After a year of tedious Zoom chats and phone calls, Lucy Dacus is returning to normalcy—or at least the closest thing to it, for her. She’s making tea (throat coat, the kind that she says not many people like) in an Airbnb in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood, before settling down at a rustic dining table, feeling at ease after chatting with other journalists throughout the day. Her demeanor is warm and accessible, with no holds barred; after a 2018 profile with a huge music publication where the reporter published information that Dacus said was off the record, the singer-songwriter has learned a lot about setting boundaries. “I feel like I’m able to give more knowing what I’m not willing to give,” she says.
Dacus’ career has moved forward at rapid speed in the past few years. Her 2016 debut, No Burden, was a sleeper indie hit—it gained enough attention to earn critical acclaim from major music publications like Pitchfork, but her moment to shine hadn’t arrived yet. It wasn’t until her 2018 album, Historian, that Dacus began finding recognition as one of the more notable songwriters on the American indie scene.
This attention only increased after she joined forces with fellow indie powerhouses Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker to form supergroup Boygenius and release a well-regarded EP. But while Dacus’ fans were anticipating the future of her career, the songwriter took a step back to examine her beginnings: Her new record, Home Video, out June 25, looks at her adolescence, contrasting the duality of a young woman who may have been wise beyond her years, but was also just as lost as any other teenage girl—grappling with familiar, intense emotions tied to heartbreak, ever-evolving friendships, and trying to belong.
One of the first songs Dacus wrote for Home Video was “Thumbs,” a wrenching track in which the musician stands by a college friend who’s meeting up with their absentee father. It’s a song she started playing live while touring in support of Historian; then, as if a dam broke, other deeply emotional songs about her adolescent years started pouring out. Though the album’s adolescent theme wasn’t intentional, it became instrumental for understanding where she currently is in her life.
“I feel like you have to learn from your past—and also, what a gift to feel warmth toward your past,” Dacus explains. “I don’t know exactly why I felt ready; maybe I felt old enough to say childhood is over and I can figure out what happened now, because in the moment, you’re just learning and you’re not being critical. You’re specifically taught not to be critical of your parents. I’m at the age—and I was when I was writing this—that I can be critical of them, and every other teacher, including my friends, because your friends are your teachers too,” she says.
Home Video takes listeners back to precise moments from the adolescent years Dacus spent near Richmond, Virginia, while also looking at those situations from her current mindset. “At that moment, I didn’t realize what was going on, and now it’s taken all this time to realize what really happened, so I’m like, ‘Okay, what’s happening right now that I’m not going to understand until I’m, like, 40?,’” she wonders. But writing Home Video also became instrumental in examining her dynamics with those she was closest to during those years. Many of her songs explore friendship in a way that feels passionate and heartfelt. At times, it’s challenging to tell if Dacus is singing about someone through a platonic lens or with a romantic perspective—though, occasionally, the lines are blurred.
“I learned that my friendships are maybe my most intense relationships in my life, even more than romance or family. But also, you have friendships with your family or the people you’re dating and they’re usually very complicated. So I think friendship is an under-explored part of the human experience. There is a ton [of pop culture] about friendship, like buddy comedies or whatever, but I feel like that is a reductive thing. How many songs are about love, or how many movies are about romance? There’s a myriad of experiences within that. I think there should be more media examining how difficult friendships can be.”
Home Video introduces many characters drawn from the musician’s real life: Christine, the friend who’s decided to dedicate all her attention to a boyfriend with whom Dacus knows she’ll be miserable; Daniel, a high school fling who isn’t communicative about his true intentions; a cinephile who likens himself to Marlon Brando; and more. Some of these people Dacus lost touch with years ago, but others still remain in her life. She’s currently trying to decide if she should reach out to those whom she hasn’t talked to in a while—and she’s also thinking about old friends who, though not specifically written about, may want to connect once the album’s out. After Rolling Stone published an interview about her forthcoming album, a friend from middle school she hadn’t spoken to in a decade or so reached out, writing, “Oh my gosh, so many hours wasted at Panera! Ha ha ha hope you’re well, so glad to see you’re succeeding.” “It just threw me for a loop,” Dacus says. “I haven’t responded yet, but I really am excited to. I really like finding out who people have become—how have you changed, how have you not changed? Because I can also turn that lens on myself. If someone sees me who hasn’t talked to me for eleven years, I’m like, ‘Okay, who was I eleven years ago? Wow, I really have changed.’ And that is a nice feeling for me.”
Dacus thrived from an early age. She was a straight-A student throughout elementary and middle school, but her mom, Sandy Stevenson Dacus, remarks that while Lucy succeeded academically, she didn’t fit in with the rest of the kids at school. “There was an eighth grade homecoming picture where all the girls she went with were wearing the same kind of dress, the same kind of shoes, they all had their feet the same way, hand on the hip, kind of sorority looking. Lucy was at the end wearing green high-tops—and she didn’t care. I remember thinking of that Sesame Street song: ‘One of these things is not like the other.’ Because she wanted to be kind of in that crowd, but she really didn’t fit in that crowd.”
