LUCY DACUS – ” Home Video “

Posted: June 25, 2021 in MUSIC
Lucy Dacus: Home Video: Limited Edition Clear Vinyl LP

This new gift from Lucy Dacus, her third album, was built on an interrogation of her coming-of-age years in Richmond, VA. Many songs start the way a memoir might—“In the summer of ’07 I was sure I’d go to heaven, but I was hedging my bets at VBS”—and all of them have the compassion, humour, and honesty of the best autobiographical writing. Most importantly and mysteriously, this album displays Dacus’s ability to use the personal as portal into the universal.“

I can’t hide behind generalizations or fiction anymore,” Dacus says, though talking about these songs, she admits, makes her ache. That Home Video arrives at the end of this locked down, fearful era seems as preordained as the messages within. “I don’t necessarily think that I’m supposed to understand the songs just because I made them,” Dacus says, “I feel like there’s this person who has been in me my whole life and I’m doing my best to represent them.” After more than a year of being homebound, in a time when screens and video calls were sometimes our only form of contact, looking backward was a natural habit for many.

Dacus revisits her coming-of-age years in Richmond, Virginia, where she was devoutly Christian with a bit of a self-admitted saviour complex. The record is deeply rooted in the physicality of adolescence: flushed cheeks in a crush’s basement, teenage bodies sprouting like weeds, dancing in the aisle of a five and dime. The memories aren’t always rosy, but Dacus extends kindness to her younger self: “I can’t undo what I’ve done, and I wouldn’t want to,” she sings on “First Time.”

This readiness for self-examination will come as no surprise to longtime listeners: Since her 2016 debut “No Burden”, Dacus has established herself as an empathetic documentarian of a songwriter, surveying the world around her with a keen eye and a tender heart. With “Historian” in 2018, she delved deeper into matters of mortality and the ties that bind, and that same year, she found kinship alongside Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker in Boygenius. On the supergroup’s eponymous EP, Dacus’s writerly visions were elevated to vast new expanses.

In the wake of Historian and boygenius, Dacus’s public profile grew in ways that started to invade her privacy ; she needed a change of scenery. After recording Home Video in Nashville in August 2019, she moved from Richmond to Philadelphia, where she now lives with a half-dozen friends and an extensive library. Among her collection of books are a series of journals, which she has kept since she was a child. While writing Home Video, Dacus would occasionally flip through her diaries to see how she perceived formative experiences in real time. “Sometimes I didn’t even write it down, as if I didn’t find it important at the time,” she says. “Or I would lie about events and I don’t remember the feeling of lying, I must’ve done it compulsively.”

“Hot & Heavy”

I thought I was writing this song about a friend of mine who used to be super reserved and is now very lively. We used to be close, but the more friends she made, the less we saw each other. Then I felt like I was writing about myself from the perspective of someone I had dated—like watching myself go through the process of learning about the world and being less closed off. Then I realized I was both characters. I’ve never felt totally comfortable talking about myself in a song because I compulsively don’t want to be selfish. But everyone has to be some degree of selfish to survive. Selfish art is often the most revealing.

“Christine”

I don’t write from a place of motivation. It happens more unexpectedly, as if something in my brain has finally convinced my body to let it come out. But what has motivated me to share the songs is that they might be meaningful beyond me, and I no longer need to hold on to them so hard. I’ve been thinking about hymns a lot and how you often don’t know who wrote them, but they’ve been sung repeatedly for hundreds of years. I’m not saying that I want or expect my songs to be like that, but I like the idea of songs not needing a writer.

“First Time”

I don’t like to set myself up for disappointment, and if you have any part of you that wants to change the past, you will be disappointed because you literally can’t. All you can do is learn and embark upon the future, or even embark upon the present. Fuck the future—just an idea.

“VBS”

I no longer ascribe to any religion. Religions are super interesting, but religious people can be very misguided. For a long time, I thought I would change Christianity by being the type of Christian I wanted to see. Then I was Christian Agnostic, but very slowly, nobody was asking me what I believed, and I stopped talking about it. I stopped introducing myself as a Christian. But I can’t get away from the fact that I was raised Christian, so it feels like a big part of my life. In general, all religions are trying to figure out how to live in a way that is respectful, or rather, trying to figure out how to live and die. That is a good question for anyone to pose to themselves.

“Cartwheel”

“Cartwheel” is one of the most hodge-podge songs on the record. I wrote it on a walk around Nashville when we were recording the 2019 EP. Over time, I realized it was about my friend from middle school. Eventually, my group of friends started to like boys, and I was like, “What are you doing, we’re having fun! Why are we sneaking in boys to our sleepovers? It’s not more fun when they get here, it’s less fun.” I didn’t get it. The day that she told me she had sex for the first time, I felt so betrayed. Not mad, exactly, but mourning something I couldn’t pin down. I wasn’t supportive, which probably wasn’t good of me, but all my friends seemed to want to grow up faster than me.

