More about: Lucy Dacus
Lucy Dacus is recovering from a gruelling twelve-hour photoshoot when we speak on Zoom. Wearing her signature red lipstick, she’s about to put out her third album, Home Video, a record stuffed full of reconstructed childhood memories from Dacus’ journals aged seven to seventeen. Some are so uncomfortable, so unspeakable, the average person wouldn’t even bring themselves to write it into existence. But Lucy Dacus’ entire career has revolved around her quiet lyricism that cloaks its one-two gut punch honesty.
Debuting with 2016’s No Burden – an album that was recorded in just twenty hours – Dacus garnered critical acclaim for her no-nonsense, folk-rock approach to music. Her first single, ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore’, is an intelligent take-down of typical stereotypes of women in music. This was followed by 2018’s Historian, a record about the various grievings and losses Dacus has had to endure, flecked with moments of hope. Home Video is comprised of intensely personal vignettes of Dacus and her past friends and lovers in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia.
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Naturally, this causes her a lot of anxiety putting out this record: Dacus describes her feelings about the run-up of the album release as "increasingly bad" – followed by a nervous chuckle. "Like, not so bad that I put off thinking what this record would mean for so long, and now that it’s about to come out, I’m like: 'oh my gosh…' I just said so much. Like, I really just told people a lot. And I didn’t need to do that, why am I doing this? But it is what it is."
That question of ‘why am I doing this?’ will vary depending on what song you hear on the album. Home Video – a title that leans into its themes of nostalgia – can be relatively straightforward in its message and intentions. ‘Thumbs’ is a deceptively gory piece about wanting to murder Dacus’ friend’s father, Game of Thrones-style. But the track isn’t just voyeuristic fantasy; Dacus revisits that memory to demonstrate a different side to anger and rage.
"I felt really weird in the moment because it’s the first time I felt violent towards somebody", Dacus recounts. "I really never wanted to engage with hate or violence. It’s not something that people aspire to do. But it really showed me that it was a very human emotion, and defending each other is actually something good. Like, I don’t think murder is a solution, but I just felt really comfortable in the fact that I didn’t have to assume the best of him… that was basically the discovery of boundaries."
Surprisingly, ‘Thumbs’ was not the most difficult song to write. ‘Please Stay’, a touching ode to those struggling with suicidal ideation took that crown. "I really wanted to choose the right words to express that feeling. It’s kind of heavy material and I know a lot of people struggle with wanting to take their life, or you have loved ones that have trouble with that. I know that it’s a sensitive state of mind so I wanted to be respectful, but also represent that feeling of helplessness". You can feel her utter lack of power in the pre-chorus when her friend tells her ‘I love you’: ‘I say I love you too because it’s true/What else am I supposed to do?/Maybe bar the door when you move to leave.’ The song becomes more frantic and desperate in the bridge, as Dacus cycles through multiple ideas to keep her friend alive, a conscious tactic on her part.
"I think I knew I wanted to make the song that the entire point of it was: do anything in order to keep living your life", she says. "There are so many options. And some of them might feel insignificant, but why not try all of them first?"
The unassuming, casual tone that Dacus often adopts in her songwriting is something she values in other writers, too. She cites poets Mary Oliver and Ada Limon as two inspirations when writing (on Limon: "She’s just so awesome and conversational and beautiful. Her poetry doesn’t feel academic, but it feels really beautiful".) But it was Viet Thanh Nguyen ("one of the best writers alive", she enthuses) and his 2015 debut novel, The Sympathiser, that changed her perspective on how memory could be written.
"I like how he represented how people shove memories out of their minds", she explains. "Basically that feeling of having a recovered memory: I don’t think I’ve ever really read that before. And I liked that he clearly knew so much about all of the history that he’s referencing and he doesn’t have to say as the author: 'hey, I’m the author here and I care a lot!' It’s shown through the characters and the nuance of their identities and their journeys. I appreciate writers that really accept the nuance of things".
Home Video is thusly concerned not just with pure memory, but how it’s recovered and reframed: something essential to the complicated nature of the album closer, ‘Triple Dog Dare'. "That’s about a friendship I had freshman year of high school, and for a long time I just thought we were really close friends. Then we had a falling out and she was really mean to me, but then I kind of in writing the song realised that maybe we were a little bit in love or something". Dacus, who identifies closest to pansexual, wasn’t out to herself at the time, but ending the record on ‘Triple Dog Dare’ was intended almost as an escapist choice.
"It ends on a different way to the rest of the record. Pretty much the whole record is just the truth, and even the first two third of ‘Triple Dog Dare’ is what happened – but then I wrote a fictional alternate ending for the characters in that song where they don’t have a falling out. They choose each other and they run away with each other, and they run away from home, and they get out from their parents’ thumbs. That felt good to rewrite what happened".
For Dacus, the essence of storytelling lies in the description and its honesty, which she achieves by trying to "write whatever I’m thinking and not think about whether or not people will hear it, just so that I say something honest to myself". Home Video is a record that is unflinchingly frank in its approach to Dacus’ memories, a quality which may bring consequences. "I’m hoping it will all just be fine – and it probably will all just be fine and I am really proud of the record. But yeah. My stomach hurts". Listening to Home Video, the stomach ache will have been worth it.
Home Video is out now.
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More about: Lucy Dacus