Lucius: Dancing Around It

“It was such a moment in history—in all of our histories—when we first heard the news about the pandemic,” Jess Wolfe reflects. “And we just happened to be in Sheryl Crow’s living room.”

At the time, the singer—who is one half of the vocal duo that fuels indie-pop outfit Lucius—and her longtime musical partner, Holly Laessig, were staying at Crow’s house in Nashville, just beginning the songwriting process that would eventually lead to their first album of new music since 2016’s Good Grief,

“In early March [2020], Sheryl invited us to come stay at her house while we were writing and doing sessions,” Wolfe continues, referring to the collaborative writing sessions that she and Laessig had begun with outside songwriters—a first for the duo, who have always written by themselves . “In fact, some of the first songs we wrote for the record were written in that living room on her gorgeous grand piano.”

Not long after those initial sessions, of course, most of the country went into lockdown, and Laessig and Wolfe returned to Los Angeles. The songwriting, however, never shut down. In fact, the timing of that isolation was, strangely, almost helpful for the duo, as they embraced the opportunity to funnel their time and energy into creating the songs that now comprise Second NatureLucius’ third official album, which dropped in early April via Mom + Pop.

Laessig and Wolfe had spent much of the previous three years with Roger Waters on his globe-trotting Us + Them tour—as background singers as well as featured vocalists on nightly renditions of the Pink Floyd classic “The Great Gig in the Sky”—and had also contributed to albums by everyone from The War On Drugs to Nathaniel Rateliff, Harry Styles and Ozzy Osbourne. So they were keen to finally get back to their own material. And they had plenty of new experiences to draw inspiration from, including Wolfe’s divorce from one of their Lucius bandmates, multi-instrumentalist Dan Molad.

“It was a long time leading up to that moment, but it was a lot to sift through at once,” Wolfe says of the official divorce coinciding with the onset of a global pandemic. “It’s like I was led to this moment— ‘Here you go, deal with your feelings. And you have no way out of it because we’re gonna lock you in your house.’ So it was a bit of a double whammy for me.”

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Laessig compares the process of writing Second Nature to the duo’s experience crafting Good Grief during a much-needed break after a long and grueling tour schedule in support of Lucius’ 2013 debut, wildewoman, This time around, the tour they were coming off wasn’t their own, but it was still just as consuming. In fact, they had actually already planned to take some time off from supporting other artists in order to focus on reconvening Lucius.

“By the time that the lockdown happened, we had all this stuff to talk about and sort through,” Laessig says. “It sounds very weird to say we ‘welcomed’ it because, obviously, it was a really strange, horrible time for so many people. But, for us, it was kind of perfect because we were forced to stay in one place and ‘face the music,’ as it were.”

“We’re more inclined to power through our problems and difficulties in life—we’ll book a tour, whatever,” Wolfe adds. “We use escapism in a lot of positive ways in our band, with visuals and other things. But this time, it felt like it wasn’t something we could really escape.”

Instead, the singers hunkered down during the lockdown, traveling only to each other’s houses to work on the developing songs—a process that included collaborative meetings over Zoom with songwriters around the country. Since this was their first experience working with outside songwriters, Laessig admits, she and Wolfe weren’t dissuaded by the unusual, virtual nature of the sessions, but their collaborators weren’t so pleased with the situation. There was an unexpected benefit, however.

“Jess always said that it made things so much more efficient, which is totally true,” Laessig says. “No one wants to sit in front of a computer for longer than three hours.”

According to Laessig, those writing sessions took on the creative ethos that she and Wolfe have been honing for years—mining their feelings and recent experiences for lyrical ideas—which resulted in the Zoom meetings feeling like something more akin to group[1]therapy sessions.

“Our [songwriting] always starts with a conversation,” Laessig explains. “So you get close to these people quickly because every session begins with you talking about what’s going on in your life and deep-diving, then picking out things that the other person’s saying—like, ‘That’s a good lyric’ or ‘How can we expand upon that?’ And even just asking those questions invites the other person to think about what [they’re saying]—to examine their feelings in a different way. You’re having to explain those feelings in order to put them into a song. So it’s like a grieving process that you go through as a group.”

