Photography Lera Pentalute 

boygenius is the only supergroup that matters

Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker started boygenius as a joke about male artist archetypes. Then they recorded one of the year's best EPs in just five days.

by Ilana Kaplan
09 November 2018, 3:57pm

Photography Lera Pentalute 

It sounds like an indie-rock fever dream: three of the genre’s top singer-songwriters forming a supergroup at the height of their careers. Luckily, it isn’t. Yes, Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers have formed a band.

The surprise move comes in the wake of three career-defining solo records that connected deeply with fans. Baker’s 2015 album Sprained Ankle was a collection of intimate meditations on religion, mental health, and substance abuse; Bridgers’ 2017 album Stranger in the Alps contained haunting, downcast songs about relationships; and Dacus’ 2015 LP No Burden gave legitimacy to her (and all of our) vulnerable, jittery confessionals.

Since releasing their debut efforts, the young artists have had increasingly busier schedules, but their friendships and a desire to join forces on tour solidified a collaboration. “I think the idea to perform together was pretty obvious, but we were trying to figure out the configuration,” Baker says. “Like, ‘Do we do a cover? do we write a song? do we release, maybe, a 7-inch with some B-sides?’ Eventually, it snowballed into flying out to Los Angeles and spending a week on this project.” In working together, they became boygenius, crafting a self-titled EP.

If you’re thinking the name is a slight at men, you aren’t wrong. “boygenius” refers to the archetype of the eccentric male creative who, whether he realizes it or not, takes up all the space in the room. The idea is that said man’s entitlement ends up contributing to the societal norm in which women are taught to make themselves small and to defer to men, because men implicitly are believed to have better ideas. “It’s a lot more difficult for women, because in the professional world, the artistic world, and the music world, women are constantly having their legitimacy questioned,” Baker explains. “Like, when a man fails, he fails. When a woman fails, women fail, at least in the perception of society, right? And then it contributes to the foregone conclusion that women are not as capable as men.” This only fuels a lack of representation. “We used boygenius as sort of the shorthand for that type of behavior that was so frustrating, and then we thought, you know, it actually wouldn’t make a bad name, and it would be sort of a sarcastic or satirical jab at that societal phenomenon,” Baker adds.

During their rise, Baker, Dacus, and Bridgers have often been highlighted and adored as “female indie artists” who “make sad music.” It’s a problematic idea that makes a slight toward their respective talents and women in general. “I don’t like the idea that women can only make serious or well-respected music if it’s sad,” says Dacus. “Happy music should be serious. I think being able to write happy music is powerful. I’m also a little bothered that it’s all young women’s sadness that people are so attracted to. I don’t really feel comfortable with that type of thing. What is it about female pain that people are so quick to consider?” With boygenius, they’re proving their music contains strength, power, and resilience.

When it came down to the songwriting process for boygenius’ debut EP, it was much like the band: collaborative in nature. “I think sometimes people want us to be like superheroes, like, ‘Lucy does this, and Julien does this, and I do this other thing,’” Bridgers says. “[But] I think we all were ready to fill any role if there was space for it. We all did a little bit of everything.” After spending around five days together in L.A., boygenius had completed an EP. “Each of us brought a single song to the table that we finished in record time, then each of us also brought an unfinished idea, and we finished those together,” says Dacus. “We ended up having six songs.” The trio has since released three songs from the forthcoming EP: the nostalgic emo ballad “Me & My Dog,” the crackling “Bite The Hand,” and the transcendent, Baker-led “Stay Down.”

The final unreleased songs on the EP are the three completed as boygenius. Embedded within each track, listeners will find a sonic story from each singer that hadn’t been shared before. “Souvenir” is an older cut that didn’t make it onto Turn Out the Lights because Baker felt that it wasn’t the place for it. Bridgers brought the earthy “Ketchum, ID” to the group, which boygenius built up to a crushing, Carter Family-esque three-part harmony. “We wrote it in like 20 minutes and then recorded it all around one microphone, so it was a magical, magical experience,” Bridgers recalls. “Salt in the Wound” was Dacus’ idea, a power ballad that erupts into a full-blown rock track with Baker shredding on guitar, Dacus thinks making music with Baker and Bridgers worked so well because of their emotional connection to the music and each other. “I look back, and I prefer the songs that we wrote together, just because I remember the feeling of writing them with Phoebe and Julien and how it felt to be understood and on the same page about the subject matter,” she explains.

Following the EP release, Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus will embark on a tour together, with solo sets from each artist followed by a boygenius performance. Because they were only in the same place at the same time for five days, give or take, Bridgers has hope their tour results in further collaboration. “I hope we go on tour, and we accidentally write a bunch of songs and get to record or something. That would be incredible.”

But will it happen? The burning question that remains is whether or not boygenius’ EP is a one-off. The truth is: no one knows. “It’s hard to tell,” says Baker. “I never like to say things unless they’re certain, and so just because all of us have a lot of individual pursuits. I think that maybe it’s best to appreciate the phenomenon for what it is; this one very special moment when all of the right circumstances align, because I don’t know if it will carry on.” Despite their blossoming careers and non-stop schedules, they have hope they’ll intersect at a later time. “I hope it leads somewhere, and we keep getting to work together,” says Bridgers, “Because the experience has also informed a lot of my artistic endeavors after it.”

lucy dacus
Julien Baker
Phoebe Bridgers