In mid-May, shortly after his 26th birthday, Lucy dacus found herself doing a relatable schlep. “It was very New Yorker: get off the train, get some fashion in a big bag and bring it to my house,” the singer-songwriter said. She was curled up in a leather club chair inside the Brooklyn townhouse that she called home for a few days. Alexandra Mitchell, “Who’s my lifelong friend, I make her become a stylist for me,” Dacus explained. A post-vaccine world demands clothes, after all. His third album, Home video, was then one month away from release; in front of her was a folder of magazine shoots and late-night appearances, followed by the largely sold-out fall. to visit. (She is headlining three shows at Brooklyn Steel this week, with another at the 9:30 am Club in Washington, DC.) “I borrowed Margiela dresses from a friend of hers,” Dacus said, with a sense of the possibility of a glowing embers.
Dacus, whose apotheosis as an indie big-ticket darling has been supported by rave reviews and a fan base that knows every word, is a newcomer to apparel. (Most brands’ size 4 samples don’t help, she pointed out.) In truth, she’s not used to being in front of the camera. There are clues built into his songwriting. His debut in 2016 No burden-recorded at the university during the winter break with his longtime guitarist Jacob blizardThe school project of, and later re-released by Matador Records, includes the upbeat track “I Don’t Want to Be Funny Anymore”. In a conscious attempt to swap one female stereotype for another, she sings, “I have a skirt that’s too short, maybe I can be the cutie / Is there room in the band?”
There’s a similar line in “Brando,” from the new album, about a teenage friendship with a guy who loved his role as a consigliere, educating Dacus about classic movies and cultural mysteries. (Growing up in Mechanicsville, Va., Outside of Richmond – his father was a graphic designer, his mother a music teacher – Dacus was not allowed to watch the news.) “You called me cerebral / I didn’t know what you meant. ” his voice echoes on syncopated guitar chords. “But now I do. Would it have killed you / called me pretty instead? ”
Dacus, backlit by the afternoon sun, was luminous in a modest way. I was surprised to see her without makeup only because her public image – the press portraits and Small desk videos and YouTube footage of its sets – is almost always anchored by a precisely drawn red lip. Five or six years ago, Mitchell gave her a MAC Ruby Woo hit, a sort of talisman for shows. “Even though I was wearing my pajamas on stage, it made people think everything else was a choice,” Dacus said. “I feel shaken when I don’t have it.”
That spring day, however, she seemed quite at ease, positioned on the precipice between the home stretch of the pandemic and what lay beyond. Dacus described musician friends who “literally read performance books in order to prepare,” she said. It had taken so long to hide away from the crowds and the lights. But Dacus was fishing to plan less, to loosen his composure. Her enthusiasm for dressing was rooted in a sense of pleasure. If faith had led her to believe that “my body is but a bag that my soul is in,” as she put it, maybe fashion could fit her back into her skin. She mentioned the exuberant dresses from London-based designers Molly goddard and Simone Rocha, which reads more like works of art than decoration. “I almost feel like I’m challenging myself to present myself in a way that makes me uncomfortable just to find out that I can.”
Home video arrived on June 25. The name was in tune with the wave of ’90s nostalgia in culture, with Dacus, born 1995, as one of the youngest emissaries. “My dad took all of the home videos,” she said over the phone in early spring, calling from the Philadelphia home she shares with six roommates. “They had a camera, like the week I was born, so I was the new toy when I was a baby, and the camera was a new toy in terms of technology.” The deployment of the album riffed on the medium. The cover shows an empty movie theater, reminiscent of the morning screenings of A tram named Désir and Casablanca told in “Brando”. His single “Thumbs,” with its calmly gutted lyrics about imaginary revenge against a friend’s father, reached a handful of recipients as novelty vhs tape. In the touring days before the pandemic, Dacus had often closed sets with song, asking viewers not to break the spell with a pirate recording. A fan account on Twitter had sprung up, its sole purpose being to ask when the song would be released.
The impulse to rewind comes naturally to Dacus. “I’m always interested in memory because it’s fiction, but it’s also the most real thing we have,” she told me. Dacus has long drawn on the experience of life for his finely stitched words, but Home video is the first album that sent her straight to her childhood diaries, with their doodles in time capsules on crushes, embarrassments and God. “VBS,” the fourth track, recalls a time at Vacation Bible School when she met her first boyfriend, a Slayer superfan with a complicated family life. “I don’t want to blow up the Christian teenage spot on this,” she told me, but “the church camp is where a bunch of my friends lost their virginity. It’s more crappy than you might think because kids are kids and they’re going to find out how, no matter what. It’s not the flattened experience that people imagine. “Saying ‘I grew up in church’ is the shorthand for something that should actually have a longer look.”
A place in the folder where Dacus unwinds this thread is “First time.” For her, it’s a personal victory to talk about sex, “physical and awkward stuff because I always feel like I tend to write songs in the realm of the mind and not the body”, she told me. The track begins with a mechanical churn before the drums rush in, followed by his voice, coldly under control. She has a way of alluding to past vulnerability without giving way today. “I’m a starfish on the kitchen floor,” she sings, evoking the feel of the hard tile, a transgressive thrill. Later: “I showed you the way, even though I never had been.” The line is a Rorschach spot, like many Home video Lyrics; in a light, it suggests the blurred border between agency and accommodation.
I asked Dacus how this kind of autobiographical songwriting fits with a practicing family. “I think he’s got such a cohesive groove that he can kind of hide it from you,” she said, explaining that her brother, a drummer, was linked to that driving impulse. Her parents “haven’t delved into any of the meanings yet,” she said. “I let them make that choice.
Fidelity to the text – to the analysis of its possible readings, with or without connection to the truth – is profound for Dacus. The church in which she grew up had an academic spirit, with sermons rooted in linguistics and history. “It was almost anthropological, which still interests me. Everything else seemed a little emotionally manipulative,” she said. When she left for Richmond University, she started a Bible group with friends, clinging to “this idea that ‘I’m going to change Christianity from within’. investigation. Dacus went through almost a book a day in his early forties. “Not War and peace– it took a long time, ”she laughed. She checked recent favorites. Sweet hay braiding, through Robin Wall Kimmerer. Garth Greenwell: “Probably one of the best living sex writers,” she said. “I read a lot of Marie Olivier. I would be so happy if she ended up being an inspiration just because the feeling I get from reading Mary Oliver is so unique, so essential and so grounded.