“It’s been cool to see which songs resonate with people, and what they mean to other people, and not just me,” mused Lucy Dacus when asked about her current tour, her first punctuated with sold out shows. “A lot of people tend to sing along to “Nonbeliever” and “Time Fighter,” and from the get-go, people have been singing along to “Night Shift” which is constantly a really beautiful moment in every show. Hearing people sing along and watching everyone in the crowd look at each other and realize that they’re singing together, it’s a unifying moment. It’s kind of a salty angry song but I’m always smiling when I’m singing it. Hearing it sung back to me is unexpectedly comforting.”
I’ve witnessed this comforting, but also jarring experience firsthand. “Nightshift” is a hymn full of staggering lyrics. It opens with “The first time I tasted somebody else’s spit, I had a coughing fit / I mistakenly called them by your name,” before plummeting you into “Forget you ever saw me at my best / You don’t deserve what you don’t respect /Don’t deserve what you say you love and then neglect.” When I heard those words sung at a local dive bar with Dacus’ affectation, like the rumbling of a storm right before lightning cracks and the sky breaks open, they shocked me out of my customary concert buzz as the venue filled with poignant silence. This sobering effect is a mainstay in Dacus’ recently released second album, Historian. After such a guttural reaction, I wanted to know if Dacus found it hard to sing her self-described breakup song in the wake of such a tumultuous relationship.
“Writing the song and creating something that is external and contained has helped me eradicate it from my brain. Yes, I’m singing it every night, but it’s really helpful to see it take on new meaning. Like I’ve said, when I see other people singing it, the song is more about that moment for me, than the person I wrote it about at this point. That origin story is always going to be there, but like the song says, ‘I hope the songs feel like covers dedicated to new lovers.’”
Her debut album, No Burden, opens with “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” a tongue-in-cheek take on her personal experience as a musician, with the lyrics “I got a too short skirt, maybe I can be the cute one / Is there room in the band / I don’t need to be the front man,” sung evenly over a climbing heavy bassline. The track landed the song on Rolling Stone’s Best Songs of the Year list in 2016, but more importantly, it introduced Dacus as a writer to be reckoned with. She refers to her follow up, Historian, as the album she needed to write, reflecting, “I didn’t feel free until I could get this thought out to everyone.”
The album’s title places the word’s traditional meaning in a new context: A historian is an expert or student of history, especially of a particular period, region, or social phenomenon, and Dacus weaves this into her own personal mythos. “I’ve been writing these songs over many years, so these various thoughts have needed to come out of me over time. It’s been a process of learning about myself.” Equipped with unabashed vulnerability, her trademark fire engine red lipstick, and 22 years of focused study, she’s utilizing her songwriting not only to teach us about her life, but to implore us to look inward as well. “Once I realized I had an audience that is getting to know me, I wanted to show them a really integral part of who I am. I wanted to start at the base of my identity. The main question that came through my mind was, ‘How do I live in a way that is not regrettable?’ I want to live my life in a way that I have no regrets, and I want to die someday with no regrets too.”
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