“I Don’t Wanna Be Afraid Of My Past” Lucy Dacus Interviewed

The songwriter on her new album, returning to Richmond, and the power of memory...

Re-rooting back in her hometown of Virginia after a long stint touring her second album ‘Historian’, Lucy Dacus sensed an unrest, a need to release. Her hometown felt constrained, as though settling down there once more was like attempting to squeeze into an old sweater two sizes too small. She came to face the fact that her past was unravelling rapidly before her, each memory biting with the same venom she had felt in their presence previously.

“I always have these memories swirling around my head, but grappling with them or figuring out what they mean is the hard part,” she wryly smiles. “I don't wanna be afraid of my past, it's a big burden to bear and I wanna know what happened and I wanna be able to look at it without wincing”.

The sleepy streets of Richmond were laced with recollections; her first kisses, falling outs and the childhood friends who have come and gone as the years pass by, and just like that she was lost, in a land that had such a strong grasp on her identity. The inspiration behind her highly anticipated third album ‘Home Video’, Lucy crafts an audible time machine from the ground up, diving head first into her hippocampus and delivering a hopeful, heartbreaking record that is both a love letter to her younger self, and a defiant statement that home will always be where the heart is.

“Being back here makes me feel hot in the face” she sings on opening track ‘Hot & Heavy’, and the pungent imagery of her lyrics relay an all too familiar feeling. A stiff knot in the stomach, blushed cheeks and fidgeting fingertips as she steps foot into Virginia once again, no longer Lucy the girl next door, but Lucy who has begun to make a name for herself, Lucy who gets recognised in the street. “The night I got back I broke up with my partner and hadn’t been there for so long,” she reveals. “Life was really different immediately. My social circle was different and everybody's opinion of me was different because of starting to be noticed, and it just hit me that ‘you can never go home again’ is a really true phrase”.

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The visuals depict Lucy wandering through a place where she spent many a weekend, The Byrd Theatre, which also features in the album’s artwork. Camcorder in hand, she enters the foyer with a singular ticket in tow, sitting front row and chomping popcorn as VHS flashes of her life flicker upon the projector screen. Sentimental and stirring, her ability to make others feel nostalgic for a life they never lived is compelling, and a quality that links up the entirety of the record.

“I really love The Byrd Theatre and I grew up going to that place; I love that we got to shoot the album cover in the same place that the video was made, and it was really cool to work with people from Richmond that I know, like bringing in my friend Marin who I’ve known since I was 14, and my friend David, we went to middle school together. My family and some of my oldest friends are the extras, and I also directed it, which felt like a real satisfying thing because I dropped out of film school, but have always loved movies and the idea of making movies. I'm really proud of that video”.

‘Home Video’ continues along the same vein, each track pinpointing a memory so precise and personal. ‘VBS’ is an ode to her vacation bible school boyfriend who penned subpar poetry and had a penchant for Slayer, whilst ‘Christine’ tells the tale of a close friend marrying somebody she felt didn’t deserve her. However the most crushing anecdote arrives in the form of ‘Thumbs’, her most anticipated single that sparked the creation of a Twitter account called @releasethumbs begging for it to be released to the world once she began etching it into her live performances. Detailing the hatred she felt for a friend’s father, she contemplates his murder and seeks revenge for all of his wrongdoings, fantasising “I would kill him, if you let me” as soft synths allow the intensity of her words to strike.

“I knew that I was gonna put it out on the next record whenever that may be”, Lucy elaborates, “but I also knew I needed to practice playing it live because it was really hard to play. There were many nights on tour where it made me cry, so I played it as the last song of the show and asked people please don’t record it. It made me more comfortable that nobody was expecting it. It really helped me become more comfortable with performing it, and I think that was essential before recording it too, like a buffer”.

