After a breakout 2018, singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus has cinematic vision

I first met Lucy Dacus on a chilly November night last fall in Seattle.

Wait... scratch that.

I first met Lucy Dacus' dad on a chilly November night last fall in Seattle. It was shortly before his daughter was set to take the stage to kick off a concert with additional sets by fellow singer-songwriters Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers, and the trio's collaborative group Boygenius.

As I was waiting to get into the Moore Theatre, a man was conversing with the box office workers with an incredibly polite frustration. He clearly had a backstage pass, but apparently had not been left a ticket to actually enter the venue — oh, the delights of modern ticketing bureaucracy! Since I had an extra ticket, I offered it up and he explained that he was Lucy's dad but couldn't get ahold of her as she was about to go on stage.

Chatting as we waited in line, it became clear that Lucy was a case of the apple not falling from the tree, as the soft-spoken charm, gentleness and boundless love that radiates in her music could also be heard in her proud papa. It was a positively delightful start to my favorite concert-going night of 2018. It's not every day a performer's parent can be your plus-one.

Any conversation about Lucy Dacus must begin with the stirring beauty of her voice. The Virginia native's alto tones blend calming smoothness, powerful heft and a subtle note of Southern lilt, resulting in a vocal package that seems timeless and sets her apart from the upper echelon of her modern indie singer-songwriter peers. And Dacus' voice rang loud in 2018.

The year began with the release of her second LP, Historian, which garnered universal praise, eventually being named Paste's Album of the Year. Over the course of 10 tracks, Dacus displays a gift for turning her inner narratives into songs that feel like world-sprawling narratives. The album-opening "Night Shift" traces a breakup from chords that faintly feel held together at all into a barrage of heavy guitar riffs.

Other tunes focus on accepting one's own death ("Timefighter"), being sans faith in a Christian family ("Nonbeliever"), the Freddie Gray protests in Baltimore ("Yours & Mine") and other reflections on love and loss. Perhaps the biggest emotional wallop comes via the seven-minute epic "Pillar of Truth," a touching meditation about Dacus watching her grandmother die gracefully. Historian is not exactly a feel-good album, but the deft touch of the songwriting gives the whole package a strangely hopeful aura that has resonated with audiences.

"I feel like I've come to love [Historian] for different reasons," Dacus tells the Inlander. "It fulfilled its job as soon as I wrote it; I feel like I write so that I can talk to myself. I have never really needed it to resonate with other people, and I still don't think that I need that, but it is really amazing to watch other people care and get something from it. If anything, people responding well to the record has led me to write more freely. ... I'm sort of relearning the value of my own thoughts."

Last year also included the surprising success of Boygenius. Dacus formed the indie songwriter supergroup with Baker and Bridgers as a sort of thrown-together project in the spring after the trio decided to tour together that autumn. The stunning EP, written and recorded over only four days of studio time, ended up cracking myriad year-end album lists. And while Baker and Bridgers reign as sad songwriting queens in the indie realm, it's Dacus' tenderness that really ties Boygenius together musically.

The expert pacing that characterizes Dacus' tunes — the seamlessness in her transitioning from sparse slowburns to loud indie rock crescendos — can perhaps be attributed to another of her artistic passions: cinema. Before committing to music, Dacus was a film school student and it's evident that big screen flair seeps into her musical process.

"I feel like I've always been interested in treating songs cinematically," Dacus says. "I think that most film wants something from its viewer: It's trying to communicate something pretty specific and dynamic; it encourages growth; it assumes that the person coming to the film may be changed after the film. And so I think that I have taken on a similar responsibility with music."

In 2019, Dacus has taken the novel approach of releasing singles tied to holidays. These included a cover of "La Vie En Rose" on Valentine's Day and "Forever Half-Mast" — an original reflection on how confusing being American is — on July 4.

"It's been really low stakes, really fun. I didn't expect it to feel so good. It has sort of broken this tension of 'Oh, how am I gonna follow up Historian?'"

The one holiday exception? Dacus' recently released cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark."

"I couldn't think of any actual holiday," she says. "I mean, I definitely celebrate [Springsteen's birthday] with my dad." ♦

Lucy Dacus with Liza Anne • Sat, Oct. 19 at 8 pm • Sold out • All ages • The Bartlett • 228 W. Sprague • • 747-2174

Pages of Harmony Annual Christmas Concert and Auction @ Millwood Community Presbyterian Church

Sat., Dec. 10, 6-7:30 p.m.
  • or

About The Author

Seth Sommerfeld

Seth Sommerfeld is the Music Editor for The Inlander, and an alumnus of Gonzaga University and Syracuse University. He has written for The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Fox Sports, SPIN, Collider, and many other outlets. He also hosts the podcast, Everyone is Wrong...