6-7 p.m. City Stage, CityFolk, Lansdowne Park
Tickets and info: cityfolkfestival.com
Lucy Dacus is a 24-year-old singer-songwriter who grew up in Virginia and bares her soul in unhurried indie-rock songs that serve as comfort food for the troubled soul. She came to attention with her first release, No Burden, then exposed her vulnerabilities again on last year’s excellent album, Historian.
In this interview, Dacus discusses the left turn in her career path, the challenges of writing deeply personal songs, and what it’s like to share them. She comes to Ottawa for the first time to perform at CityFolk on Sunday.
Q: How long have you been writing songs?
A: I always think that’s a hard question because children write songs all the time and then they end up stopping. So in some ways I’ve been writing since I could speak and I just didn’t stop. But songs that I share with people? Since, I guess, 8th grade.
Q: I understand music wasn’t your original career path. You were going to film school. What happened?
A: Well, I dropped out because I didn’t want to pay for it. It felt like the right thing to do. I just got a regular job and was doing music as a hobby. Also, I didn’t really think that I could handle working on movies that I didn’t care about. But I still love movies and still have a heart for that whole creative process, which is so collaborative. Music, I write it by myself. It’s collaborative to record and have a band but at the end of the day it’s just me. And for film, it feels like you have to be a really good team player.
Q: What sort of regular job did you get?
A: I was working at a photo lab. So I would batch-edit thousands of photos from photographers, usually school pictures, yearbook pictures or kids’ sports teams or prom or wedding photos. I’d edit all of them. It’s monotonous but nice and meditative.
Q: Does that kind of work spur your creativity?
A: Yeah, because your mind is free to roam. If you’re doing something repetitive, you kinda get into a rhythm that unlocks the quieter part of your brain, at least for me. When I wrote most of my songs is when I was working there. I would go home and write a song a day almost.
Q: You had a lot of success with your first album, No Burden.
A: Yeah. I almost think of No Burden, though I love it, it was kind of a fluke. No one intended for it to do as well as it did. But I’m happy it did. The next one, the third, I hope we’re able to loosen up a little bit.
Q: There are some difficult themes on the second album, Historian. What was going on around you when you were writing those songs?
A: I wrote the songs over several years. They all sort of centre around my greatest anxieties and the anxieties of people around me. Identity, confusion, the creative stoppage. Having unhealthy relationships with people in your life. It’s all sort of like all the tough stuff in my life.
Q: Sounds like you had to go deep for that.
A: Yeah, and it’s easy when you don’t need to share it. I’ve written tons of stuff that I’ve not shared. It’s the only way I’m able to write it, is that I choose not to show it. A lot of those songs I wrote for myself and then separately decided they would be worth sharing.
Q: Does sharing them give you anxiety?
A: Not at this point. But I do have some new songs that are a little too much and I’m a little nervous about how people will respond because they’re very honest and very personal so I’m crossing my fingers.
Q: Are you doing anything differently on the next record?
A: Yeah, we’re using a lot more keyboards. Thematically, I think I usually write with generalizations, types of people, types of relationships, situations. But the new songs, they’re really specific. Some of them are even just stories from my life, and that’s why I’m scared. It’s so clear who they are about.
Q: What gives you the courage to forge ahead with them?
A: I think I’ve been emboldened by feedback from fans and friends and family. I’ve been sharing the material over time with the people close to me, and I think they find worth in it. If I find worth, that’s the most important thing but my immediate circle, I trust them next. And I think it’s been hard to get to a place where I feel comfortable.
Q: What about the live show? Is it a challenge to perform such personal material?
A: I really do enjoy it. I feel like I’m face to face to say thank you at the shows. So much of this job is on the Internet, and it’s sort of removed. So the shows are sort of the actual living, breathing being of my work, and I can smile at people and let them know that I’m grateful. And also just playing with my band is a lot of fun. Sometimes touring can be a bit of a drudge, exhausting physically and mentally. But the shows are the best part, the reason for all of this.
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