A mere four years ago, Lucy Dacus performed her first concert in New York City.
The next year, her name was sandwiched in a medium-sized font midway down the Savannah Stopover Music Festival lineup. This year, she returns in large type across the top of the lineup, just behind Deerhunter and Joy Formidable.
She will headline the opening night event at 8:30 p.m. March 7 at Ships of the Sea Museum.
Her meteoric rise from 19-year-old film student, working in a photo lab in her hometown of Richmond, Va., to garnering feature stories in Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and NPR, legends of fans and headlining spots is testament to her powerful, candid songwriting that echoes the best of folk music delivered in a solid indie-rock musical package.
Her first album, 2016’s “No Burden,” triggered a massive label bidding war, so ridiculous it made headlines. She released the album with Matador Records (Jay Reatard, Kurt Vile, Modest Mouse, Neko Case, Sonic Youth, Superchunk) and then made the transformation into full-time touring musician. Her second album, 2018’s “Historian,” earned her even more attention, with an 8.1 rating from Pitchfork and a number of end-of-the-year best of lists.
As she’s settled into being a full-time musician, she’s had to reckon with the drastic changes in her life.
“I was in film school, not intending to do music,” Dacus told Do Savannah. “I feel everything happened very quickly. I am happy to be doing it. But, when I think back to three years ago, I would have laughed at anyone who would have told me I would become a full-time touring musician. It’s good; I feel I’ve reached a balance with it all. Not in a jaded way, but just a comfortable, I can admit that this is what my life looks like. I am glad people let me do it.”
Songwriting for Dacus isn’t geared around the music as much, but rather it is the lyrics that draw her in. Typically, she finds inspiration when doing mundane things, like washing dishes, allowing her mind to drift through ideas. That initial spark is transferred to paper and then music.
Equally inspired by Simon & Garfunkel and David Bowie, her sound balances itself in the folk-rock arena, her deep resonant voice always out front carrying highly intentional and poignant lyrics that are rarely veiled.
“The way I write songs hasn’t changed,” Dacus said. “I am changing as a person, but functionally, the way the words come out of my mouth are usually in an unexpected flurry of thoughts and sometimes, more honest than I even let myself be prior to writing the song. I find out a lot about myself from the songwriting process.
“I can’t really map my influence, either,” Dacus continued. “That’s kind of what I am saying about trying to write a song. I know what I listen to and that comes through, but I really am not trying to make music. That’s a weird way to say it. It just happens.
"I have listened to some folk music and some rock music, but honestly, what the songs are to me is writing. I care about the words more than the music side of things, always. It just so happens that I can sing. It just so happens that me and my small group of friends can play instruments. It just so happens that I am doing music. The meaning behind everything is paramount.”
Both of her albums were produced with high-school friends Collin Pastore, a Berklee College of Music graduate, and Jacob Blizard, an Oberlin Conservatory of Music graduate.
“It’s really valuable that I’ve known them for so long and I trust them,” Dacus said. “We speak honestly with each other. We have this whole vocabulary that’s specific to us and how we work.”
Dacus has found a close friend in label mate Julien Baker, who played the 2017 Stopover. Baker and Dacus teamed up with Phoebe Bridgers to form Boygenius, which released an EP last year, instantly earning widespread attention.
“Finding a friend in her was such a grounding thing,” Dacus said. “I find so much solace in Julien. I think we both trust each other and understand where we’re coming from. To this day, we talk almost every day, if not every week. We used to do these long-form emails back and forth, like letter writing. I really enjoy email as the proxy for writing. It’s nice, having peers of similar background, and age and mentality about things. I wish that for everybody.
“That everybody can find people that they feel understood by, that are going through the same thing, because especially when it comes to a swift bout of notoriety. People have seen movies about it, but don’t really know what it feels like. Even the people who love me the most and have known me the longest, it’s sometimes hard for them to understand what my day-to-day life looks like. My family, friends don't really have a full grasp on what’s on going on behind the scenes and what it feels like to be on the road every day. It’s been a huge help.”