Lucius Interview: Where the Wildewomen are

It all started with a seemingly simple song that breathed 60s pop and had enough pep to pretty much kick start my winterly depressed heart into a springful joy. “Turn it around” is the kind of song that you want to have on a 7 inch just so you can put it on one of those tiny kid’s record players like the one in that gorgeous scene in “Ghost World” (both Graphic Novel and movie). And then you notice the lyrics and it’s even better because these fantastic melodies hide a rather cautious tale – smart pop? Awesomesauce!

So, who is this mysterious band? Are they time-travelers from the 60s, sent to us to bring us joy and wisdom? No, they are present people that bring joy and wisdom! It’s Jess and Holly, two besties since college who discovered one day that their two voices harmoniously combined create a magical sound that makes people go all crazy for them and creates a fuzzy warmth in everyone’s heart. They moved to Brooklyn and lived in a big house and somewhere along the way met Dan, who is not only an awesome drummer and beard-wearer but also can produce and engineer music like no tomorrow. And after a while – so the story goes – Andrew and Pete were picked amongst dozens of musicians to complete the quintet that from now on shall be named “Lucius”!

“Wildewoman” (you see, the misspelling in the title was deliberate cause references) is kind of the debut of Lucius who have previous releases but this album is the first true form of their sound and boy/girl, it’s a major sound. Now, to the surprise of none of my regular readers, a smart pop album of course wins my heart but Lucius have so many tricks up their sleeve (and on the album) that it can make your head spin. They not only win my heart but also turn my head into a carousel, that’s a double-whammy!

Look, so the album starts with two songs ripped straight from the 60s, you might think, there is at least one Ronette in the mix but no. And then suddenly, the record gives way to a beautiful 40s-inspired love song that reminds me of the sirens in “O’Brother Where Art Thou” and therefore – even without any lyrical connotation – has some spiritual vibe for me. It’s being followed by a few songs that could make 80s-band Bananarama super-jealous because they are THAT 80s inspired and awesome and then…

…oh, you guys, then they present us “Nothing Ordinary” which is nearly tribal in its percussive aggressiveness. It’s a big bold monster amidst those previously established beautiful pop-songs. Yes, this band easily ballets between genres, musical decades, tones and stylistic choices because nope, that’s not even the end of the whirlwind this album has to offer. “Two of us on the Run” is a striking song about taking chances (which pretty much struck me right in the feels) and it is one of the greatest songs to sing at the campfire without ever being able to sound tired (hear that, “Wonderwall”?), so acoustic-guitar dudes who want to impress girls need to get this on their performance sheets (acoustic-guitar dudettes may as well).

So, vinyl-wise, I think (I only have the CD, so I can only guess) the second side is being opened with the otherworldly “Two of us on the run” which the band usually performs amidst the crowd at their concerts which makes for a warm, cozy, spiritual (there it is again) feeling of togetherness.

After this, and after you wiped away your (happy) tears, they throw some more insanely well written pop-songs at you and by now, you probably also have noticed that not only the harmonious voices of Jess and Holly make this band pure gold but also the amazing band – the percussion comes especially through in a live-setting, it’s like a thunderstorm but also carries the songs on the album right onto the dance floor and there is some guitar-work on the songs (specifically my new favourite song to put on a soundtrack, “How Loud Your Heart Gets”) that is just fingerpicking good (really, after roughly 5-10 times through this album, I still find beautifully woven guitar-parts I didn’t notice before). Oh, and it’s a very nice touch that the guys do the background vocals. Let’s just leave that here without the essay about reversed gender-roles in modern pop music, alright?

The vinyl ends with the aforementioned awesomeness that is “How Loud Your Heart Gets” which seriously, I want to write a whole movie for but CD-buyers like me (the scum of the earth for every vinyl-lover) also get “Genevieve” which is an incredibly fun song that is cheeky as hell. It fits the whole mood of the album which can be really emotional but also has a lot of joy to offer, like a childhood-memory running down a hill with open arms. The songwriting on “Wildewoman” is crazy good and I’ll be damned if this album won’t be at least in the Top5 of my Top10 this year (right now, I would even place it in my Top3, fighting with Elbow for the 1st place).

