Photography Ebru Yildiz

Lucy Dacus' new album is about lost friendships and queer feelings

The indie rocker discusses her third record, the novel-inspired ‘Home Video’.

by Jenna Mahale
24 June 2021, 9:20am

Photography Ebru Yildiz

Before Lucy Dacus became a rockstar, rising to prominence alongside her contemporaries Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker (the three of whom also happen to make up indie rock supergroup boygenius, ICYMI); before she unleashed the ruthless emotional assault of 2018’s Historian upon the world; even before her confident, heartfelt debut No Burden in 2016, the record led by the critically acclaimed “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” — she was a photographer.

“It was a hobby and then a job,” the 26-year-old says of the craft that initially captured her heart. “I was the person that always brought a camera everywhere. If ever I felt socially inept, I would just hold up the camera and I would have something to do; it gave me this balance of being engaged and disengaged.” However, the Virginia-based musician — now having toured the US as well as Europe, and starred in multiple music videos — was never especially camera-shy herself, welcoming attention; accustomed from a young age to being watched.

“I feel like I've always been a performer, just because I've always been looked at,” Lucy explains, tracing the origins of this confidence to her theatre-actor mother and her relentlessly camcorder-toting father. Appropriately titled Home Video, the musician’s third album is an homage to the latter. “There are hours and hours of footage of me growing up, especially those early days.” We are treated to glimpses of these moments in the visuals for the album’s poignant opener “Hot & Heavy”. In one clip, the artist as a young child, dressed in the pinky-purples of 90s girlhood blows a kiss at the camera, her mouth coloured with a surprisingly neat smear of lipstick. She sings in unison with her kindergarten classmates; in her living room, to her dad, into a comically large toy mic; alone on stage as an adolescent, her hair side swept into a low, face-obscuring ponytail.

This easy intimacy is consistently maintained throughout Home Video, a record with a rich storytelling impulse that could easily have seen it released as a written memoir in a parallel reality. But her father’s impulse to document is the driving force behind the project, so the album must stay true to its very palpable, audiovisual origins: “He made this tangible gift that has really shaped my own memory of myself.” Home Video “comes from the same sort of impulse that he had,” Lucy explains, “a way to collect memories, make them into something physical and capture them forever.”

But the memories turned over throughout Home Video are most often those that live just out of frame from a loving parent’s lens. “You called me cerebral / I didn't know what you meant,” Lucy sings on “Brando”, her latest single, gently skewering her subject for their tactless circumlocution. “But now I do / Would it have killed you to call me pretty instead?” In these moments, Home Video is a yell into the void of the past, conjuring retribution for a more vulnerable, younger self. The album’s closer, “Triple Dog Dare”, takes this brand of reckoning a step further: the song (the artist’s current favourite) is a soft, sweeping reimagining of a sadder, truer story. “I can fish for our food and you know how to start a flame / If you don't get out now, you'll only have yourself to blame.” Lucy describes the song’s final lines as “a fictional alternate ending” that sees two friends decide to defy the restrictions of the queerphobic culture around them and run away together.

Though much of it reads like poetry — in the first 20 seconds of “Going Going Gone” we are treated to the tender line: “Stealing hats and trading jackets / Locking lips and braces brackets”. It’s prose fiction that has inspired many of the record’s lyrics. Along with James Baldwin, Henry James and Eileen Myles, Lucy cites Garth Greenwell (“he’s super upfront about sex and sexuality”) and gives a special nod to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels: “That series has so much to do with friendship and I feel like my record, if anything, is about friendship.”

Looking back so profoundly through her past has, inevitably, unearthed regrets. In particular: “The intensity with which I loved God”. “I used to be so judgmental of friends who were breaking the rules by doing drugs and having sex,” Lucy admits. But as she explains on “VBS” (Vacation Bible School) — a light, melodic exorcism of deeply buried religious trauma — the singer was herself “hedging [her] bets”, jeopardising a hard-won space in heaven by crushing on her camp counselor, Amy.

It may have been a time in her life that she now looks back on with shame, but Lucy’s Christian upbringing is as much a part of her and her craft as her enduring love of photography: both restated the values of community and togetherness that bolster her music today. Sitting in a circle in the girls’ cabin, playing Amy’s guitar, Lucy felt a strong sense of purpose — that she wanted to be a force that could magnetise people to each other. “There's no better feeling than introducing friends that don't know each other yet and watching them become friends,” she says grinning. “I love that. I'm chasing that feeling all the time.”

Home Video by Lucy Dacus is released June 25 on Matador Records. Follow i-D on Instagram and TikTok for more music.

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