Rock

Lucy Dacus Geeked Out on Elena Ferrante and Auto-Tune For New Album 'Home Video'

Lucy Dacus
Ebru Yildiz

Lucy Dacus

Lucy Dacus started keeping a journal when she was 7 years old. “My first entry’s like, ‘My babysitter won’t hang out with me. Why? She’s just talking to her boyfriend on the land line,’” says a doleful Dacus, channeling her younger self.

Now 26, the Richmond, Va.-raised singer-songwriter's collection of journals takes up about two feet of shelf space in her home in Philadelphia, where she settled a couple of months before the pandemic. Those writings became invaluable source material for her latest album, Home Video, a guitar-driven rock record that revisits crucial moments in her life between the ages of 7 and 17.

“I will go back to journals to see, 'What did I think at the time?' or, 'What about my life right now is making me think about this?'” she says, sitting at a kitchen table in Brooklyn. “Am I thinking about the past as escapism, or am I thinking about it because there’s a lesson that’s finally going to come into play?”

The 11 songs on the album float through memories of sneaking out and fooling around, while also sinking into the darker parts of growing up, like losing touch with once-close friends, or having to be more adult than the adults around you. To bring these bittersweet recollections to life, Dacus teamed up with previous collaborators Jacob Blizard, Collin Pastore and Jake Finch in the summer of 2019 and headed to Nashville's Trace Horse Recording Studio, run by Dacus’s former high school bandmates Scottie Prudhoe and Preston Cochran. “We used to practice in my friend Preston’s garage," says Dacus. "And now they have a huge board and all these preamps and a beautiful piano."

The solo artist and one-third of boygenius sat down to talk about the recording process and the things that influenced the sound of her new project.

Hologram Electronics’ Infinite Jets Pedal 

Dacus tried this infinite sustain pedal from Hologram Electronics for the first time on Home Video, using it on closer “Triple Dog Dare.” “It adds a lot of texture,” she says. While most examples of the pedal show it used on keyboards or guitar, Dacus and her bandmates used it on the drums to make them sound “like they’re ripping apart and erratic.”

12-string Fake-out 

While it sounds like there are a lot of 12-string guitars on songs like “Hot and Heavy” and “Brando,” Dacus says that’s actually the sound of a regular acoustic guitar and a high strung acoustic being tracked simultaneously. “[Blizard and Finch] would sit on either side of two condenser mics and just play at the same time and then switch seats and play again,” Dacus says. “And that’s how we got that 12-string sound, but it was wider and looser.”

Jerry Jones Longhorn Baritone 

“VBS” is a song about Dacus’s Slayer-loving first boyfriend whom she met at church camp, and while the righteous guitar wailing that is preceded by a reference to the metal band stands out, a different guitar moment is her favorite. After the line “dark feel darker than before,” Blizard came in with a solo on the Jerry Jones guitar, known for its warm twang, that was brief but full of character. “Jacob was in the control room tracking, and Collin whispered in his ear, ‘Play like you’re divorced.’ And then Jacob internalized it and played this solo. Every time I hear it, I’m like, ‘Man, that’s so divorced.’”

Auto-Tune 

Dacus suffered a vocal injury a month before recording that kept her from speaking or singing for more than two hours every day. During a session for the song “Partner in Crime,” she struggled to get her recovering voice to nail the part. “I was just trying to get this song, and I wasn’t hitting notes, so I said, ‘Let’s just put Auto-Tune on it, get the rest of the instruments and come back to it tomorrow,’” she recalls. Though it was supposed to be temporary, she and her collaborators loved the Auto-Tune sound so much that they decided to leave it. She now calls it “probably the best mistake on the record."

Elena Ferrante 

Dacus devoured the writings of the Italian author who writes under the penname Elena Ferrante and has a gift for capturing the complexities of friendship over the years, as she did in the four books in the acclaimed Neapolitan series. In addition to those works of fiction, Dacus also read three shorter Ferrante pieces, her journals, notes and letters. “I think that influenced so much of the record,” she says, particularly the novels. “That’s about a long-standing female friendship. If anything, this record is about friendship and memory.”