Lucy Dacus has a reputation that precedes her, a good one. Rolling Stone magazine named her as one of the 10 Artists You Need to Know and NPR’s Bob Boilen declared Dacus his No. 1 Discovery of 2016 so far. Have we mentioned that all of this attention came before she even has a full-length album out?
“No Burden” (Egg Hunt Records) drops Feb. 26 and easily is one of the most anticipated albums of 2016 both in and out of Richmond. Style spoke with the rising star over coffee at Greenbriar Café & Coffeehouse about the recent media buzz, what inspires her songs, and some kind of strange, benevolent juju that seems to constantly surround her.
“There’s some weird voodoo going on,” Dacus says, laughing. “I don’t feel much ownership over the stuff that’s been happening.” The 21-year-old singer can only explain her recent good fortune as the result of being kind, working hard and putting good vibes out into the world: “Maybe it’s the whole, what you put out to the universe comes back?”
Before she was on stage, Dacus was a rabid music fan constantly going to shows in the city. Bands she went to see, such as Lobo Marino, eventually asked her to play some of her first gigs at Helen’s and Gallery5. They even helped her book a tour. It was at some of those shows that the young singer and songwriter made an impression on bands My Darling Fury and Night Idea. They asked Dacus to play with them, sparking a cosmic chain reaction that propelled her to the forefront of the local music scene.
The good-fate train didn’t stop there. Dacus was invited to record some of her recently written songs at Reba McIntire’s Starstruck Studios in Nashville.
“My friend had an internship and asked me to come in so he could learn how to use all of the equipment,” Dacus says. Many of the songs she was working on were quickly finished up for the session and a mad dash ensued to get a band together, she says: “The week before, we got some of our friends together and we wrote all of the drums, bass and extra guitar stuff. We then recorded everything in one day.” The singer says she enjoys moving quickly, so the session was just her style.
“The studio for me is just like playing live, except keeping your head in one place so the mic can pick you up,” she says. “I’m not super-good at technical stuff and don’t know a lot about music theory or the process of recording, so having people to trust to do that was such a load off.”
The result is “No Burden,” a collection of nine songs written between 2014 and 2015 that sonically swells and surges forth with emotion while being grounded in life experience. Dacus says she draws inspiration from multiple sources, including her own journals, books she’s reading, currently Flannery O’Connor and Henry James, and her upbringing by adoptive parents. “I was raised being told what I had to say was worthwhile and being creative was the force of life,” she says.
Many of her lyrics draw on conflict as well. “I was raised Christian and a lot of the content is trying to balance the good and bad in that,” she says. “Being taught forgiveness at an early age and to think that unconditional love is possible. That’s a good basis for how to treat people.”
The album’s first single, “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” debuted on the Fader last November and was quickly picked up by Stereogum. “Our drummer Miles is a huge fan and when we saw that our jaws dropped,” she says. “That was a good surprise.”
Dacus says that while she’s incredibly happy to see her first album finding an audience, she’s already moved on to her second, which is almost finished.
“Our favorite songs we play live today are on there,” she says. “I’m just way more excited about this one because it was written with the band versus me writing solo. The songs are more full and purposeful because of that.”
Dacus and company are gearing up for a busy spring, something the avid traveler says she’s thrilled about. They’re slated to play a Daytrotter session and a showcase with some of Dacus’ favorites -- Julien Baker, Mitski and Frankie Cosmos at the South by Southwest Festival -- after a release party at the Broadberry and the Lava music festival in May.
For now, the singer is gauging success not by headlines, but by people she connects with by song.
“The whole reason I would make anything is to say something that’s comforting and relatable,” she says. “To tell people they’re not a burden, which is where the album title came from. For some reason, people still need to hear that. To know that everyone feels that way and people everywhere understand you.”
Lucy Dacus plays her album-release show March 4 at the Broadberry with Rikki Shay and Spooky Cool. Doors at 8 p.m., show at 9. Tickets cost $8 in advance, $10 at the door. thebroadberry.com.