Lucy Dacus intends to make musical history

Richmond-based rocker gets excited about upcoming show, new album “Historian”


Richmond-based alt-rocker Lucy Dacus spoke with The Cavalier Daily about her new album "Historian" and her upcoming show at The Southern Cafe and Music Hall.

Courtesy Dustin Condren

Lucy Dacus has a lot in common with the average University student. For starters, there’s her age. At just 22, Dacus would pass for a fourth-year. 

She also experiences many of the emotions which just about any University student faces at one time or another — in her words, “stress, anxiety, anticipation, excitement.” But these interrelated, conflicting feelings don’t stem from an upcoming essay deadline or the concerns of an imminent job search. Dacus doesn’t attend college — she dropped out of Virginia Commonwealth University after less than two years — and she already has a job secured, as one of indie rock’s boldest, most exciting new voices.

Instead, Dacus is stressed, anxious, excited and eagerly anticipating the release of her upcoming album “Historian,” with a slated March 2 release. This is the follow-up to her 2016 debut “No Burden,” a remarkable, diverse collection of indie rock tunes. Dacus is also going on tour to support the new album — at The Southern Cafe and Music Hall March 7 as one of her first stops.

Arts and Entertainment had the opportunity to speak with Dacus about “Historian” and all that comes with it — its backgrounds, its moods and its myriad influences.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Arts and Entertainment: You’ve talked a lot about the stress associated with waiting for the new album to come out. Now that it’s just a few days away, has that stress lessened at all?

Lucy Dacus: I don’t know. It’s always morphing. Stress, anxiety, anticipation, excitement — it’s all one emotion that veers positive and negative. I think right now it’s leaning towards positive — I’m really excited. Sometimes it’s stressful to be excited, but I just really want people to hear it.

AE: How long has “Historian” been in the works?

LD: That depends on your metric for that question. I’ve been writing these songs for six years, 

so that’s the longest answer. We recorded in March — like a year ago — and the album was totally finished in June. That’s how long I’ve been waiting since it’s been a finished product.

AE: So, you’ve been sitting on this for a while.

LD: Yeah. A lot of these songs we’ve actually played live, and people who have seen us live might recognize some of them. 

AE: Is that standard fare for an album to sit around for a year before it’s released?

LD: A year is a little long. But if you want to press it onto vinyl, that takes three or four months. You also have to come up with all the art for it. We’re lucky enough to be on Matador, and that label has other artists that they’ve agreed to put out. We basically have to work with their schedule, which I was more than happy to do. It’s crazy being able to work with them.

AE: In a previous interview, you described “Night Shift” as a “hopeful” breakup song. Would you say that adjective can be applied to “Historian” as an album? What are some of the album’s dominant moods?

LD: It’s a hopeful album, but it’s about difficult things — sad or frustrating or debilitating things. I write about loss a lot on the record, but in the end, I always try to communicate that loss is just a part of life. Basically, it’s that principle that hope always does win out. You can always go beyond what’s holding you back. That’s the sort of progress I try to remember myself, and it felt good to write an album about it.

AE: On a similar note, how would you describe the progression of your work — starting with “No Burden” and coming to this album? Would you say you see any inherent themes, inherent messages, inherent styles? What are some stylistic and thematic changes you’ve made?

LD: “Historian” is a much bigger album. I wrote all the songs on “No Burden” to play solo. Now, I write songs with a band in mind — I have to think of bass parts, think of drum parts. I feel like I’m more responsible for what’s on this record. I feel a little more in touch with how to record, how to write, how to arrange.

There’s a lot of distortion. I sing louder, and I think it’s about the content. The content is a little more difficult, and so I think sonically, it’s a little more dissonant. That doesn’t mean that it lacks quiet moments. I just think the dynamic range is bigger on this record.

AE: “No Burden” definitely has a more sober feel ... “bigger” is a good word to describe [new track] “Night Shift” — it’s almost bombastic. It has such an incredible range.

LD: It’s so much fun to play. 

AE: Is that one that you’ve been playing live often?

LD: We’ve been playing it at the end of sets, just to kind of lead people into the new material. It’s been interesting to see how people react to it. It seems like they just forget “No Burden.” They come to the merch table and say, “Oh my god, that new song … I like “No Burden,” but that one is so cool.” And I’m happy about that. I just hope that keeps happening.

AE: To what extent would you say your background influences your work? Does your music have any inherent ties to Richmond?

LD: I guess the cop-out answer would be that there’s nothing except the background. I couldn’t write anything without my background. My high school, my family … I take in a lot of the culture here, whether I like it or not, and it tends to come out in the songs. There’s a song on “Historian” called “Yours & Mine” that’s about protesting. 

I feel like Richmond is fertile ground for political activism — it’s close to D.C., it was the capital of the Confederacy. Those things weigh on me — they’re responsibilities. I can see that coming out in various ways in my songs.

Lucy Dacus will play at The Southern Cafe and Music Hall March 7, alongside And The Kids and Adult Mom.

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