Lucy Dacus is a touring musician, currently on the road in support of her sophomore album, Historian, which is out now on Matador Records. For Lenny Letter, Dacus mused on touring for the first time and what it feels like to b far away from her home in Richmond, Virginia.
Between every major American city, there is connective tissue that shares a similar sequence of DNA no matter where you are. The Flying J, the Super 8, a welcome center, and, if you live on the East Coast like me, a Wawa. The highways are main arteries, the state routes are weak veins, and we are a single blood cell — a Ford E-350 full of amps, books, and empty coffee cups. We are in no man’s land, a neutral landscape where there is nothing to latch onto. The monotony is meditative. The mind can do nothing but twiddle its thumbs.
My muscles relax when we leave Richmond on our first day of tour, and not without some guilt. My life is full at home, overflowing at the brim with warmth, intensity, comfort, connection, and tension. I am thankful for all of it, but I look forward to the pockets of emptiness ahead.
I don’t feel like we’re on the road until I wake up in a different city and don’t know where I am. We are being pushed west, and in a couple of weeks, when we turn around, we will be pulled east. The compass in my gut points to my house as true north. This sensation has been a part of me since childhood road trips to visit my grandparents in Illinois or Mississippi. For me, all travel is within the context of this displacement. I am most aware of home when I am not there. I’m from Richmond when we leave the city limits; I’m from Virginia when we cross the state line; I’m from the United States when we travel abroad. I may never know exactly what it’s like to feel be a human from Earth by this metric.
My phone rings, breaking the silence in the van. I pick it up and begin an interview with the local paper of a city where we are going to play next week. He asks me, “How did you get into music?” Hard to say. I honestly don’t know where to begin or how this could be interesting to anyone. “Well, my mom is an elementary-school music teacher and a pianist, so there was always music in the house. I have always sung songs. I think most children sing, but at some point, they are either scolded or laughed at into submission. The greatest favor my parents did for me was to not discourage my singing.” He asks a couple more questions that he wrote ahead of time. It isn’t bad, but it is transactional rather than collaborative.
I have another interview ten minutes later. “How did you start playing music?” I take a moment to try to come up with something different and more exciting this time, but it’s no use. There’s only one truth. “Well … my mom is an elementary-school music teacher …”
Music journalism is a field of nerds. I like them. Everyone started as a fan, and some people wear that enthusiasm in a more noticeable way than others do. There are a few oddballs who take a relish in their own reputations or clearly wish they were in a different profession, but most journalists seem sweet and studious, like teacher’s pets. I want to tell them that this isn’t a test, they can look up the answers to their questions, it’s not cheating. That would sound rude over the phone, so I would never say it, though I do wish we could dive into the deep end straight away. I really believe that interviewers are capable of finding and polishing something rare and raw, but it doesn’t happen as often as I would like. But when it does, I read the result with red cheeks and a wide smile. It is such a victory to be represented accurately. Good journalism is deeply comforting during this time of my life, when I feel as though my identity is a raw material that people break into pieces to build their own work.