Although Dacus had an early interest in music—her mom notes that an English teacher encouraged her daughter to take her guitar to school and play during her free time—it wasn’t the career path she initially envisioned for herself. Dacus studied film at Virginia Commonwealth University until dropping out to pursue a career in music. “She was always a writer; ever since she was little, she would write stories,” recalls Stevenson Dacus. “Then she was making films in high school that were… I know, I’m a mom and I’m probably biased, but when you saw the final films from these other kids and then Lucy’s came on, it was like, ‘Holy cow, that is on a different plane than the rest of them.’ She was going to be a film director. Have you ever heard of Miranda July? She wanted to be a Miranda July, where she could write and direct and do all these different things but walk through an airport and not be noticed because nobody would know who she was. That’s the kind of person she always aspired to be.”
Home Video gives fans a larger look at Lucy Dacus’ life, with some of her most personal songs yet. The musician delves deep into her early romantic dynamics with women, particularly in closing track “Triple Dog Dare,” about falling for a close female friend. Dacus reveals that she wrote a song for this album that was “just about kissing girls” but it was ultimately cut. “I don’t know when that will ever come out,” she admits. Dacus publicly came out as pansexual in a 2018 interview with Vice, in which says she previously wouldn’t allow herself to say she’s queer because she’d never dated a woman, though she’s been attracted to women and non-binary people.
“I came out to an ex of mine who said, ‘You’re not gay, you’re dating me,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, okay, I guess I’ll put this away for years.’ Even today, it’s still a journey of embodying what I know is true. But it’s also complicated because when it comes to sexuality, there’s the internal knowing that it’s true but your embodying it involves other people, and I don’t want to use somebody in order to assert to myself that I believe something about myself,” she says. “I think attraction is hard to pin down, because gender is already a joke.”
She explains her thoughts on gender using the “galaxy brain” meme: “I think tiny brain is like, ‘Gender is important, we need gender roles,’ because that’s not true, and then you can say, like, ‘Gender is not important because it’s not real,’ and then the next brain is, ‘Gender is important because everybody gets to make a choice, and we’re socialized in a certain way, and [everyone] gets to have their own journey with it,’ and then the next level is, ‘Gender is not important for the same reason.’ But I’m in a phase where I’m like, gender is a joke and it’s not important, so what does that mean for sexuality? I’m not here to be a theorist, I’m still learning.
“Growing up in a really Christian, rural, suburban white area, I don’t know… I sometimes envy people who seem to come by it easier, not in a bad way. I’m very excited for my friends’ kids who are coming out to them at age 8, or 12, or even younger. Parents that are raising their kids with good information about gender and sexuality. That rips. Like, I don’t know if I want kids, but I love that kids are being taught that. Even if I know intellectually that I’m free to do whatever I want, my conditioning is so deep-set that it doesn’t feel easy sometimes.”
Religion plays a substantial role in Home Video, particularly in “VBS” (as in “vacation bible school”). It’s a side of Dacus’ upbringing with which her audience likely isn’t familiar. “[Religion] navigated my daily life all the time. My entire friend group, the way we would hang out is go to church together, go to youth group, go to church camp and bible camp trips,” she recalls. “I have a hard time relating to who I used to be because of that. I think that’s part of why I wrote this record—because I’m trying to get back to the core of who I am, even though I’ve changed so much. So I was thinking about these memories, and what is in there that I can hold onto still, because I just can’t put myself back in her place. My mindset is just so different now, and I feel estranged from my own history for that reason.”
On the surface, it may seem like Dacus’ adolescence contained the usual mix of both positive and negative experiences, as she was in a loving household, was excelling academically, and had the opportunity to explore various creative endeavors. But many of the songs on Home Video carry a distinct emotional charge, offering a peek into the darkest moments of her youth. “Partner In Crime” is one of the heaviest, delving into her dynamic with an older man who knows she’s underage, but flirts with her anyway. It’s a situation that many women have experienced, and Dacus captures it in an eloquent way that shows how much of a gray area it felt like at the time.
“I think that I felt embarrassed, and I felt protective in a way that I couldn’t be [at the time], and can’t be protective of my past self [while writing it]. It happens. There’s no touching it. But I remember the feeling at the time where I was like, ‘I’m ready for something more exciting. I relate more to people who are older than me, I want to learn from people who’ve had more experiences than me. People in high school are drab, or underdeveloped, or I just don’t like anybody,’” she says, running through the odd admixture of emotions. “I used to neglect to say my age at shows and stuff, or if people were hitting on me, I’d just roll with it and not have a personal barrier against the fact that they were older. I think I was right that I was ready, but anybody older that would talk to me, a high schooler, romantically as an adult man… I mean, that’s just pedophilia. It’s literally illegal. I shudder to think about it, because that’s such an intense term, but that’s what it was, and it was an abuse of power. And it doesn’t even matter that I was ‘cool’ and adult and had a presence of mind. The other person didn’t.”
