Homegrown hero: Lucy Dacus on newfound fame and trusting the process

Lucy Dacus performs at the Jefferson Theater on October 11. Publicity photo Lucy Dacus performs at the Jefferson Theater on October 11. Publicity photo

Lucy Dacus is as humble as they come. For starters, she recently secured an address in her hometown of Richmond. A move to a major arts hub like L.A. or NYC? Not on the radar. She exclusively speaks about her self-titled act using the plural pronoun “we,” naturally tugging her bandmates into the conversation and habitually deflecting conceit. She remains dazed by the premise that fans around the world seek to engage with her tunes, citing her rise to fame as a dream come true rather than an obvious artistic progression.

Most 23-year-olds are fresh out of school, scrambling to kickstart their careers and start carving life paths. How many can say that they have landed a record deal, dropped two-and-a-half albums, and been pegged as “a new favorite” by a vice-presidential candidate? Despite the artistic accolades, the university dropout maintains an age-appropriate swagger and unassuming spirit.

Dacus connected with C-VILLE by phone to discuss her musical breakthrough, brand new band, and songwriting secrets.

C-VILLE Weekly: Can you point to a moment when you realized you were destined to be a musician?

Lucy Dacus: It wasn’t a dream I let myself dream as a kid. I wanted to be a filmmaker, and before that a therapist, a professional diver, and a construction worker. I always loved music, but it never occurred to me that I could really do it. When my first single, “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” came out I had a flood of emails. I think it took a mass affirmation like that to show me people would actually want to listen.

What’s the extent of your formal music education?

I took music through elementary and middle school, but I haven’t taken any classes past what they provide in public schools. I taught myself how to “play guitar” (and I put play guitar in quotation marks because I don’t really know how to play). But I’ve always sung, and my mom—an elementary school music teacher—sings. She has little catchy songs for [everything]. She’ll call me while I’m on the road and be like, “Oh, you’re in Kansas? Here’s the song about Kansas that I know,” or, “Oh, you’re at a gas station? Here’s a song from the ’50s that’s a jingle from a gas commercial.” So music…doesn’t feel separate from the rest of my life. That’s why it’s hard to [pick] an aha moment.

Is collaboration a huge part of your creative process?

I write all of my songs alone, but more recently, I’ve been writing more with other people. I just started this band, boygenius, with my friends Julien [Baker] and Phoebe [Bridgers], and that was a completely new experience I didn’t know if I was capable of.

How hard it is to merge personal experiences and artistic inclinations when writing in a group?

All three of us have dealt with weird fans, or feeling homesick, or the strain of a relationship while…on tour. That’s why it was easy, we’re in similar places in our lives. Songwriting is really dependent on trust, and I think that’s why people do it alone so much because it’s hard to trust other people with something so personal.

Has it led you to trust more openly in your personal life?

In a way, yes. Every time I write a song, it’s like I’ve polished a truth I can look at externally from myself. If there’s confusion in my head, barfing up a song sometimes will help me see what I think. A lot of trust is understanding, so when I understand [myself] more, I can understand the people around me, and that leads to compassion.

Were you ever worried about being taken advantage of as an emerging female artist?

When we were being approached by labels, one said, “We’d love to sign you in half a year or a year because we just took on a lot of women, so I don’t know if we have space on the roster [for] another.” And I was like, “I’m definitely not going to sign with you guys if you think that you have too many women.” And the truth was that less than a quarter of their bands had a woman in [them]. But I think slowly but surely that mentality is becoming outdated. I’ve felt safer with each new music industry person that I‘ve met. You find your right crew and end up walking down paths with people that you trust.

What is it like going on stage, pouring out your lyrics, and hearing a room sing along?

That’s the best thing about this. Hearing people say the words that I wrote—it’s the highest compliment because they’re showing me that I’ve taken up space in their lives and they’ve given time, energy, and thought to my music. And not only that, but I value some of these songs for the meanings that they have taken on through the eyes of strangers. —Caroline Hockenbury

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