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I first came across Lucy Dacus’ music in 2016, in the same way that everyone who cared about Lucy Dacus in 2016 discovered her — I heard “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” a funny-sad mid-tempo rocker that begins with Dacus wryly talking her way into a band.
“I got a too short skirt, maybe I can be the cute one,” she sings, in a soft purr that’s oddly timeless — you could imagine Dacus singing blues and jazz numbers in the ’40s as much as contemporary indie-rock. “Is there room in the band? I don’t need to be the frontman / If not, then I’ll be the biggest fan.”
At the time that she recorded “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” and the rest of her debut album, No Burden, Dacus truly had wandered unexpectedly into a music career. An aspiring filmmaker, Dacus hadn’t even sung with a band before No Burden, which was initiated by her friend and collaborator, Jacob Blizard, for a school project that was knocked out in just 20 hours.
What Dacus did have, however, were songs. She had been filling notebooks with poetry and lyrical observations for years. Now she finally had a vehicle for sharing those words with an audience.
On Friday, the 22-year-old Dacus will release her second album, Historian, the title of which refers to her perspective on songwriting as a form of record-keeping for her life and times. She still thinks of herself primarily as a writer, even as she’s become an emerging rock star. Unlike No Burden, which started out as a zero-profile indie release, Historian has garnered several weeks’ worth of pre-release publicity. A New York Times reporter even spent an entire year interviewing her for a recent profile. Given that the actual album has been finished since early 2017, Dacus’ days lately have been filled mainly with interviews, as opposed music-making, though she’s kept up with her writing.
What makes Dacus’ ascent to media-darling status all the more impressive is that she, at heart, remains steadfastly unflashy. She is “just” a really good singer-songwriter who is adept at leavening confessional songs about busted-up relationships, aging out of adolescence, and mortality with choice one-liners. (A personal favorite, from “Next Of Kin”: “I’m at peace with my death / I can go back to bed.”)
But even for a fan of No Burden, the strides that Dacus makes musically on Historian are striking, and indicative of an artist who is rapidly coming into her own and still staking out wide swaths of new territory. The powerful opening track “Night Shift,” which details the end of a romantic coupling with sardonic wit and more than a little rage, builds from Dacus’ low, expressive vocal to a bracing climax that frankly rocks much harder than anything on No Burden.
I phoned Dacus last month to talk about her personal and artistic evolution on Historian, as well as some of the growing pains she’s experienced as a budding indie star still living in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia.