A Calming First Date with Lucy Dacus in a Japanese Tea Room
We talked about tarot, astrology, and accents on the 'Historian' and boygenius musician's first-ever "proper" date.
(Photo by Chloe Sheppard)
It’s 5:38PM on 31 October, the Tuesday after the clocks go back. It’s cold, and darker than it should be before six, and I’ve got the specific, nervous energy of someone who's emerged from a bus filled with children while extremely stuck in traffic. As such, I am a spinning, Tasmanian Devil mess of jacket, bag, and regrettable, enormous internet shopping parcel – but when I stumble, red-faced, into north London’s Katsute 100 I’m instantly enveloped by a sensation of calm.
This Japanese tea room's warmth and pretty, ornate decor probably have something to do with my rapidly changed mood – though I have the feeling that it’s largely down to my date herself. I’ve come here to meet Lucy Dacus, the indie rock musician from Richmond, Virginia whose second album Historian was released earlier this year. It navigates shift in a number of senses: thematically – a break-up, a death – but also musically. As Sasha Geffen puts it for Pitchfork, “The density of affect in the music means that it can take some time to unravel and expose itself fully." Ultimately, Dacus’ deep, arresting singing voice steers it to resolution, like the captain of a vessel.
You can hear those distinctive, coffee-rich tones on the debut EP by her band boygenius, alongside fellow musicians Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker, with whom she’s currently touring in North America. And like her voice, Dacus is a levelling presence whose steady orbit I'm gratefully brought into. When we meet, she’s sitting near the door, drinking green tea, and wearing a black lace top and velvet trousers in preparation for the Halloween show she’ll play at Islington Assembly Hall later on.
A copy of the writer Hanif Adurraquib’s new book They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us sits out on the table. “I admire people like Hanif who put so much of themselves into something without seeming self-centred,” she tells me. The same, I think, could be applied to Dacus, whose personal observations both in her music and in conversation feel as though they also include wider considerations about the world. We talked about religion, the bonding power of tarot, and all the good parts of tour – here’s a condensed version of our chat:
Noisey: Hi Lucy! Welcome to our date, thank you for coming.
Lucy Dacus: [Laughs] What a thing to say to somebody, like actually.
Imagine if I went on a Tinder date with someone and I was like “hi, welcome.”
I’ve never been on Tinder! I’ve never been on a date. I’ve only ever been with people I’ve been friends with for years. I’ve never had a first date before.
Are you feeling pressured right now?
I’m just so nervous. I don’t know how to behave. I’m in my Halloween garb, I’m not usually this goth.
A thing that I do actually say to people that I go on dates with is this: “what is your star sign?”
I’m a Taurus!
Just after me – I’m an Aries.
Fire! I’ve been getting into signs this year, just because I realise so many people are into them, and I’ll take any excuse to get on the same page as somebody about something.
Are you a typical Taurus?
I think in a lot of ways I am. Like, feeling rooted and grounded. But I have a Gemini moon, so that’s like, here and there, indecisive. Tour makes sense for me, because it’s like routine, the same van, the same people, I know my limits, but also I’m in a different city every day.
The groundedness is so interesting because that’s something I also hear in your music. I was away recently and I listened to Historian a lot – I was in an unfamiliar place and I felt quite rooted by it because it’s quite a steadying record. Does that reflect your experience?
Yeah, I think I’m often trying to aspire to a state of peace, usually through something difficult. The album is not easy material, but my hope is always to reach a point where I feel OK about anything I’m talking about; to present something really hard, but with the light at the end of the tunnel. A centring, “it’s gonna be OK,” kind of vibe.
I am trying to think forward to the next album and one thing is that I really want the videos to be awesome. We only made one video for Historian because I had one idea that I loved. It was just me and my best friend and another friend I’ve known since middle school filming it, and he edited all of it, and I directed it, and I feel like I can proudly present that I made it. That’s probably another Taurus thing, that I want to have a hand in everything – I have opinions and I want to keep to them. Tauruses are known to be like, stubborn, but I would prefer to think of it as “intentionally nurturing.” I just want to be really intent about what I decide to give energy to. I don’t feel that stubborn because I re-route whenever I realise I’m wrong.
Maybe that’s a little bit of the Gemini moon.
Sagittarius rising too.
You’re all over the place!
I know! Do you know your full chart?
It’s a fucking mess. I’m an Aries sun with a Cancer moon and Virgo rising.
Cancer moon! Leaky heart. We have the same kind of thing going on; you have fire, water and earth signs, I have earth, air and fire, so I don’t have water. But I get along with water friends.
It’s interesting to observe all these different parts of yourself through astrology, I think, but then I wonder whether I am just projecting.
Well Jacob, our guitarist, he’s untouchable by the stars. He’s a Scorpio/Sag cusp, but neither one of those makes sense for him. I also read tarot, and the cards just don’t talk to him. I think you have to opt into those things. The willingness is what shows you.