So, obviously, when I got the opportunity, to speak to the two lovely ladies Jess and Holly, I could not contain myself, ran to the Magnet Club in Berlin, asked myself around to find the two Superwomen (thank god that Andrew not only plays a mean guitar but knows his way around the labyrinth that is the Magnet club) and stuttered myself through the interview. I could ease myself into the conversation by being the first person to announce to them that Stephen Colbert will be the new Letterman. Yes, after one and a half years of entertainment news this will probably be the last (and possibly first) news I read about on the job that I could actually use in real life.

So here ya go:

Me: Your album took 3 ½ years. How was the process? Did you change it overtime bit by bit or was there a point where you thought, ‘Ok, we are now trying something completely different’? Because 3 ½ years is a long time.

Jess: When we first started recording it was just the two of us and we had these new songs and wanted to experiment in the studio because we never got that opportunity before. And so we called Danny (Molad) who is an engineer and producer and our drummer and asked him if he was interested. He had just parted ways with another band he was working with and so we got together and we had our whole community of musicians come and play on our record but at that time there wasn’t even a band, we just had everybody come and play. And through the process we met the people who would become our bandmates and so by the end of the recording process we said, ‘let’s tour a little and then re-record everything, so it sounds like the five of us.’ Because the songs were almost like really really good demos at that point.

We got to feel it out live and see how we’d like to play it as the five of us together and then we went back to the studio. We always say that we kind of recorded in three years and kind of recorded in three weeks.

Me: When you write a song, do you think about how it would translate on stage?

Holly: I think for the most part we deal with that later. For all the songs, some of them sound like they are coming from different influences and we will write a song that feels melodically like it would work for our voices and then try to work around what the song is asking for and not think too much ‘let’s write this, so it fits with the record or let’s write this so that we can perform it in a certain way.’ This has – so far – come afterwards.

Me: How do you go about the track listing? Because I found it very interesting. The first song I listened to was “Turn it around” and the album starts with what I expected judging from that song and then by the fifth or sixth song I was completely surprised because it opened up so much.

Jess: We did a couple of track listings and kept playing them, seeing what felt best to us. We just wanted you to feel that you’re traveling with the music, feeling the dynamic intensely but also organically traveling from one song to the next, so that it felt that you were on a ride.

Me: Were there songs that you had to kick off the album because they didn’t fit in?

Holly: No, but one of our songs is a bonus track and we have it as a 7 inch now because it didn’t fit on the vinyl.

Jess: Yeah, we were only allowed eleven songs on the vinyl…

Holly:…so in that sense it literally didn’t fit but we wanted it to be still part of it.

Jess: We have a few other songs that we recorded that just didn’t feel like they fit in – especially after we recorded a second time.

Me: Do you already have ideas in which direction you want to take the second album?

Jess: I think we are interested in furthering this percussive element but it really depends how the songs turn out. We have been writing but we haven’t been given the time. But that’s on our mind right now.

Me: Can you write when you’re on tour?

Holly: Not really. I mean, we think of melodies and lyrics and write them down and record them but we don’t really have time to sit down and really delve into it.

Jess: It’s just not enough privacy and not enough space, there are just too many people around all the time and you need to find that breath but we’re always recording on our iPhones, little melodies or we’re writing in our journals.

Me: Did it take a long time to find this sweet spot where you could harmonize very easily?

Jess: The singing came immediately. The songwriting took years to really find a place where we thought, ‘this is us’ and I am excited to get back into that zone because I think that it’s only gonna progress. But the singing really was instantaneous and when we first were singing and writing together that’s what just clicked and made us feel like this could be something special.

