Smile Politely

Lucy Dacus pins C-U next on her “Map on a Wall”

Lucy Dacus is just getting started. The 21-year-old from Richmond, Virginia is bringing her smooth-flowing and particularly poignant take on indie rock to this year’s Pygmalion Festival in support of her brand new record, No Burden, which was released this past February. I got a chance to talk with Lucy about her current tour, as well as her views on music today and her songwriting process, before she and the rest of the band take the stage.

SP: It looks like the Pygmalion Fest in Champaign is one of the many stops on your group’s extensive tour. How has touring in support of your latest record No Burden gone so far?

Lucy Dacus: We started the tour with back-to-back shows in New York just this past week, and for us to start out with two sold shows at the Bowery Ballroom was pretty crazy, but it’s good to be back on the road. Playing in our hometown is great, but I feel like half of my home is the band and the other half is Richmond, so it feels like touring is a natural state of being.

SP: Are there any difficulties being on the road, away from home, or do you think at this point you’ve gotten into a groove now?

Dacus: The difficult part is people, not places. It’s worrying about the people that I care about, and I’m trying to get better at that, like calling my friends more often, checking in. Being so far away is the hardest part.

SP: What is it like to play these songs in front of an audience?

Dacus: It’s scary at first. I used to perform solo, and that was even scarier than having the whole band there because the whole weight of the performance is on you. I ask myself, “Are these songs, these thoughts, are they separable or are they mine?” Even being with the band, some people think of the lyrics as “Oh, those are Lucy Dacus’s thoughts on the subject,” which is mostly true. But I think its part being vulnerable at first, and then you get used to it and it becomes part of the job. Every now and then during a show I’ll feel my heart beating fast and then have to calm myself down, but it is not as scary as it used to be. It’s so much more fun with a band, bouncing off energy from other people because I can look to my left and see Robbie, our bassist, hopping around, and then to my right is Jacob (Blizzard), playing guitar super focused, and Miles (Huffman), our drummer, just having the time of his life. I prefer it much more than playing solo.

SP: Are there any songs of yours in particular that you enjoy performing more than others?

Dacus: All of our new songs on No Burden are definitely the most fun to play because I wrote them when I was solo, but with a band in mind. So the dynamics now are more whole I think, but it’s really fun to play “Map on a Wall” because it’s a positive song and it’s cool to watch people get into it.


SP: Who are your biggest inspirations as a songwriter?

Dacus: It’s funny, whenever I get asked about inspiration I sometimes don’t know what to say because for me writing music was a secondary thing up until this point. I wasn’t originally looking at artists saying I want to write their type of music. I have been influenced by Bruce Springsteen, but a lot of my inspirations now are artists that I found out about after making No Burden, like Courtney Barnett.

SP: When you write a song, do you start with the music or the lyrics?

Dacus: It’s always lyrics first. I never studied music or took classes for it, so I have to have context first to really believe in making the music for it. I’ll finish all the lyrics and melody at the same time and then mess with them on the guitar, figure out the chords and then bring that to the band.

SP: Is there a particular reason why the album is called No Burden?

Dacus: In my senior year of high school I took a film class and began to do the final project where you had to make one film, so the weight of that kinda fell on me pretty heavily. If I had to make one film, what do I want it to say? What do I want people to understand? And what am I trying to communicate more than anything else? So I was brainstorming all of these thoughts on notebook paper, and years later I found a phrase on there that said, “You are no burden,” and that’s something I wish people knew. Like, I could tell anyone that you are no burden. So I figured that could be the album title.

SP: What is music today?

Lucy: Music that has staying power is music that asks for thought. I think of Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce as artists who address the confines of the music industry of what they can and can’t do; being creative while also having people think about where they are and how they treat others. It encourages people to look around them and see each other, and that’s the best kind of music.

Lucy Dacus is playing the Pygmalion Festival on Thursday, Sept. 22nd, at Krannert Center, from 7:15 – 7:45. Visit the website for more information and to purchase tickets.

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