Lucy Dacus: Diaries, Memories, Fantasies
Music — 16.12.21
Like the elongated narrative arc of a novel, Lucy Dacus’s Home Video presents itself as a complete tale. Her memoir-like songwriting marries scenes of childhood awkwardness with the kind of matured conclusions that come with hindsight. Home Video explores Dacus returning to adolescent experiences, trying to understand how they fit into the broader picture of her life, how individual memories act as seeds planted that grow into larger feelings. Not unlike the way in which you grow into certain parts of yourself, as well as come to understand the parts that have always been there, perhaps hidden. Dacus’s songs are like that friend at the sleepover providing midnight confessions. The thoughts difficult to say aloud, like the haunting hook of “Thumbs”: “I would kill him if you let me.”
Home Video explores a complex relationship between lyrical content and sonic landscapes, as the pop-influenced production on songs like “Hot & Heavy” makes brutal truths hit harder. The painful honesty of: “Being back here makes me hot in the face / Hot blood in my pulsing veins / Heavy memories weighing on my brain” is dissonant against the upbeat, driving rhythm. Songs like “Hot & Heavy” reflect the idea that a childhood memory is not contained within a single emotion, but rather is an amalgamation of a whole bunch of feelings. The production mirrors what it’s like as a kid to feel everything happening all at once. That’s what makes listening through Home Video a nostalgic experience; you feel that middle-school wave-like overwhelm of emotion with her.
Importantly, Dacus avoids judgment of her younger self. Instead, she interprets her prior actions in little pockets of realization, like in “Brando”: “All I need for you to admit / Is that you never knew me like you thought you did”. When Dacus revisited parts of her childhood diaries in order to write the songs that would become Home Video, she discovered that her adult memory often contradicted what her younger self had chosen to write down. Maybe fictionalization is a self-soothing practice. Maybe what we need more than a fact-based record at that age is a method of escapism. In a way, these songs are a revision of those earlier diaries, Dacus setting the record straight. In another, they act as a response, Dacus in conversation with her younger self’s fantasies recorded years prior. Dacus’s ability to capture her younger headspace, that time in your life when the world feels so big, is what makes Home Video one of the most honest pieces of art we have about the pain of growing up. And instead of attempting to answer all her younger self’s questions, she focuses on the importance of asking them.
Lucy Dacus: How are you?
Sofia Wolfson: I’m not used to getting asked that first! I’m pretty good. How are you?
LD: I’m good. I slept in my bed for the first time since the tour. It was amazing to wake up really late. I’m drinking tea. I love my home so I’m doing very well today.
SW: Probably feels a bit more stable than all the moving around.
LD: Yeah, for sure.
SW: Something the English Major in me wanted to start with is that I am aware you are an avid reader. What’s something you recently read that really struck you?
LD: I really love Ada Limon, she’s a poet. I just read her first book that just got rereleased, so it’s also her most recent book. She’s incredible. This is nerdy, but I’ve also been reading this Sci-Fi series called The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin. I’m on the third book. That’s mostly what I read over tour because I found that Sci-Fi is a great way to escape. When you’re in close quarters with people for a long time, reading a book that gets you out of your scenario is really helpful.
SW: And her writing is so insanely immersive. I can imagine it’s nice to get out of this current space and be somewhere else.
LD: I think it’s the best Sci-Fi I’ve ever read.
SW: I was curious if you had any sort of reading list for this record, or if there was a book or two that really inspired your writing?
LD: This is probably cliché at this point but the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. I know everyone has been reading them for years but they’re just incredible. I love them so much. Reading about a female friendship from really early in life until old age, the ups and downs, the nuance, the disappointment, the recovery, jealousy, competition, but also devotion. There is so much there that I could see in a lot of my own relationships. I think it started to make me think about those relationships and put words to them when I never had before. That’s how a lot of the songs started.
SW: I did a lot of reading about what people have written about your writing. The idea that your songs are very cinematic and prose-like comes up a lot. Were there other mediums, maybe visual, that you drew from when writing this record?
LD: I was recently revisiting Amarcord by Fellini because I hosted a screening at the Metrograph of The Beaches of Agnès by Agnès Varda and Amarcord by Fellini. I hadn’t seen it in a while so I rewatched it. I love that so much. It seems like his goal was to try to capture, in scenes, his childhood. He says it’s his best friend’s childhood but he’s basically doing an autobiography. I like how he captured the state of mind of a child. You’ll be watching something and then all of a sudden, it’ll switch to the fantastical, daydreams of a kid. I wanted to write about my past without too much judgment from the present, try to represent what happened and how I felt about it at the time. To try to respect that instead of being like, Oh I was such an idiot then. Yeah, you’re an idiot; you’re a kid. You’re born into idiocy; there’s no choice. There’s so much shit you don’t know or understand. So you don’t need to beat yourself up about that.
SW: Kind of on that note, when you returned to your journals, did you find that your recollection of the memory as an adult was different from what you had written down?