That feeling certainly shines through on Second Nature, which balances introspection and moments of true heartbreak with dance-floor beats and forays into disco and funk—in addition to the sparkling indie-pop that Lucius showcased with Good Grief. Wolfe and Molad’s declining marriage and subsequent divorce are all but mentioned directly in tracks like “The Man I’ll Never Find,” “Promises” and “White Lies,” which find the speaker examining what’s left of a doomed relationship and how it may have gotten to that place.

When Lucius released “White Lies” as a single, Wolfe added a personal note to his announcement post on Instagram:

“’White Lies’ was the first song we wrote after the divorce. It’s the laying in bed at night, cycling through the last 10 years of your life, wondering what was, what could be and why it wasn’t. It’s the moment right after you rip the Band-Aid off, knowing it’s the end, yet somehow frantically pedaling backward, trying to hold on to some semblance of what’s left, if anything at all.”

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If “White Lies” sounds like a difficult song to write and share with the world, then imagine what it might feel like to go into a studio to record it with the same person who inspired it. Because while Wolfe and Molad’s romantic relationship did end, their friendship and musical bond has not faltered—much to the happiness of their bandmates, Laessig and multi-instrumentalist Peter Lalish.

“It’s funny because I think everyone is like, ‘Where’s the drama?'” Wolfe observes. “And I’m afraid to say—and also really proud to say—it just didn’t exist for us. I feel really lucky. There’s so much love there; Danny is family in so many ways. I want nothing but his happiness, and he wants nothing but mine. Going into our divorce, we really made a commitment—as much as you can make in those very fragile times—to not lose each other in the process and to keep the shape of our relationship. And I think we did it as gracefully as it can be done. The first time getting into the studio, we hadn’t seen each other in a year or something like that. And, of course, there was a lot running through our heads, but it was a much more gentle, nurturing, beautiful experience than we anticipated it could be. There was no fighting; there were no bad feelings. And I think everybody felt that and was able to dive into the record.”

“Yeah, if anything it felt like there was a weight lifted, you know?” Laessig chimes in. “It was a lot lighter than it had been. Everyone, I’m sure, was a little nervous, but it was genuinely easy and light. We all want to be the family that we are, and when such delicate things like divorce are involved, it doesn’t always work out that way—which is also fine. But it was such a relief that we were able to do that.”

In that vein, the real crux of Second Nature can be found in another single, “Dance Around It,” which takes a phrase usually used to describe the avoidance of a difficult subject and turns it into a call to find the joy in difficult circumstances—to dance through them.

“It’s cathartic—being in difficult moments and trying to get through them by actually using the song as a means of therapy,” Wolfe explains. “We’ve noticed, in connecting with our fans through the pandemic, that there was a pattern going on: everybody needed relief. Everybody needed to find joy wherever they could—these little pockets and moments of time. And, we thought, ‘If we could do that with our difficulties, maybe it would bring them light in their own.'”

“Dance Around It” is also the only track on the album to officially list background vocalists Crow and Brandi Carlile, even though they both sing on multiple songs. Laessig and Wolfe are audibly humbled by the support they’ve received from the veteran artists, who they’ve collaborated with on tour and in the studio over the past several years. (“We had the world’s best singers as our background singers, which is sort of a joke,” Wolf laughs.) Carlile was even the one who encouraged Lucius to work with her longtime collaborator, Dave Cobb, who agreed to coproduce the record with her.

“We thought that it would be amazing to work with Dave, somebody who’s really decisive and had a vision for the record. He’s the one who wanted to make a disco record,” Wolfe recalls. “Then, having this bad-ass singer—somebody who you want to be the best version of yourself around, somebody who you want to impress when you sing—was also amazing. She requires that of you because she’s such a force. So to have them in the room—and in our corner—really made us step up to the plate.”

Carlile also gave Lucius the opportunity to unveil Second Nature tunes to their fans for the first time at her Girls Just Wanna Weekend in Mexico earlier this year. And, this spring and fall, Lucius will head out on a proper tour for the first time in years.

“Well, we definitely won’t be eating sushi and champagne in the sky,” Laessig jokes, referring to the swanky treatment they enjoyed as part of the Roger Waters tour. “But we’re super excited to get back on the road with our band and our music, and to have the audience sing our songs. That’s the greatest honor, and it’s been quite a while. We’re psyched.”

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