Grateful Web Interview with Lucius

Article Contributed by Nicole Santilli | Published on Wednesday, November 23, 2016

This past Monday, Brooklyn’s Lucius captured the hearts and minds of their audience at Boulder’s Fox Theater with their powerfully emotive set showcasing their sophomore album, Good Grief. I was able to chat with half of the band’s frontwomen duo, Holly Laessig, before their performance to learn more about the new album and tour, and the band’s unique musical (and nonmusical) inspirations.

GW: You were on tour for 300 days promoting the first album, Wildewoman, and much of those experiences have inspired this album. What emotions or situations did you feel most compelled to express via a second album and why?

HL: It was the first time that we had ever toured or anything like that. The first record was a lot more jam packed, and were were home for like 14 non-consecutive days for that year and a half or whatever it was. But we hadn’t toured before, this was all new to us, we knew that we couldn’t afford to say no to anything because nobody knew who we were. It’s all about being at the right place at the right time, so we figured if we were at every place at every time, something would work! That was our mentality and so we pushed really hard, we worked really really hard. We were driving ourselves around in a van, and it was really close quarters for a lot of strong personalities to be [together] 24 hours a day for months and months on end. I think at the end of it, everyone was ready for space in so many ways.

Literally and figuratively, space from each other, space to see friends and family that we had lost touch with and even relationships, our relationships suffered naturally because we weren’t able to be totally present for them while we were trying to do everything else. By the end of that tour there was a lot of good stuff, and a lot of observation; we were like sponges, meeting so many new people and experiencing so many new experiences it’s like, you retain all of that and you don’t always have time to reflect until afterwards. We used that space afterwards to reflect, to sit down and have some writing sessions, - a lot came out of it. A lot of it was really heavy at first, and emotional, and a lot of the more upbeat tracks on Good Grief were a response to that. It was like, ‘here’s all of the heavy emotions, but we don’t want our whole record to be like this’. And so, we were like, let’s put this aside for a second and write something just ridiculous and happy. That’s how Born Again Teen came about - that was one of the first [songs] that was sort of like, let’s do something silly to lighten the palate. We ended up with this two sided beast of a record where there’s a super dark side, and a super light side.

GW: What was the biggest thing you learned from that tour? What are some things that you might change or do differently this time around?

HL: I think we learned our boundaries with each other and with ourselves, and how hard we can really push ourselves. [We learned] how many days we need off for mental health care, and also for singing. The second record is vocally more challenging, so we knew that was going to happen. We also have a bit more breathing room this time around because we established ourselves the first time. We were able to say no to more things than we were the first time. We learned a lot about [space] - if I say I'm going for a walk by myself, or need to go to a coffee shop, nobody would question it. Everybody needs time for themselves.

Because it’s such a different way of living, and these are skills we didn’t have the first time around that we have now. And we have a tour bus now, that definitely helps.

GW: That must have been pretty crazy trying to drive yourselves around in such a small space! I was also curious - do you have any tour rituals?

HL: We have a little secret handshake kind of thing that we do before. We had one for the first era, when Andy Burton was in the band. We retired that and we’re working on a new one. We do that before every show, that’s our thing. But we can’t tell you what it is or how it goes.

GW: Awesome. I’d love to deep dive with you a bit more into the music. Your harmonies are beautiful - in addition to harmonizing, you guys use a pretty unique technique of “live doubling” of your voices fairly often, where you’re both singing the same line in sync. That’s not something that’s done too often live. How did you get inspired to start using this technique?

HL: Well we both wanted to sing lead, and we were in the studio in the very very beginning, like 12 years ago, when we first started playing around with stuff and we didn’t know we were going to be a band. Jess and I were messing around and did this demo, this cover of Happiness is a Warm Gun. And we were like, how should we do this? Should we split it up, I’ll do a line you’ll do a line, or [should we do] harmonies, and we started singing the melody at the same time at one point. We both said, wow that’s cool, that sounds like double track vocals in the studio, it’s just live - wouldn’t that be cool if we could do a record like that and when people came to see it live it was actually happening live, it wasn’t just double tracked. That’s how it started, and we just honed in on that. With Phil Spector, and artists like Elliot Smith, we both loved that sound, that technique of double tracking, and we just thought it could be cool to be realized live as well.

GW: That’s really amazing and creative. What is your songwriting process like for the band?

