If you want to know Lucy Dacus, just listen to her songs and watch her band on stage.
That is who the 22-year-old indie-rock sensation is.
“The band is called Lucy Dacus; my name is so totally associated with the content,” she said in a mid-March phone interview. “We’re not up there playing characters. Unlike some artists, I’m not bothered by people feeling like they’re seeing me at the shows. I think it’s fair to assume that.”
And Dacus said they are hearing her in the songs she writes, which, she readily admits, come from her life.
“I’ve talked with friends about this. When you write about yourself, that’s what people connect to,” Dacus said. “When you write a sermon or a lesson, that may not reach people. I’ve learned a lot from people who have been writing about themselves.”
The latest batch of Dacus’ songs can be found on Historian, her instantly acclaimed second Matador Records album that she says is a song cycle of loss, perseverance, and, ultimately, optimism. There is a song about a recent breakup with a boyfriend and one about the death of her grandmother.
But not all of the songs on the album, which was released in early March, were written together. Rather they were pulled together as Dacus began to choose material and record a year ago.
“I wrote some of the songs years after the events that inspired them,” Dacus said. “It took that long to put words to things that can be hard to deal with and think about. I draw on old material. There are a couple songs that were even older than No Burdens [her 2016 debut]...I don’t feel like there is a sophomore jinx. I feel like this record has come together in a more powerful way.”
That power can be heard not only in Dacus’ lyrics but also in the music that is richer and more involved than on No Burdens without departing from the guitar-based format.
“It’s kind of an extension in every way,” Dacus said. “The music is a step up. The content is more difficult. My signing, I get louder. The guitars get louder. It makes sense to me as a follow up album.”
Dacus’ songwriting is an outgrowth of the writing she’s been doing since elementary school, when she started journaling in second grade.
“I was always writing,” she said. “I’ve always been attracted to words and stories, communication. It doesn’t feel like something special though. Humans are fascinated with communication. I was always drawn to words and stories, staying in touch with your feelings and being open to what’s around you.
“There was never an ‘aha’ moment when a spider bit me and I knew I could write song,” Dacus said. “For that reason, I don’t know if I’m always going to be able to. I want to write songs forever, but it’s an elusive thing.”
Dacus, who’s based in Richmond, Virginia, comes by music almost as naturally as she does writing. Her mother was an elementary school music teacher and pianist.
“We’d clean the house and sing together,” Dacus said. “She taught me how to harmonize when I was really young. That’s probably the most musical training I’ve had—her giving me an ear for harmony. The rest of it is all self-taught.”
Dacus says she looks to Shakey Graves, the Texan who started solo and works a lot in open B tuning, which she uses, and Broken Social Scene, which has an expansive sound and ends songs where they need to be ended, as writing inspirations.
Now she gets to take her songs out on the road and present them in her headlining shows—with everyone in the venue there to see her. That could be a lot of pressure for a young artist. But not for Dacus.
“Not pressure as much as desire,” she said. “I really want to do that. If there’s any pressure, it’s from myself. I don’t want to have a bad show. I just want to have a good time. I think if I do, other people do.”
In fact, Dacus is thrilled to have Historian out in the world—and garnering rave reviews from critics and often newfound fans.
“It’s super exciting,” she said. “I’ve lived with the songs for so long and now they’re out there. I’m the mother; no one else can do that. I’m really happy others can hear it. It’s kind of strange. I’ve had them in my iTunes for so long, different mixes, and I’ve only shared them with a few people—family and friends. Now people are hearing it, writing about it, talking to me about it. It’s been an adjustment that way.”
Now on her first headlining tour, Dacus has been the hottest brand going in indie rock in 2018, with dozens of articles and reviews written about her and lots of shows, including an opening slot on the NPR showcase at South by Southwest.
The fact that her music is reaching people, both recorded and live, has been instantly fulfilling.
“That’s probably the coolest part of all of this—that really immediate affirmation,” Dacus said. “How many jobs are there in this world that people come up to you and say, ‘You’re making my life better’? A doctor maybe. That feeling is never going to get old. Talking about it, I feel like tearing up. I’m such a softie. I really value the people that value me.”