Me: Just like in the movies, where one person starts to sing and the other just sings along and it’s magic…

Jess: It was. Not to toot our own horns but I remember the feeling of being just really happily surprised by the sound we were making together. It was in that moment that I felt possibilities being opened and that’s always a good sign.

Me: And when it comes to the songwriting do you work together or individually?

Holly: Both. A lot of times one of us will have a verse-idea and the other will have a bridge-idea or chorus and we come together with each having a lot of ideas and then piece them together or fill in the blanks. We don’t really have a particular formula.

Jess: Timing-wise we’re not going to have a lot of time off, so whenever we have the time we will get together and see what happens. In the meantime, we both are piecing together the ideas in our heads individually.

Me: And how does the band come into that?

Jess: After the songs are written, it’s very much a collaborative arrangement process because they are such creative people but the songwriting – because we are such strong singers and it’s important for us to feel like we’re in a zone with our voices where it feels comfortable and where we can be truly emotive, it lends itself better if we write for ourselves. But they have a huge part in our sound, no question.

Me: You have a very strong look, obviously. Did it take long to come up with the concept; did you try out other things?

Holly: It was like most other things that just evolved over time. So much we do has always been this way, it’s the two voices together and initially we thought we should coordinate at least, so there was some visual representation and just something fun. A lot of artists we’re looking up to are very eccentric with fashion and present a visual for the audience and that’s always been intriguing. And over time as the sound became clearer the visuals also became clearer and now it’s very clear.

Jess: We were thinking the other day, in the 60s and 70s it was just customary for people to have a visual representation of themselves and of their sound. Some more than others obviously, there is David Bowie and then there’s The Supremes but it was important that everyone came on stage for a show so that they could transport themselves and their audience and that was something that we always were intrigued and inspired by. And Holly was saying the other day that when you’re watching a choir, everybody is wearing the exact same thing because they want you to feel like this is one unit, one voice and for us it’s the same thing. We want you to look at the stage and see a unit, two as one and before we get on stage we feel connected to that and when we go on stage we hope that people see that before they hear it.

Me: Does it help with a stage persona?

Jess: Definitely. We feel like we are being transported even before we go on stage.

Me: I’ve read that you hardly get out of the clothes because you tour a lot and do interviews and all that. So do you feel relieved when you can shed the clothes and get out of that?

Holly: Yeah because when we get out of this we usually get into pajamas because they are incredibly comfortable.

Jess: People are like, ‘So, what are you wearing when you’re not wearing this?’ and I am saying, ‘Pajamas’. Sometimes we even sleep in our clothes because we had shows late at night and had to drive eight hours at night. It’s hard to get out of these clothes.

Me: And the band also wears the same clothes. Was that important as well? Like, ‘You guys can be in our band but only if you all wear the same suit?’

Holly: It was a little bit of a battle there.

Jess: But they get it. They understand why and at first it was maybe not as comfortable to them as it was to us but after they’ve seen the growth and how the sound has developed they understand it more. It’s also less to think about.

Me: Your sound is not exclusively the 60s but with your look and the eyeliner it’s the first thing that comes to mind. So do you like other aspects of the 60s as well or is it just the music?

Holly: It’s all aspects. Not exclusively but it’s definitely something. I was always influenced by it growing up and that’s our parents’ generation something that we always had around.

Jess: It’s so bold and vibrant and it’s the first time that people could speak clear and loudly and that was something that – as a woman in particular – was important to see and feel and hear.

Me: You said in an interview that you’re feminists. Would you say that your band is also feminist?

Holly: I think feminist in saying that we’re pro-women and on the side of women our band absolutely is feminist but not in the sense of the word that it’s like anti-man. Some people use that word in different ways.

Jess: We want to be open to everybody. At least half of our audience is male and I think they get it too and we have such a diverse crowd at our shows, older men and women and young girls and middle-aged guys and it’s not just in the US and so we don’t ever want to abandon those people. Not to say that if we had strong feminist values or view-points that that would happen but we just want to make it clear that any woman – I hope – should feel empowered and strong as a woman. And there’s two of us and a lot of the things that we’ve written about involve femininity and in that respect we’re feminists.