Looking back, she realizes that there wasn’t anything appealing about being involved with someone older who was taking advantage of her teenage self—and there’s nothing “cool” about a grown man who is chatting up a high schooler. But she fears that if she has a daughter, Dacus won’t be able to protect her from facing the same kind of experience—feeling like she’d have to be accepted by older men who aren’t worth it, and who abuse their power. “That’s part of why I don’t want to have kids, is that I understand that impulse to be taken seriously, and I wouldn’t blame anybody for that type of lie, but it’s so dangerous. I would be so worried all the time. I think I would be an overprotective parent as I am today, and I don’t want to be that, so I won’t be a parent as of now. I’ve had a good life, but… trigger warning, I guess, but I’ve been raped, and it’s part of my experience, and I wish it wasn’t, and I think most of my friends have been, and—I don’t know. I really value where I am today, so I guess I wouldn’t make any changes, but I would be thinking about it constantly if I had a kid.”
An important aspect of “Partner In Crime” is how it pinpoints a particular thought process that many teenage girls go through while facing that kind of situation: the false perception of control. “I actually finished that song in Edinburgh, Scotland, and whenever I finish a song, I play it if I’m on tour, like that night. And I remember somebody came up [after] and was like, ‘That line, “I walked in on my own,” that is so common.’ Even if you know it’s bad, it’s like ‘I’m choosing this, so I’m in control.’ That’s still within me, to approach things that I know are maybe bad for me, but feel like I won’t get hurt because I opted into it.”
Dacus is aware that with such a deeply personal album, there will be uncomfortable conversations during this press cycle. But she’s taking it in stride, while still acknowledging that it’s one of the least favorable parts of being a successful musician. “People are like, ‘Oh, you’re living such a glamorous life,’ and I’m literally in a van with six people and staying with four people in a hotel room, and I have to talk about my trauma all the time. It’s not as glamorous as you think. Or jet-setting—being like, ‘Oh, we’re flying here, we’re flying there.’ I get like three hours of sleep. I do love traveling, and playing shows, and I’m really grateful that publications are allowing me to take up space, but I think there’s a lot to it that’s more harrowing than people get.”
Home Video is about Lucy Dacus’ hometown, but it’s the first she’s made since moving out. She now resides in Philadelphia, living with six roommates. Dacus decided to move from Richmond after her fanbase began growing steadily. With her new recognition as a public figure, people were taking note of where she lives and approaching her on the street. She no longer felt safe.
“There’s a lot of media that really condones stalking—like rom-coms, it’s like, oh the nerd is just obsessed with this girl and at the end she’s like, ‘Aww, you really care about me,’ and they get together or something. Stalking is bad! There’s not enough condemnation of stalking to any degree. I’ve been followed while I’m just on a walk,” she says. “Being followed is terrifying. I don’t wish that upon anyone. Luckily, I think most people who are my fans are just chill dudes—dudes as a gender non-conforming term.”
Besides being followed, there are other uncomfortable situations that come with fame. As Dacus notes, female artists often deal with the same forms of boundary trespassing that male artists experience, but to a greater extent. “I think a lot of women that I know who are in the public eye right now make really personal, intense, and sad art. So you put that on the table and it comes back to you; people bring you their sadness,” she says. “When ‘Thumbs’ came out, so many people were sending me stories of domestic abuse, and really intense things, and it was very overwhelming. I kind of had to put it down, because back-to-back comments would [go from] ‘This is awesome!’ and supportive, to ‘This happened to me!’ and it’s really disorienting. I don’t know if there’s a clear solution to communicate boundaries to fans, but overall, I’ve tweeted a few times—like, ‘Please don’t wait outside the green room door.’”
An aspect of Home Video that might surprise fans is the inclusion of Auto-Tune. It was an unplanned addition to “Partner In Crime” that made it onto the song because, Dacus says, she “sounded like shit that day.” “We used it so we could do the instruments, and it just affected the arrangement and sounded really cool. I felt like it was something different and exciting, and I was like, ‘We have to keep it.’” Though she’s not certain if it’ll return on future projects, she says it “really scratched that itch” of creating something she hadn’t tackled before. But someone wasn’t a fan: “My mom hates that one. When she heard the record, she was like, ‘It’s great sweetie, except for that one with the Auto-Tune, I don’t like that.’”
Her mom counters: “That’s just because I like her voice so much. I like it the way it is.”