Lucy Dacus' journey to the past
On her new album, Home Video, the 26-year-old rocker gets more personal than usual. "It takes a lot of work to hold to what I think is true about myself," she tells EW.
Last March, Lucy Dacus began digging into her past. Combing through old journals, she typed up her handwritten entries, finding solace in the heavier moments she had once put to paper. "I was just curious about certain time periods," Dacus says. "I'd go back and read what I wrote about it to see how my perspective had changed." The process gave her a new outlook on her formative years, and became the catalyst for her forthcoming album, Home Video (out June 25).
An anomaly in a sea of musicians, Dacus has mostly avoided interviews via Zoom in the last year; this one - conducted from her bedroom in Philadelphia, where she recently relocated - happens to be the first she's done in support of her new record. "I was like, 'What do I do?'" Dacus, 26, says. Having mercifully skipped out on Zoom fatigue, she's come prepared with a bold red lip and a can-do attitude. "I put on lipstick, made some tea, and tried to make a little intentional moment out of it."
Dacus began writing songs for Home Video when she was 21. She had just released her debut album, No Burden, and found herself playing shows far from her home in Richmond, a bustling arts community she felt ingrained in. On the road, she watched her relationships begin to shift. "People in Richmond started to put me on a pedestal in a way that I was uncomfortable with," she says. "Suddenly people who I'd known casually for years through the scene were pretending to be close to me, viewing me as a resource or an avenue to success, not really a person. It made me second guess people's intentions when they were kind to me, which I had never done before."
Dacus struggled to keep out the noise. The input from her local town, along with press and fans, forced her to seek some semblance of familiarity. "I think [I was] trying to reach back into the past and think about formative experiences, just to have some self-assurance about who I am," she says. "It takes a lot of work to hold to what I think is true about myself."
As she explored her past with Home Video, she began playing with the idea of perception versus reality. Inspired by an affection for watching old home movies of herself, the album became rooted in Dacus' reckoning of her own memories. "I could watch these videos with me as a baby and sometimes it's hard to know what my actual memories are versus what I was informed of by the video." But Dacus' third record is her reality as she knows it. "A lot of the songs are note-for-note things that are true about relationships that I've had."
Phoebe Bridgers, who plays with Dacus in the group boygenius, remains in awe of her bandmate's ability to distill those types of personal, true-to-life moments into a song. "Lucy tweeted something about naming an author you can trust always, [and] I feel like Lucy is the author I can trust in her writing," Bridgers says. "She strikes me a lot more like an author than a songwriter."
Much like the memories Dacus spent years chronicling on paper, the songwriting on Home Video is diaristic, full of frank observations that perhaps you're only able to express when you haven't yet been jaded by the outside world. "You gave me your hands 'cause you didn't know what to do with them/and I showed you the way even though I'd never been," sings a starry-eyed Dacus on "First Time," reminiscing about the excitement of early love. The record's personal nature is especially evident in lead single "Thumbs," a track Dacus struggled to find the courage to sing onstage for years. "For a long time, I couldn't really play it without crying," she says. "It got caught in my throat." The song, a hymnal fantasy about murdering her close friend's deadbeat dad, is pretty much factual. Raised a Christian, Dacus always considered herself a pacifist until the event detailed in the lyrics, where she realized she'd do anything to protect those closest to her. "I didn't realize I was judgmental until that day when I felt like I understood violence," she says.
Before playing "Thumbs" for sound engineer Shawn Everett, Dacus told him a friend of hers had cried listening to it; having heard thousands of songs and never tearing up himself, Everett didn't think anything of it. "I just had my daughter not so long ago, and there's something about hearing a young girl going through this really horrible experience with a father I just thought was really so heartbreaking," he recalls. "Then I just cried."
By August 2019, Dacus had recorded most of Home Video at Trace Horse Studio in Nashville. But the slog of a soon-to-be remote world prompted a slow, eight-month-long mixing process with Everett. "It didn't feel like there was a lot of motivation to work on music at the beginning of the pandemic," she says. But with his help throughout the year, Home Video's production began to take shape. "I was watching YouTube videos of some different ways that people were affecting drums, and I was trying out different techniques people were talking about [to create the album's sound]."
Dacus also decided to shed some of her own "weird rules." With No Burden and Historian, the singer largely strayed from pianos, acoustic guitars, and synths, uninterested in being labeled as having an '80s influence or getting boxed into Americana. "People are so quick to put a little white girl with an acoustic guitar into this folk Americana world even if that's not what is going on - no disrespect to folk Americana," says Dacus. But on Home Video, any kind of instrumentation was fair game. With the vulnerable "Partner In Crime," Dacus even opted to use Auto-Tune after experiencing throat issues before recording. While the intention was to replace it with clean vocals later on, the effect ended up informing the track and pairing nicely with the song's distorted synths. "I realized that the way that it complimented the lyrics was really satisfying to me because that song is about being a false version of yourself in order to make yourself attractive to somebody else," she says.
Even with the modifications, the album has its familiar moments. Dacus enlisted her boygenius bandmates Bridgers and Julien Baker to accompany her on a handful of tracks: "Triple Dog Dare," a cinematic power ballad about young queer love forbidden by religion; "Please Stay" a track flanked by a sweeping chorus from Baker and Bridgers that grapples with having a friend who doesn't value themself the way you do; and "Going Going Gone" a delicate acoustic folk jaunt reimagining young love. Baker says she remains continually inspired by the way Dacus works, "asserting herself and prioritizing her own vision." "Even though it might be confrontational to assert her own opinion or demand certain things from other people, or the creation of her art, Lucy prioritizes the art, and I just admire it so much," Baker says.
According to Dacus, the collaborations were actually recorded in the same session in Nashville as Baker's track "Favor," from her most recent album Little Oblivions; and "Graceland Two" and "I Know The End" from Bridgers' sophomore LP Punisher. "I feel like what all those songs have in common is what they have to do about friendship in a context that puts friendship through the wringer," says Dacus. "I feel like they get it. It's only something that I would have them sing on because I know that they understand what it means." Bridgers adds that the "arc of time" for all of the boygenius members' individual records is "a big scrapbook of a friendship."
That only adds to the personal nature of Home Video, an album filled with intimate moments. While Dacus has no regrets digging deeper into her past to re-tell these stories, she does remain slightly uneasy about how revealing the new songs can be at times. "Because the details are so specific, that kind of makes my stomach hurt," she says. "One of the scary things about putting this out is some people that I haven't talked to for a really long time are gonna know."
A version of this story appears in the July issue of Entertainment Weekly. Order the July issue now or find it on newsstands beginning June 18. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.