Reading tarot has been really nice because I’ve gotten to know some people that I wouldn’t really know otherwise. On tour, I did a reading for Courtney Barnett and her guitarist Katie Harkin this summer. That was really nice. We all just sat in a parking lot and laid out a blanket, and everyone got to share a little bit. I’m so grateful that they wanted to open up like that. Merrill Garbus from tUnE-yArDs gave me a reading this summer and it was super revealing. People don’t give readings to me that much, but she did this ten-card reading that really helped me focus on some things, that since then I’ve been able to identify and work on.
I was raised to think tarot was evil because it has pentacles on it – I was raised Christian. But it’s nice to come around and see that it’s actually just paper and images, and everything about it is you. It’s yourself. And you’re not evil. You can just see what hits you.
I agree with what you’re saying about the bonding element of tarot. My friends have read my tarot and it's made us closer. It also feels very feminine, forging bonds in a specific way.
I would agree. When I’ve done readings for my dude friends, I think they access a part of themselves that comes as a surprise to me. Maybe it’s a more willing, or open, or feminine side. I’ve been able to talk about feelings with people that I wouldn’t usually talk about feelings with. Having the cards between you means you can talk through them – it’s not just looking someone in the eyes and saying, “I’m going to talk about my fears.”
I think it’s interesting how much more accessible things like tarot and astrology have become. I think people of this generation do shy away from religion more than ever, and this offers a slightly more expansive way to examine your life.
Yeah, and to interact with spirituality – tenets of lots of religions, like strength and hope and casting things into the future. It’s good stuff. I have a question for you.
Do you think I have a Southern accent? Can you identify it at all?
That wouldn’t have been my guess, but when you’re not from the country it gets lost on you. Although with England, you can definitely tell the difference between the South and the North, and then you have Scotland, Ireland and Wales too.
Do you know of Stella Donnelly? She’s Australian and also Welsh and she speaks some Welsh.
Yes! Have you played with her before?
Yeah we played a few shows with her this summer, in Oslo and Bergen. She’s such an angel. She’ll steal your damn heart, she’s a total babe.
It’s so nice to know that there’s this community of people, and women, making music.
It’s taken a second! I’m from Richmond, Virginia. There’s no music industry there, a lot of people don’t leave. People tour DIY, and a lot of people don’t get covered, and there’s not hype around it like there is with New York or even Philly.
All to say, I don’t interact with that if I’m not on tour, so I’ve had to be on tour for a while to start realising that you meet people and then you see each other again, like camp friends every summer. You’ll be at the same festival or be on the same bill for some reason. It’s taken a while to do the first meeting of people and then loop back around and see them again, and that second time you realise, “Oh wait, we’ve only seen each other twice but now we’re close, because we’ve known each other for a while, and we understand each other’s mode of living.” I think that’s even more valuable than the amount of time you spend with somebody, just knowing how they spend their time, up close and personal, and knowing what they’re up against, in a way.
In a way it’s like having a work friend and understanding the exact aches and pains of that specific thing. I guess you and your peers are facing similar challenges.
And the challenges change too, so it’s nice to meet people putting out records now. Examples being: post-streaming, people who have come in after that; and the “craze” of lady musicians being written about, and the dichotomy of feeling very happy and grateful that dope ladies are being covered, and feeling boxed in.
On that note, can we talk about boygenius for a second?
Sure! I’m just so stoked we made it work.
I think my favourite thing to come out of the project's coverage has been how the “supergroup” label has been used. Whenever I think of a supergroup I’m put in mind of, like, The Edge doing something with someone from Queens of the Stone Age or something. But I love that it’s being covered in this way, because I think it could have been downplayed, and I’m glad it wasn’t.
Yeah me too. I’m glad people weren’t like, “side project.” We’ve actually not seen each other since recording. I saw Phoebe once and I saw Julien once or twice, but we’re all so busy. I think Phoebe is getting to Nashville maybe today? And then we’re going to Nashville tomorrow, we wake up at 6AM and get into Nashville at like 10PM, and then we have two days to practice at the Ryman.
That’s so exciting.
I’m flipping out. That’s the venue. Of all the venues I know of in the whole wide world, that’s the one. And it’s in Julien’s hometown, where we record. It’ll be cool!
I’m so sad that the tour isn’t coming to the UK!
We’re gonna see how this feels in November and then like, maybe it’ll take a year or something; we’re all open. On my current tour, everyone in the UK has been really lovely. I don’t know if you know this but the UK and Europe have a reputation of being super-attentive at shows. Just being silent. So like, American bands come and are like “Do they hate us?” But it’s so great! We have pretty quiet crowds in the US, but there are so many shows when people are just drinking and talking and it’s like a party atmosphere. It’s great to commune with those that you love and catch up and talk to people but I know a lot of people get annoyed in the show setting with that.
I’m sure it’s a great feeling to have people are really paying attention.
Yeah it’s awesome, people have been really sweet.
Lucy Dacus is on a North American tour with Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker. They play Brooklyn tonight (Tuesday 6 November) and you can see the rest of their dates here.
You can find Lauren on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.