HL: It’s different for each song, and it’s been different up until now. We’ve been trying to set aside time to write because it’s hard to write on the road. We’ve been setting aside weeks here and there to have writing sessions - we both usually bring some ideas to the session, whether it’s like a voice memo with chorus melody on it, or whether it’s like a bunch of verses, you know, we usually start from one person’s idea, spring off of that, and then lend a different perspective to it. That’s kind of how it goes.

GW: You mentioned it’s hard to write on tour - did you guys ever write while you were feeling all of the emotions we talked about earlier, like, “I have to get this out now!” or was it mainly in the retrospective that you did most of the writing?

HL: I think it’s a lot of collecting ideas. I’ll get spurts of ideas here and there and I’ll just write lyrics down in my journal or notes in my phone or voice memos. By the end of tour, [the note writing] puts me back in the place where I was, when I would have ideally liked to write a whole song but it wasn’t the time or place. When we do have time to sit down in a quiet place, we’re just like, let’s just go through these ideas and lyrics and think about where I was at the time. It’s just a bunch of sketch books and stuff, and sitting down and really sifting through everything.

GW: Who are your musical or non-musical role models?

HL: Well, my biggest inspiration musically and artistically growing up and through life is/was David Bowie. I remember watching Labyrinth when I was like almost 3 years old - since then, I loved that soundtrack, it was my favorite, and then I got into more music from it, that’s the person I feel like i grew up with as a musical parent, so i was very heartbroken this past year. That would be the biggest one off the top of my head. My family and friends - they have been very supportive, and inspiring to me, And I have a lot of artistic, creative, totally bizarre people surrounding all the time and I wouldn't have it any other way.

GW: To switch gears a little bit, I’m really excited to see you guys live - one of the things that makes your performances really unique is that you always wear super rad identical outfits. I was wondering where you guys get your fashion inspiration from and how you decide what to wear?

HL: Luckily, we have a very similar aesthetic, a 60s meets sci fi thing. We are both drawn to that. In the beginning, we’d just find things basically from sale racks in stores, [we’d find] the weirdest thing they’d have in the store that no one else would wear. We’d be like oh, that’s interesting. And when it’s two [outfits] together, that’s even more bizarre, and that’s just something that we like. For the first 2 years we just styled ourselves, mixed and matched things, put outfits together. Most recently we’ve been working with a couple of designers - lately we’ve been wearing a lot of Fort Lonesome - which is a company out of Austin, Texas - it’s women, and it’s like beautifully embroidered outfits, they’ve got fringe, and we helped design those, put together look books, [basically] put it all in a blender and out comes this awesome outfit.

GW: Do you guys ever disagree on what to wear?

HL: Not really, no. It’s gotten to the point where we we sort of know what styles, what cuts work best on both of us, what color schemes we want to go with ahead of time, it just seems to make sense. We hit the road with 3-4 outfits and rotate them throughout. Like OK, we’re going to wear pink and black today, then the red outfits the next day.

GW: That must take a lot of stress out of it, knowing what you’re going to wear. To switch gears a bit, I know you guys met at Berklee and then you started singing under the name Lucius. A lot of great musicians came out of Berklee and went on to launch really successful careers. Besides meeting Jess at Berklee, what was the most valuable thing you learned while you were there?

HL: For me, it was the community, and I guess it was learning that so much of it was about having a musical community and meeting people who loved the same things you did, because they are still people I keep in touch with, and still know. That was something I didn’t have before college. That was extremely valuable - more valuable, in my experience, than the technique and all that stuff - that’s important too, but if you’re practicing all day every day in your room by yourself, it doesn’t help you. It’s people that you learn from the most, and playing and collaborating with people which is something we love to do. For me, it was finding that community, and finding people that were like-minded, that was the best part.

GW: You and Jess Wolfe are both married and seem to be doing your passions for your career. And I know that can sometimes be physically and emotionally demanding. Do you have any advice for maybe younger folks, or women, who are maybe struggling to balance their career ambitions with their families, and for lack of better word, have it all? It seems like you guys are on that path at least.

HL: If somebody knows how to have it all, send them our way, we don’t know what we’re doing either. We have very supportive partners, we are really lucky, and they are artists and musicians too. They understand what it means to have [music] be your priority, and what a passion like that means. And so, we’re lucky that they are understanding. It is very hard, and sometimes it seems impossible to juggle both things, and - I don't think you can have everything at 100% - it ebbs and flows, just like life does. Some things need priority at some times, sometimes the other [needs priority], - it’s about just recognizing that. The best advice I can think of is to be mindful and stay open to when things need to be prioritized, but you’ve got to stick to your guns and stick to your passion, and the people that you keep in your life will hopefully be supportive of that.