From Dragon to Dreamer

Maggie Walker alum and rising indie music star Lucy Dacus returns to Richmond this weekend for a show at The National

Indie musician Lucy Dacus (`13). Photo courtesy of Matador Records.

Indie musician Lucy Dacus (`13). Photo courtesy of Matador Records.

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Four years ago, Lucy Dacus was just another senior finishing up her studies at Maggie Walker Governor’s School. Today, she’s preparing to headline a concert at The National on Friday, October 7, before jetting off on a European tour for her debut album “No Burden.”

For Dacus (`13), the past year has been something of a whirlwind. She released her first single, “I Don’t Wanna be Funny Anymore,” in late 2015 via local label Egghunt Records, then dropped a full nine-track album in February. Since summer, she has performed at major music festivals like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits, not to mention “CBS This Morning” and NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concert” series. After signing with Matador Records, Dacus saw her debut album re-released on September 9.

Dacus has also received significant coverage from prominent national music publications like Pitchfork and Rolling Stone, which named her one of “Ten New Artists you Need to Know,” in January. Critics have described her music as “disarmingly open” with “an abundance of heart”, and praised her “fragile yet commanding voice” which presents a “forthright, disarmingly catchy statement.” Big-name reviewers and casual listeners alike can recognize the aching, honest insight that winds through her music. Steeped in an intimate, personal tone, her work speaks to universal longings for identity, security, and self-definition. She gently croons memorable lyrics which feel like urgent, heartbreaking truths, striking at the very heart of adolescent anxiety.

Dacus’ artistic talent has seen great acclaim, and it’s something she first developed formally during her time at Maggie Walker. “I think Maggie Walker is kind of postured towards the arts and creative practices even though it’s a government and international studies school,” Dacus said, noting that the arts faculty had a lasting impact on her work, “Georgianne Stinnett had a huge influence on me, I went to school for film and photography because of her and Todd Raviotta and Jeff Hall and Kori Mosley. I still refer back to the things I learned in those classes…The things they asked me to think about and the way I was taught to approach creating something and how to consider an audience still holds true to how I write songs,” she said.

Dacus harbors fond memories of the MLWGS community as a whole, noting that “the cool thing about being at Maggie Walker is that everyone kind of chose to be there…We couldn’t really have this ‘too cool for school’ pretense because everyone had electively decided to do  this to themselves.” She also feels grateful for her time here because of the relationships she was able create. “I’m still friends with a lot of my friends that I met at Maggie Walker,” Dacus said. “I feel particularly bonded to those people that I knew back then because they really know me…I can talk about myself honestly, and I think people understand how crazy this whole year has been for me.”

However, there are some aspects of her high school education which Dacus feels as if she’s had to unlearn after graduation. “They’re always asking you to plan, like you start your planning your freshman year at Maggie Walker and there are years and years of expectation leading up to that,” she remarked, “And in some ways I guess that’s good…but it doesn’t necessarily make you prepared for the stuff you don’t expect.” Today Dacus tries “to be more flexible and not have too high expectations.” Upon shedding the characteristic Maggie Walker habit of “denying cool life experiences due to school work,” Dacus feels she’s learned that

It’s really valid to travel or not do your work sometimes if it means you’ll be enjoying your life and having a fulfilling life.”

— Lucy Dacus (`13)

Dacus has also sought to find personal validation outside quantitative evaluation. “Academia totally teaches you to value yourself by a number scale or on a grading scale,” she said, “I think it’s dangerous to value your work by a number or by how it’s seen by other people. I wish that it was more stressed in academia to become self-satisfied rather than socially satisfied.”

It’s worth noting that for Dacus, the popular response to her work has been overwhelmingly positive, especially in Richmond. The support put out by her hometown crowds still sometimes shocks her; on playing at The National on Friday, October 7, she said she expects it to be “one of those out of body, out of mind experiences.”

“Tons of people who I admire and I’ve been influenced by I saw on that stage,” Dacus said, listing Broken Social Scene, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Pixies, and St. Vincent as a few examples. “To headline it…doesn’t even really feel real yet. I have a feeling I won’t realize what’s happening until I walk onstage.”

Dacus has been on a lot of stages in the past year, touring the country to promote “No Burden.” In describing her life on the road, she noted that “the weird part is not being at home and seeing how that changes my relationship to Richmond and the people who live there.” Despite the strangeness, she maintained that it’s “the best job ever.” “I like traveling and getting to a new place and seeing what it’s all about.”

As Dacus writes in her song “Map on a Wall,” “If you want to see the world you have to say goodbye, `cause a map does no good hanging on a wall.”

Lucy Dacus performs at The National on October 7 at 8pm. Tickets available here.

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