Art and solace: A conversation with Lucy Dacus

Lucy Dacus is putting away dishes at the time our call connects.

My phone line from Melbourne, intercepts hers in America. The wonders of modern technology: You can complete mundane tasks while at the same time, dissecting your creative process. We talk largely about the new record, Historian, covering the difficult emotions that underpin it. 

I want to start things off by talking about Addictions. Can you tell me about the writing process of this song?

The song actually began as a different song, many years ago. I think I started writing it 4 years ago, maybe 3. I guess I never really got the thought right before. I knew I was writing something about being addicted to somebody else. I’ve had different instances of that in my life – either I’ve been addicted to someone or someone’s been addicted to me. Or, I’ve witnessed a friend not be able to pull away from somebody. I guess it took multiple instances of that in my life to find the specific words for it. But, I think it finally coalesced to what you hear on the record. 

You mentioned that it was a different song before and it’s gone through it’s own development process. How does that happen? Do you ever look at a song and think ‘this isn’t the right time for it?’

Yeah, I write a ton of songs that I don’t feel are necessary to share. Or at least I don’t think they’re ready to be born, or something (laughs). I think the distinct feeling is when something is done. I can really tell when a song is done. But, when it isn’t done I feel kind of vague about it – It’s just not perfect. I guess nothing is ever really perfect, but it at least lives up to my own standard. I wouldn’t want to share anything not in that state. I feel like it’d be unfair to my listeners and to myself. 

I feel like ‘Addictions’ is a song that a lot of people can relate to. Do you ever get used to other people feeling and taking ownership of a song that you made?

I’m not used to that feeling at all. But I witness it. You know, people message me and tell me what the song means to them occasionally. That feeling never gets old. It’s kind of intimidating because it’s someone directly telling me that I have a place in their life and I’ve done something that’s meaningful and powerful to them – which is kind of the ultimate goal, I think. It’s also hard to take a compliment that grand sometimes. [People] don’t really even know me but the fact that they know my work means a lot. Although it is a little awkward when people do think they know me, because they care about the song. The song is seperate from who I am, even though it comes through me. 

I think a lot of people forget that a song isn’t necessarily a reflection of a person. 

Right. That’s so right. I mean a lot of my songs are very personal, but sometimes I’m writing from the perspective of a friend. Or I’m being devils advocate to what I already think. I’m not ripping the lyrics directly from my diary. 

Music is always unique in terms of how people receive it. However, I got the sense that the album has a big picture kind of theme – It takes in all facets of life and emotion. is that what you intended?

I started writing these songs in 2011, some of these songs are older than the songs on No Burden. So, I didn’t just sit down after No Burden and write a second album – a lot of these thoughts had been stewing for as long as I’ve been writing songs. What I noticed, is when we set out to make the second record I already had all of these songs that tackled a similar theme. Of questioning hope, coping with loss, dealing with change, confusion and heartbreak. I think I write a lot of songs about that because writing for me is solace in itself. The activity of writing is a clarifying force for me. When I’m really confused I tend to try and find words for feelings that are really difficult. So this album, I kind of just chose all the songs that were the most difficult and put them all on the one record. It felt more urgent, I guess, than the other songs.

I have tons of other songs that maybe will come out on a different album some day, but for some reason this heavier material felt like it needed to come first. The album is kind of pulling at something integral to who I am. It’s kind of the core of who I am as a person, what I believe in. I felt like that would be fair to show people before I showed them anything else. 

You’ve mentioned before that this was ‘an album you needed to make.’ What was it like tackling these big themes in your songwriting? 

It felt really good overall. You know, it was like self therapy. It was difficult, sometimes I would write a line and then hear it come out of my mouth and have to cry just because I didn’t know that I thought that until I could say it to myself in a song. That’s a really great experience. I would encourage everyone to try and listen to themselves intentionally – however people do. I think that’s why people make art a lot of the time, to intentionally listen to yourself. 

It’s kind of sensitive still. I haven’t really gotten to plays these songs live. I imagine that the shows are going to be a little more tough – just because I’m going to be giving more of myself to the audience, even more than the No Burden stuff – which was largely hopeful and about a journey a little more lighthearted. These aren’t lighthearted, but they’re defintely hearted (laughs).


Certain tracks on the album have been around for quite a while – some even before your first album. What were some of the older songs you decided to place on Historian?

‘Pillar Of Truth’ we tried to put on No Burden, I wrote that in 2013 about my Grandma. I wrote it around the time she was dying. It just didn’t feel right on No Burden, but it definitely feels right on this record. ‘Non Believer’ was a song I finished in 2016, but I started writing it in 2011. That one is pretty old, or parts of it are pretty old. Again it’s just one of those songs that wasn’t ready to be shared until now. Also, I used to play solo so there are a bunch of songs that I just didn’t feel like I was good enough to play when I was playing alone. They needed drums, or they needed horns or strings. This is the first time we’ve been able to have access to those things. It finally feels like the right time.

When people listen to the record, is there anything you want them to take away from it?

I really hope that people don’t just identify it as a sad record. I think of it as a difficult record, but it’s always pointing towards hope. I hope that it provides solace for people; because what I’ve done with it provides solace for myself. I appreciate artists that can identify a problem, conflict or negativity but then also point towards solutions or happiness. Within a difficult subject matter, I’ve tried to do that. Point towards a brighter situation possibility for hope. 

After the record comes out, what are you looking to do next?

I guess just play a tonne of shows. I really want to come to Australia, I don’t know when that’ll happen. There’s no question that I’ll make more music, I already have so much and I can already see where the third record might go. I feel like I am in a groove of performing and creating. I hope that’s what’s ahead of me. 

Historian by Lucy Dacus is out now.