Too bad there’s not a better way to say “wise beyond her years.” Lucy Dacus deserves more. But it almost seems impossible to imagine anyone coming to a different conclusion after listening to the 21-year-old singer/songwriter’s stunning debut album, No Burden.
Recorded in a single day thanks to a friend who worked at Reba McEntire’s Starstruck Studio in Nashville, Burden sounds like anything but a rush job. Filled with big rock hooks as well as nuanced slow-burners, Dacus’ undeniably big voice moves effortlessly between them all.
Knowing that it was the singer’s first time in a studio, and that she and the band had only played together for a week prior, makes it all the more impressive. But it also seems to be perfectly in line with the Richmond, VA, native’s genuine and unceremonious path to a career in music.
Adopted by a piano-teaching mother and guitar-playing father, Dacus had a childhood filled with musical theater and sneaking into rock shows. Still, it wasn’t enough to prevent her from enrolling in film school. But when a planned semester off from Virginia Commonwealth University coincided with the studio availability, a new trajectory was set in motion.
If No Burden sounds more like a seasoned effort from a mid-career pro and less like a whirlwind debut from a film major, it’s a testament to the potent combination of Dacus’ big-league voice, forthright storytelling, and a determination to get better.
And she’s just getting started.
“We’re all ready to get back into the studio,” Dacus tells CityBeat during a recent roadside stop for hot dogs between gigs. “We have enough material. And I know I’m going to have a much more hands-on part in the production of it. When we recorded, I had never been in the studio. I didn’t know anything about the technology or terminology of recording. Now, I’ve got a much better grip on that stuff.”
No Burden was released in February on Richmond label EggHunt Records and was picked up shortly after by veteran indie label Matador Records. They just re-released it digitally and will be serving up physical copies on September 9.
Considering the album was getting substantial buzz before Matador got involved, it’s easy to understand why the floodgates have opened since. Everyone from Time and NPR to Pitchfork and Noisey have nice things to say about it. And because Dacus already has a stockpile of new songs ready to go, whatever comes next has a great chance to escape being tainted or shaped by everything that’s going on now.
“I wrote a lot of these new songs,” she says, “around the same time that the No Burden songs were written. Or since then, but before the album took off. A lot of the new stuff is uninfluenced by how our lives have changed. I mean, there has been some reaction to what it’s like to be a full-time musician, but it does seem a bit preserved and lucky that we had so much content before any of this happened.”
Essentially having another album in the can also means that Dacus won’t have to adjust her writing style any time soon. Pressure to adhere to a timeline doesn’t jibe with the singer’s current “capture it when it comes” method. And while inspiration seems to be coming to Dacus plenty these days, it’s nice to know there’s a reserve ready to cover any dry spells.
“I don’t push to create,” she says. “Whenever I try to write, it comes out bad. I just have to pay attention to when my mind is moving. Listen to my thoughts. I think some people fall into the pitfall of wanting to immediately translate their experience into creative work. You have to process your thoughts. I don’t have a lot of control over it.”
For now, Dacus and her band are enjoying the ride. They’re content to share their music with a host of new cities (the band’s first ever San Diego stop comes August 12 at the Casbah) and know there is plenty more music making to come. But with all the planning, execution, and adjustments needed to make it all happen, there is one thing that they didn’t see coming.
“I didn’t realize I was basically agreeing to move away from my hometown for the first time,” says Dacus. “When most people move to another city, they usually plant their roots in that second place. They meet people and build a new circle of friends, a new network. For us, we didn’t move to a new city. We’re just roaming. It’s hard to maintain everything that I knew, all of the relationships, while being on the road.”
She’ll adjust. They all will. The music is too good and the potential too promising. It might still be a bit early for all that’s happened to truly sink in, but it’s definitely started.
“We’re way more pleased than we expected to be,” Dacus says. “We had really low expectations at the beginning. But at this point, it’s definitely exceeded them.”
Originally published in San Diego CityBeat