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Lucy Dacus

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Lucy Dacus’ favourite songs are “the ones that take 15 minutes to write”, she tells Apple Music. “I'm easily convinced that the song is like a unit when it comes out in one burst. In many ways, I feel out of control, like it's not my decision what I write.” On her third LP, the Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter surrenders to autobiography with a set of spare and intimate indie rock that combines her memory of growing up in Richmond, Virginia, with details she pulled from journals she’s kept since she was 7, much of it shaped by her religious upbringing. It’s as much about what we remember as how and why we remember it. “The record was me looking at my past, but now when I hear them it's almost like the songs are a part of the past, like a memory about memory,” she says. “This must be what I was ready to do, and I have to trust that. There's probably stuff that has happened to me that I'm still not ready to look at and I just have to wait for the day that I am.” Here, she tells us the story behind every song on the album.
“Hot & Heavy” “My first big tour in 2016—after my first record came out—was two and a half months, and at the very end of it, I broke up with my partner at the time. I came back to Richmond after being gone for the longest I'd ever been away and everything felt different: people’s perception of me; my friend group; my living situation. I was, for the first time, not comfortable in Richmond, and I felt really sad about that because I had planned on being here my whole life. This song is about returning to where you grew up—or where you spent any of your past—and being hit with an onslaught of memories. I think of my past self as a separate person, so the song is me speaking to me. It’s realising that at one point in my life, everything was ahead of me and my life could've ended up however. It still can, but it's like now I know the secret.”
“Christine” “It starts with a scene that really happened. Me and my friend were sitting in the backseat and she's asleep on my shoulder. We’re coming home from a sermon that was about how humans are evil and children especially need to be guided or else they'll fall into the hands of the devil. She was dating this guy who at the time was just not treating her right, and I played her the song. I was like, ‘I just want you to hear this once. I'll put it away, but you should know that I would not support you if you get married. I don't think that this is the best you could do.’ She took it to heart, but she didn't actually break up with the guy. They're still together and he's changed and they've changed and I don't feel that way anymore. I feel like they're in a better place, but at the time it felt very urgent to me that she get out of that situation.”
“First Time” “I was on a kind of fast-paced walk and I started singing to myself, which is how I write most of my songs. I had all this energy and I started jogging for no reason, which, if you know me, is super not me—I would not electively jog. I started writing about that feeling when you're in love for the first time and all you think about is the one person and how you find access to yourself through them. I paused for a second because I was like, ‘Do I really want to talk about early sexual experiences? No, just do it. If you don't like it, don't share it.’ It’s about discovery: your body and your emotional capacity and how you're never going to feel it that way you did the first time again. At the time, I was very worried that I'd never feel that way again. The truth was, I haven’t—but I have felt other wonderful things.”
“VBS” “I don't want my identity to be that I used to believe in God because I didn't even choose that, but it's inextricable to who I am and my upbringing. I like that in the song, the setting is [Vacation Bible School], but the core of the song is about a relationship. My first boyfriend, who I met at VBS, used to snort nutmeg. He was a Slayer fan and it was contentious in our relationship because he loved Slayer even more than God and I got into Slayer thinking, ‘Oh, maybe he'll get into God.’ He was one of the kids that went to church but wasn't super into it, whereas I was defining my whole life by it. But I’ve got to thank him for introducing me to Slayer and The Cure, which had the biggest impact on me.”
“Cartwheel” “I was taking a walk with [producer] Collin [Pastore] and as we passed by his school, I remembered all of the times that I was forced to play dodgeball, and how the heat in Richmond would get so bad that it would melt your shoes. That memory ended up turning into this song, about how all my girlfriends at that age were starting to get into boys before I wanted to and I felt so panicked. Why are we sneaking boys into the sleepover? They're not even talking. We were having fun and now no one is playing with me anymore. When my best friend told me when she had sex for the first time, I felt so betrayed. I blamed it on God, but really it was personal, because I knew that our friendship was over as I knew it, and it was.”
“Thumbs” “I was in the car on the way to dinner in Nashville. We were going to a Thai restaurant, meeting up with some friends, and I just had my notepad out. Didn't notice it was happening, and then wrote the last line, ‘You don't owe him shit,’ and then I wrote it down a second time because I needed to hear it for myself. My birth father is somebody that doesn't really understand boundaries, and I guess I didn't know that I believed that, that I didn't owe him anything, until I said it out loud. When we got to the restaurant, I felt like I was going to throw up, and so they all went into the restaurant, got a table, and I just sat there and cried. Then I gathered myself and had some pad thai.”
“Going Going Gone” “I stayed up until like 1:00 am writing this cute little song on the little travel guitar that I bring on tour. I thought for sure I'd never put it on a record because it's so campfire-ish. I never thought that it would fit tonally on anything, but I like the meaning of it. It's about the cycle of boys and girls, then men and women, and then fathers and daughters, and how fathers are protective of their daughters potentially because as young men they either witnessed or perpetrated abuse. Or just that men who would casually assault women know that their daughters are in danger of that, and that's maybe why they're so protective. I like it right after ‘Thumbs’ because it's like a reprieve after the heaviest point on the record.”
“Partner in Crime” “I tried to sing a regular take and I was just sounding bad that day. We did Auto-Tune temporarily, but then we loved it so much we just kept it. I liked that it was a choice. The meaning of the song is about this relationship I had when I was a teenager with somebody who was older than me, and how I tried to act really adult in order to relate or get that person's respect. So Auto-Tune fits because it falsifies your voice in order to be technically more perfect or maybe more attractive.”
“Brando” “I really started to know about older movies in high school, when I met this one friend who the song is about. I feel like he was attracted to anything that could give him superiority—he was a self-proclaimed anarchist punk, which just meant that he knew more and knew better than everyone. He used to tell me that he knew me better than everyone else, but really that could not have been true because I hardly ever talked about myself and he was never satisfied with who I was.”
“Please Stay” “I wrote it in September of 2019, after we recorded most of the record. I had been circling around this role that I have played throughout my life, where I am trying to convince somebody that I love very much that their life is worth living. The song is about me just feeling helpless but trying to do anything I can to offer any sort of way in to life, instead of a way out. One day at a time is the right pace to aim for.”
“Triple Dog Dare” “In high school I was friends with this girl and we would spend all our time together. Neither of us were out, but I think that her mom saw that there was romantic potential, even though I wouldn't come out to myself for many years later. The first verses of the song are true: Her mom kept us apart, our friendship didn't last. But the ending of the song is this fictitious alternative where the characters actually do prioritise each other and get out from under the thumbs of their parents and they steal a boat and they run away and it's sort of left to anyone's interpretation whether or not they succeed at that or if they die at sea. There’s no such thing as nonfiction. I felt empowered by finding out that I could just do that, like no one was making me tell the truth in that scenario. Songwriting doesn't have to be reporting.”

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