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Pouring through stacks of her old diaries indented with scribblings of her life, Lucy found a solace in her unabashed teenage honesty that played a crucial part in the writing process. “I didn't want to reread them until it felt right. If I remembered a specific thing, I'd go back into the journal and try to find how I wrote about it in the moment to help get more details or context, but I actually began to read them during quarantine for the first time ever and type them up. I got up to age 16 and was like that’s enough for now! I can wait a few more years to unlock the rest”.

One of the most candid offerings on ‘Home Video’ is a track called ‘Triple Dog Dare’. Perfectly painting the moments she discovered that her emotions for a close friend tip-toed between platonic or further, she contemplates what could have been had she embraced those feelings, and how the decision to cloak her attraction came from not fear, but instead confusion. “I think the main person I was hiding from was myself. I didn’t even realise that was how I felt, I just had these intense feelings and thought they were unique to the situation and not an indication of my sexuality or anything that would affect my identity. I do still wonder how much attraction actually factors into identity because I feel like attraction is just about the involved parties and you have a choice whether you want to incorporate that into your identity, but for a long time I didn't. Now I'm more willing to do that. It took many many years to feel comfortable doing that”. 

A welcome feature on ‘Triple Dog Dare’ and the achingly beautiful ‘Going Going Gone’ are Lucy’s two boygenius bandmates, Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker. All three indie-rock sensations in their own right, they joined forces in 2018 to create their eponymous four track EP, which saw each of their unique talents fuse to create a record that is small albeit mighty, and carried them on a full length US tour. Each one of them victims of being roped into the misogynistic ‘sad girl’ trope within the industry, boygenius served as a kick in the teeth to those who define women in music as such, and proved that their discographies and style all differ wildly from one another.

With the tear-jerking outro harmonies of the trio on ‘Going Going Gone’ enough to ignite a riot for a second release at once, could there be another one in the pipeline? “No plans, but working with them is such a treat and we are the biggest boygenius fans. I love Phoebe and Julien, and I think that I wouldn't be surprised if we continued to show up in each other's lives, but we’re also pretty busy so it's a mystery to us what the fate of boygenius is beyond our group chat!”

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A natural storyteller, Lucy’s love for books has transcended from her infant years to adulthood. Proudly exhibiting her vast collection neatly stored into organised bookshelves, from fiction to fact and cookery to witchcraft, the ability to soak into a world other than her own would often be more than inviting. Whilst ‘Home Video’ is a proposed shedding of skin for the singer-songwriter, her past two releases were less about thematics, and more of a somewhat accident. “No Burden’ I thought nobody would hear, and I didn’t make it intending for anyone to hear it other than our guitarist Jacob's professor as it was a school project for him, so it was a big surprise” she laughs.

“With 'Historian', I knew people were listening so I wanted to express something serious and integral to who I am, so this one just felt a lot more like I had freedom of movement and didn’t have a goal. A theme did emerge, and it felt much more elusive and like I was finding out things the whole time I was making it, which kinda made me feel like an idiot in my own brain! There was some other sensibility that was having all these thoughts and writing the songs and I was just observing them like ‘hmmm… that’s a kinda cool song!”

They say the first moment that you reflect on your childhood is the moment you know it’s over, and for Lucy, it couldn’t be a truer phrase. Longing for “weekends when I was 16 going to three shows a night, playing house shows and just screaming the lyrics to friends’ songs from the crowds of small venues”, that sense of freedom is a fleeting gift that we all try so hard to salvage once we realise it’s gone.

Describing the creation of the album as a “softening experience” that helped to heal the open wounds of her adolescence, Lucy ponders the advice she would give to her younger self had she been given the chance. “I would say to myself ‘you’re still yourself alone”. I think I was really afraid to be on my own. I’m kind of a social person, and I feel most alive when I'm an observer, but not really an observer of myself. I was always dating people or going out or just constantly not wanting to be by myself, but I think it probably would’ve been good for me to do that more”.

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'Home Video' will be released on June 25th.

Words: Becca Fergus
Photo Credit: Ebru Yildiz

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