LD: Oh my god. Yes, most of the time, which was kind of scary. I honestly still haven’t read them all front to back. I would just flip to particular memories I was coming back to. It made me question: Why do I even journal if I’m not going to tell the truth? Without even realizing it, I’m just kind of editing. Maybe I journal to try to understand what’s going on, or to cope, you know? The other night I was journaling and trying to say exactly what was going on. And I realized there were all these details I was leaving out because I’m trying to streamline the experience into something understandable. You end up remembering things that don’t feel like they’re in the foreground at the moment.
SW: And you’re given a certain amount of perspective as the years go by. That just reminded me, have you read Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness?
LD: Oh my god, yes!
SW: I hadn’t thought objectively about the practice of journaling and about how we’re meaning-making creatures in how we edit ourselves as we go along until I read that. I looked back at some of the things I was writing about as a kid. I think I knew what was actually going on. Whether it’s a self-healing thing or something, it’s this feeling of: I have to change this narrative now. Even if you don’t realize you’re doing it.
LD: There’s something powerful to that as a kid when so much isn’t your choice. To be able to tell a story to yourself in the way you want it to be is an identity issue. It’s important. One of the most notable lies in my journals through middle school was that I was always centering myself as popular, or I would write: Everybody really just likes me a lot. I did have good friends and I was in the popular group. But I was overtly their token nerd. I don’t know. I was tall and not skinny and I was kind of funny. They used me as their bridge to boys because I was comfortable talking to boys. I was never the center of attention. I was never an equal. I guess I just wrote it as if I was hot shit when I remember that I wasn’t.
SW: Diary practice is supposed to be a record, but maybe in childhood you need more fiction practices to escape yourself.
LD: Yeah. It’s like manifesting, or something.
SW: Totally. Manifesting actually leads to my next question. A theme woven throughout the record is your childhood relationship to religion. In what way would you consider yourself religious and/or spiritual now?
LD: I was just talking about this. I still feel as spiritual as I ever did. I think that the most lasting impact of growing up in the church is the beginning of questions that are never going to end. I had a really early start on thinking about death. I had a really early start on thinking about how to treat people. And I’m grateful for those things. I’m not grateful for the answers they gave me but I’m grateful for basically being asked to conceptualize those things on a day-to-day, serious level. I’m still asking them and I’m still reading shit and I’m still attracted to friends who think about the same stuff. I don’t go to church anymore. The closest physical practice I have is probably reading tarot, which you can take as seriously or as lightly as you want. It’s kind of choose your own adventure. It’s been a really good way to get to know people too. Being able to know the cards and read for people, I think you get to a level of depth that is hard to come by naturally. It feels religious in a way. I think anything that feels deep feels like it’s touching on the core of something that religions are also trying to touch on.
SW: These songs are so personal. What is your relationship to playing them in front of such large audiences? And how do you deal with responses of all different kinds since you’re sharing such an intimate part of yourself?
LD: I actually have done a pretty good job on this last tour of isolating myself from a lot of feedback. The people who I love in my life, we’ll talk about certain lyrics. I’m always really moved by what my friends have to say. Honestly, because of COVID, I haven’t interacted with fans almost at all. I think that it made it a really pleasant experience even though I do really love my fans. I feel really lucky. I feel like there’s a lot of mutual respect that goes on. Even when I get heckled, it’s sweet stuff. Like: You’re doing amazing sweetie! Or: You look pretty today! (laughs) I’m like: Ok, thank you! I’m crossing my fingers that I never become somebody that is fun to make fun of. I feel like I just don’t seem like the kind of person that is fun to hate. I feel lucky. But also, I haven’t been interacting with people’s opinions at large and I think it’s been good.
SW: Weirdly, as awful as this whole year and a half has been, COVID created this level of perhaps necessary distance, in certain respects.
LD: It’s weird to come up with positives about something that ultimately nobody wishes happened but it’s also okay. I don’t think anybody needs to feel guilty about finding silver linings.
SW: The record came out in June, so you’ve had distance from both the recording and releasing process. Do you feel any different about the album now that you’ve had some hindsight?
LD: I don’t listen to it. I do play it every night. I’m still really proud of it. Something happened on this tour that hasn’t happened yet, which is that zero shows were bad. Can you believe it? The band was like: Wow, we pretty much just don’t have bad shows. You know, we didn’t always feel that way. Sometimes you have a great show, but you still feel like it’s bad. Or you have a bad show, but you had a lot of fun. Neither of those happened. We were having a good time and we think the shows went well. And I think part of that is because I can really stand behind all the decisions I made on this record. Lyrically, vocally, arrangement-wise. I’m just well-pleased. That’s not just on me. That’s on my friends that I produce with and on the band for being great at their instruments. Within my crew, there’s this sense of victory, like we figured out how to have a good time. I don’t know if my relationship has changed. I think it’s just been validated what I hoped would be true.
Listen to Home Video in full below and stay up-to-date with Lucy Dacus and her 2022 tour via her website.