Update 9:30 p.m.: Troubled by the recently-passed Texas abortion laws, Lucy Dacus has pledged that all of the monies she makes at the her upcoming four shows in Texas (including Houston) on tickets and merch will go towards a number of Texas-based funds and agencies that protect abortion rights. She Tweeted “If you’re not cool with me doing this, don’t come to the shows.” Dacus explains more in this Rolling Stone interview.
If there’s one positive outcome from the pandemic, it’s that many people have used the forced downtime to take up a new hobby or interest. A smaller group, of course, has actually stuck to it. Oh, how many sewing machines have sat lonely on dining room tables, or Rosetta Stone software packages remained unopened.
Add singer/songwriter/guitarist Lucy Dacus to that smaller group. Because during the past 18 months she’s discovered a passion for…kayaking!
“I’ve really gotten into it! I live with six people in Philadelphia and we’ve just been watching TV and playing tennis. I was wearing my mask everywhere, even to the park,” she says. “But with kayaking, it’s a chance for me to just go outside and be out in the middle of water with no one around. I could take my mask off and breathe some fresh air.”
She adds that she’d like to say she’s gotten more into cooking, but hasn’t and “is still not a great cook.”
Dacus and her band are back on the road now in support of her recently-released third record, Home Video (Matador). It was written and recorded pre-pandemic, so she is excited to finally give the material a live outing.
So far, she’s a handful of dates into the tour that will stop at the White Oak Music Hall on September 18. And concertgoers will be required to provide proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID test taken no more than 72 hours before the show for entry.
“It’s really been magical being back. I was super nervous at the beginning and I’m still super cautious. But there’s nothing better to me than playing a show and being lucky that people are showing up and singing along,” Dacus says. “I feel like my job is real. Otherwise, I’m just putting music on the internet. And interacting with it on the screen doesn’t seem like reality to me.”
The brilliant and engaging Home Video was inspired by the 26-year-old Dacus’ reflection on her upbringing in Richmond, Virginia. Its 11 tracks are insightful, deep and sometimes humorous dissections of adolescent/teenage/young adult love and lust. And all the passion, embarrassment, intensity and joy that comes with those times.
First single and leadoff track “Hot & Heavy” sets things n motion as the narrator revisits basement makeup sessions with a “firecracker” after a return home years later. The video was shot in Richmond’s historic Byrd Theatre, with Dacus’ mother, grandmother and other family and friends acting as extras.
“For my first record [2016’s No Burden], I didn’t think anybody would hear it because it was my friend’s school project. And for the second [2018’s Historian], I wanted to show people that I make rock music and not Americana music, so there was a lot of distorted guitars” she offers.
“But now, I don’t care what genre I’m associated with. I just want to do what’s right for the song. So there’s pianos and acoustic guitars and synths on this one. And that’s all stuff I was categorically not interested in before.”
Her songs’ narrators may sneak out of a parent’s house to meet an obsessive new love (“First Time”), become jealous of attachments to another (“Cartwheel”), try to prevent a live-in companion from leaving (“Please Stay”), protest a friend’s potential bad relationship (“Christine”) or wonder if a friendship could be a tipping point to something more (“Triple Dog Dare”).
Other romantic interests are viewed with suspicion. “Brando” introduces the film-obsessed boy who takes a girl for granted (“You called me cerebral/I didn’t know what you meant/But now I do/Would it have killed you/To call me pretty instead?).” While Daniel in “Going Going Gone” is future-projected to be “grabbing asses, spilling beer” not long out of school days.
All the songs are written from the first person, and are mostly autobiographical or from direct experience. Dacus’ lyrics sometimes give the secondary lover/crush a specific gender, while other times it’s implied or left wholly open to interpretation.
In at least one interview, Dacus has identified herself as pansexual, or being emotionally, romantically and/or physically attracted to someone regardless of gender or gender identity.
One of the standout tracks is “VBS,” in which Dacus reflects on her many, many stints at Vacation Bible School.
“I grew up very religious and went to dozens of those as early as age 5, though a lot of them were at the church. The others were more like regular camping, except most of the activities were God-centric,” Dacus says. “It’s more a way for parents to get their kids off their backs, and they think that no tomfoolery will go on. But there was plenty of tomfoolery at VBS!”
And then there’s “Thumbs,” a fan-favorite she’s been playing live for years, but was hesitant to actually record due to some hardboiled lyrics.
In the song, Dacus accompanies a friend to a bar to meet her long-absent father, who happens to be in town. Small talk ensues (“Honey, you sure look great/Do you get the checks I send on your birthday?”), but the digging of her friend’s fingernails into Dacus’ knees while the daughter smiles absently tells another story.
“I would kill him of you would let me/I would kill him quick and easy” Dacus-as-friend sings matter of factly, before putting out there what she’d really like to do to Father of the Year. “I imagine my thumbs on the irises/Pressing in until they burst.” It’s all the more menacing because Dacus delivers the lyrics in a low, calm voice.
The song also says something else: That we are more often more outraged to see someone we love taken advantage of or squirming in an awkward situation than we would be for ourselves. The last line “You don’t owe him shit/Even if he said you did” is repeated twice. And that’s on purpose.
“It’s easier to see what’s going on with someone from a distance. I was writing it about my friend, but that last line is there twice because I needed to hear it for myself. I kind of like that I got to give myself advice first before by giving it to her,” she says.
“That song is really special to me, but it’s brutal. I don’t want to condone violence, but just communicate a feeling that I think is very relatable. For someone who is causing pain to be hurt as well.”
Outside of her own career, Dacus is also part of the indie rock “supergroup” boygenius with fellow musicians Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker. And while they’ve toured and put out an EP in 2018, any future plans are unclear. Dacus says the trio group chat regularly, and also appear on each other’s records (including Home Video).
This upcoming Houston show will be her third visit to the city as well as the White Oak Music Hall, though this time she’ll be playing the larger downstairs room. And maybe she’ll find some time this time to revisit one local gastronomic attraction.
“I remember getting some really good Thai food somewhere in Houston. It was at a market that also had grocery aisles,” she says “I feel like I’ve had many good meals in Houston, and I’ve got friends who live there. It seems like a really cool place.”
Finally, during the pandemic, Dacus says she’s also written more music, though it “may never see the light of day.” And she readily admits that her own creative process is still very much unfolding, which means that she’s taking her audience along on the journey with her in near real-time.
“I write songs in order to figure out what I think. And there are categories of my life that I haven’t touched. Because I haven’t been brave enough yet,” she sums up. “I’m kind of hoping that the next records are both difficult and rewarding for me.”
Lucy Dacus plays at 8 p.m. on Saturday, September 18, at White Oak Music Hall, 2915 North Main. For information, call 713-237-0370 or visit WhiteOakMusicHall.com. Palehound opens, $18-$20. COVID protocols required for entry, check website for details.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.