kind of romantic, and I have songs about sexuality now. But no person-to-person love songs. It’s just not what I tend to write, so I want to see if I can.”

With regards to the more immediate future, however, Dacus has a tour on the horizon. It’s her first tour since the start of the pandemic, but she is fully vaccinated and raring to get on the road, nerves and all.

Home Video is out now. Stream it here. Find more music stories like this here.