On “Troublemaker Doppelgänger,” a bluesy jaunt from Lucy Dacus’ debut album, the singer-songwriter posits, “No child is born knowing there’s an ugly or evil thing / When did my folks stop covering my eyes?” It’s a thesis statement of sorts for No Burden, a record that explores the responsibilities of adulthood. The cover art features a childhood picture of the Richmond native lying in the grass—a nod to an innocent youth.
What began as a school project for bandmate/guitarist Jacob Blizard wound up putting Dacus and the rest of the band on the map. With the help of their friend, producer Collin Pastore, they secured a session at Starstruck Studios in Nashville and recorded the whole album in one day. Released last February on Richmond’s EggHunt Records, No Burden won over critics, audiences and other record labels alike with its propulsive riffs and worldly songwriting. Last spring, Dacus signed to indie stalwart Matador Records, which re-released the album in September. After an extensive tour, Dacus and crew are back in Nashville, recording a follow-up with Pastore.
“There’s certainly more pressure this time than Jacob getting a passing grade,” Dacus says. “I’m hyperaware of the fact that I have an automatic audience this time around. No Burden came out of the blue for most people, so I think the response was a largely pleasant surprise. But now [that] surprise element is gone, people already have a context of our work that they’ll be drawing from and comparing to. Anticipating judgment can be crippling, especially when I’ve put so much more attention and carefulness into the songs this time around.”
Dacus, who began playing solo gigs around Richmond in her late teens, has shifted her approach to songwriting.
“I didn’t play with a band before making No Burden and I think I’ve developed as a songwriter and performer since then,” Dacus says. “Now I write with a band in mind.”
While No Burden is a coming-of-age look at the world, Dacus’ forthcoming album also maintains a cohesive narrative—albeit one that flows in another direction.
“The next record is sort of the opposite. It’s me approaching what I believe to be the hardest thing to look at: death,” Dacus says. “The album is an arc of loss that ends with coming to terms with your own death, or my own death. I feel like I have to get this album and this viewpoint out in the open before I can make anything else.”
Dacus writes with a wisdom and sings with a voice that surpasses her age. She’s a culture junkie, and has been creating ever since she can remember.
“My mom is an elementary school music teacher and my dad is a guitarist and mega music fan, so it hasn’t necessarily been an option whether I’d be into music or not,” she says. “I have always sung, so I guess you could say that was my first instrument. My mom tried teaching me piano during elementary school and I was a huge brat about it so she stopped. I got my first acoustic guitar in seventh grade off of Craigslist and taught myself some chords.”
From there, she became involved in Richmond’s burgeoning arts scene, opening for local bands.
“I will always tout Richmond as a nurturing place to support and be supported as a musician. There are so many creative people and mind-blowing bands, it doesn’t make sense,” she says. “And since Richmond isn’t viewed as a music hub (even though it very well could be), there isn’t the strain of oversaturation. People are still excited to uplift new bands, and it’s relatively easy to get yourself out there, which is important when you’re starting to get into playing shows. I can’t imagine being a barely budding band in Brooklyn.”
For Dacus, playing shows was a hobby, and she opted to attend Virginia Commonwealth University to study film after high school. She quickly became disillusioned and decided to take a semester off, coinciding with the recording of No Burden.
“I was used to being in front of crowds because I grew up doing theater. The reason I stopped is because I didn’t enjoy pretending,” Dacus says. “It’s much scarier to get in front of a crowd and not be a character with a script, to be yourself and responsible for everything you say. But you get used to it. I still get scared occasionally, but I try to see it as a sign that I still care.”
Even with the whirlwind year, Dacus still doesn’t claim the musician moniker.
“I don’t really see myself as a musician. I’ve never taken a music class so I don’t feel entitled to that title,” she says. “I see myself as a writer. Content is the most important part of this job for me. …I hope that my music can provide solace and understanding in the way that I’ve found solace in the work of honest and vulnerable people who are brave enough to share their hardest moments, highest happinesses and most complex confusions with strangers like me.”