“Thumbs”

It’s one of the songs I’m most proud of writing. I didn’t want people to hear it for the first time through a phone speaker. I played it live for so long, because I needed to get used to it with zero expectations in front of me. After I wrote “Thumbs,” I started crying and thought I was going to throw up. Early on, I cried a lot playing it. I’d get choked up and have to pause; and because no one knew the song, it couldn’t have been worth recording. At this point, if I cry, fine, anyone can take a video.

When I wrote the song, I was speaking to the friend: “You don’t know him, even if he said you did.” But then I said it back to myself and realized I needed to hear that, too. I don’t have to play any particular role, even if he and his family are expecting that from me. A part of me wants to be able to do that, but it’s just really intense, and it’s not something I’m familiar with. All in due time, it’s OK if the time isn’t right now or ever, but it might be in the future—it’s up to me.

“Going Going Gone”

That one was a little more theoretical. I did have someone in mind when I was writing it, but I wanted to write about the cycle of boy-girl, man-woman, father-daughter, and how protective fathers may be because they know first hand what men are capable of. The cycle of innocence to corruption to fear.

When I wrote this one, I didn’t like it so much because it had that campfire vibe, and I thought it was too twee. For a long time, I’ve tried to establish myself in people’s minds as Not Americana, because people go to such lengths to show girls with guitars as country adjacent. People have called me alt-country… Genre is dead, and yet, I make rock music. But I felt more comfortable doing whatever the song wanted this time around. So if it’s a campfire song, then let’s get people on the refrains, and let’s do it with acoustic guitars and make it super cozy. My favourite moment is the talking at the end. I like that it’s the exact centre of the record because it feels like an intermission.

“Partner in Crime”

When I was a teen, I wanted to be taken seriously. I wanted to have deep conversations so I would go to shows and get hit on and either not tell people my age or lie about it. Even if I did tell them, someone would give me a line like, “Age is just a number.” I ended up seeing this person for a while who was much older than me. So “Partner in Crime” is a bit of a dark double entendre. At the time, I felt prepared for a relationship like that, because I felt like I was confident and could enter spaces on equal footing with people who were older than me. Then it occured to me, “Wait, I’m 17, it’s weird that he’s dating me.” I thought it was more about me and if I was ready for something, and the answer was yes. But what was he not ready for if he was willing to date a high schooler?

I had a vocal injury and had to be silent for one month, and eventually I got to speak for a couple of hours a day. When we recorded, I would only sing between 3 and 5 p.m. We thought we would have to re-track everything, but it turned out fine. For “Partner in Crime,” I wasn’t hitting the notes so we AutoTuned it, and it turned out to be a happy accident. I hadn’t done anything like that before, and it ended up influencing the arrangement and fitting with the meaning about disguising yourself to be more attractive.

“Brando”

“Brando” is about a friend I had in high school who had based a lot of his identity on his tastes and the media he consumed. When we met, he recognized in me a lack of culture because I grew up in a rural, suburban area and I didn’t really come into contact with many movies or music. So he taught me everything that he loved, and that was the bedrock of our friendship. I realized over time that all he wanted from me was to be a receptacle for his tastes, to mirror him. It was like I was his scene partner in life. It occurred to me later that things he said to me that I thought we were so deep were just quotes, not original thoughts. “Here’s looking at you, kid” was actually something that he said. And then I saw Casablanca.

“Please Stay”

If you’ve ever been a friend to someone who doesn’t think they should continue living and you are trying with everything at your disposal to tell them otherwise, everything feels like fair game. Do anything with your life, ruin it, but don’t end it, just stay another day—that kind of thing. I’ve had a lot of friends throughout my life that have contemplated or committed suicide, and I’ve been involved to varying degrees, as someone they can talk to or be physically around. The sense of clarity in situations like that is so profound, like the only thing that matters is that you’re here.

“Triple Dog Dare”

The relationship at the centre of it was my freshman year of high school, though I visualize the characters in the song as younger. We had a super tight friendship, and were probably a little bit in love. But her mom saw what was going on in a way that I didn’t. She was Catholic and a psychic and would tell my friend, “You are in imminent danger if you go over to Lucy’s house.” So our relationship faltered because we were kept from each other. The song focuses on our connection, her mother being very protective, and at the end of the song there’s a fictionalized alternate ending where they steal a boat and run away. It’s left unclear whether they succeed or die at sea. The group vocal at the end is like a search party. In the last verse, the protective mother is grieving, but she’s also relieved that nothing worse can happen. That idea came from a passage in A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara where a character is talking about how everyone knows about the devastation of loss, but nobody really talks about that feeling of relief.

If we haven’t learned it already, this album is a gorgeous example of the transformative power of vulnerability. Dacus’s voice, both audible and on the page, has a healer’s power to soothe and ground and reckon.

lucy dacus

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