Why Lucy Dacus Quit Film School To Become A Rock Star

A conversation with the eternally honest Virginia songwriter, who just signed a deal with Matador Records.

June 22, 2016
Why Lucy Dacus Quit Film School To Become A Rock Star Courtesy of the artist

Back in November, The FADER premiered the first-ever single from Richmond-born singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus's debut album No Burden. Since then, Dacus has been reviewed in some of the best music publications and topped 2016 artists-to-watch lists. She's come far in a short time.


Today Dacus has a special announcement: she's been signed to Matador Records, joining the New York label's fellow from-the-heart singers Perfume Genius and Cat Power. No Burden is such a good country-tinged rock album that Dacus and her band ran out of vinyl, she told The FADER over the phone. Thankfully, Matador’s blessing us with a reissue.

The beauty of No Burden lies not only in its nine infectiously twangy tracks, but also in its intimate charm. It’s like Dacus is sharing her secrets with friends, and we are those friends. She warbles about her insecurities with tenderness. Her songwriting is full of empathy, a desire for connection, and yearning for comfort she knows she may not find. I wanna live in a world where I can keep my doors wide open, she sings with immense soul over heavy drums and her own skillful guitar on “Troublemaker Doppelgänger,” proverbially opening the doors of her heart and mind to all of us.


I'll try my best to tell it like it is, goes “Map On A Wall." My fear of freezing keeps me on my feet/ and so far my whole life’s one long lucky streak. It’s hard to believe that Dacus’s musical success is a result of luck, but the sentiment is hopelessly relatable: how many times have you doubted yourself? But here we are, the song continues, and something about it doesn’t feel like an accident.


What was it like making your debut record?


Our friend Colin was working at Starstruck Studio in Nashville. It's Reba McEntire's studio. When we went in to record, the mic was labeled with her name, as if she had just been in there. Hallowed ground! Colin told us we had one day that no one had scheduled. So we recorded the album in ten hours. It had to be a rushed job. We spent the week before that figuring out the drums, the guitar, and the arrangements with me, ‘cause I'd only played solo. We recorded the album without playing any of the songs live. All those songs were fleshed out days before the album was made.

You only played solo before this record?

Not for that long, maybe only half a year. There wasn't a point where I was discontent with being an audience member. I never thought about being on the other side of it. Also, I grew up doing theater, and I hated it. I hated the idea that acting was pretending. Theater has its place to be a productive and engaging art form. But to me, it was just fake. It took it some time to separate music from theater for me, to realize music is a different type of sharing. But it is so much different because you make it yourself, and you're talking to the audience as yourself. You're not pretending to be a character.

So you're on tour right now, or between shows?

Between shows. We just went out for two months, then we have this month off even though we have three out of town shows. We're gonna be touring consistently for the next four months. So it's good to have a couple weeks to rest. I've just been reading so much, and journaling.

What do you journal about?

Now my answer is different more than ever, because [our van] got broken into in Chicago. Somebody stole my backpack with my laptop, passports, a bunch of stuff. But most importantly, [they took] the last three years of journaling, which to me is such a hard blow. I have like nine surviving journals. I've been journaling since 6th grade, but the last three years are heartbreaking to think about. Now journaling is different because I feel like I have to go back, and have those memories come back to me. I have to quickly put them down, and try to be as true to what happened as I can. I don't know why I do that, it's an impulse that I just follow.

Maybe it's a blessing that you get to start over, like a clean slate. Are you working on anything new?

Always. I definitely have more than enough for a new record. I'm probably close to having more than enough for two more records. The writing just...happens. I don't really sit down to write. Walking around, listening to my own thoughts, acknowledging them, and writing them down.

Is that easy for you to do — to be still with your own thoughts?

I try not to think about it 'cause I don't want to analyze it and mess it up. I’ve always been grateful to the people who can eloquently express confusing emotions. Anyone is capable of that, but I think a lot of people don't think it's worthwhile to share.

That's true. You have to be confident in a certain way to want to share. So what are you most excited about right now?

I know this is so lame, but I have an LLC now. I'm like a business owner, which is way more “pro” than I imagined myself ever being. People make fun of me for being really hyped about that. But trying to figure out how to have this be our job, the whole band, and do this thing full time is a really exciting prospect.

We’re gonna play a bunch of really cool cities that we've never been to, and festivals. I still can't believe we're playing Lollapalooza. As someone who’s been to Lollapalooza, I was like, Man everyone who plays this has to feel awesome. I was still in film school at the time and not thinking about music, so I couldn't even imagine that happening.

You were in film school a few years ago?

Yeah, being told that music should be a hobby. And my mom's a music teacher, so she's like, "Music is awesome, but you should get a job that pays well." I'm like, Okay, that's fair—wanting your kids to have a stable life. No blame there. But I don't think film would have filled that requirement anyways. I couldn't imagine editing a misogynistic rom-com for years before being able to write or direct anything I cared about. That just seemed like Hell On Earth. Also, it's so wrapped up in wealth. To make a movie you have to convince certain people that they can make money off of you.

For a lot of things you have to convince rich people to spend money on you.

Luckily, with music you can do it yourself, and then hope people hear it. And if you're lucky, a lot of people will hear it.

Why Lucy Dacus Quit Film School To Become A Rock Star