Me: I just ask because in recent years it’s been interesting because due to tv-shows and movies like ‘Mad Men’ or ‘Masters of Sex’ and others you see feminist characters that are not aggressive. They are very feminine but also fight for their own rights and fortunately that opens up the picture because it has become this curse word, like man-hater, even though it doesn’t mean that.

Jess: Yeah and that’s why we want to clarify because that’s not the type of feminist we associate ourselves with. But certainly with the empowering type.

Me: You said that you have a diverse crowd which probably means that you can play wherever you want to. So what was the craziest place you ever played at?

Jess: We played at strange places. We played a festival in the middle of nowhere in Texas. They call it ‘Utopia’ which is perfect. We played a show on the main stage but then we also went to a late-night after-party show in the middle of a dried up waterfall and all these people came to watch. Maybe fifty people came, only people who worked at the festival and it was late night at two AM and the acoustics were amazing and that was strange and beautiful.

Holly: It was really in the middle of nowhere. If it had been at another festival and they had security they probably wouldn’t have allowed that because it was really late, people were drinking, someone fell.

Jess: Yeah, there was this guy that fell and cracked his head open.

Holly: And we were, ‘Oh my God, what do we do, he has to go to the hospital!’, because he was bleeding but his friend was just like [adopts a Texan accent], ‘Nah, he’s alright, we just staple his forehead. This is not the worst thing he’s ever done.'”

Jess: We also played in some amazing churches where the acoustic was almost a spiritual experience. In Europe it’s interesting as well because we never know where we’re gonna play and what to expect. It’s always new and surprising.

Me: Churches have amazing acoustics and it fits because some of your songs – with other lyrics – sound to me like they would go great with a gospel choir. Like a traveling priest and a tent and stuff.

Jess: Like an evangelist priest. I just watched this documentary.

Holly: She just watches all these religious documentaries.

Jess: It’s just random, I don’t know why. Anyway, there was this one about religion it was about this evangelical preacher – the ones who are in a spell – and he is an evangelical reverend since he was four years old…

Me:…oh, one of those types.

Jess: Yeah. And he grows up and realizes, ‘My parents never saved any money for me and I made them millions’ because he was such a phenomenon and then he decided to turn it into a business. ‘I am going to start preaching again but I don’t believe anything I am saying’, he was a total hippie at that point. And everybody was thinking he was this evangelical reverend. It was intense.

Me: I always have to think of Genesis and “Jesus, he knows me” about those televised preachers where you can call and get absolution.

Holly: Yeah, 1-0-0-save me

Me: Well, back to your music. If you could choose a tv-show for which you could do a soundtrack, what would you pick?

Jess: It depends. We write a lot for jingles and are given these perimeters like, ‘This one needs to be uplifting’ or ‘This needs to be in the pop realm or rock realm’ and then we write based on what we think it could be so we could even do something like ‘Planet Earth’ very percussive, soulful with very padded vocals that almost don’t sound like vocals and that would be awesome. I love David Attenborough so anything of his would be awesome. And then we could go in the more expected directions…

Holly:…like the old ‘Avengers’ with Diana Rigg. That would be fun.

Me: With those jingles, is that a completely different experience than writing your own music?

Jess: Yeah, it’s kind of an exercise. It’s healthy for us. We are given a very concrete amount of time and a very specific aesthetic and then we can do what we want within those perimeters and we just try to navigate and go as far and ‘us’ as possible. It’s cool and I really enjoy it and it’s a good supplement on tour.

Me: I know that SIA wrote a song for Rihanna, so would you do the same for a pop star?

Holly: I know that if we wrote a song that we felt is ours we would keep it but we would also be interested to write a pop song for somebody.

Jess: I think it’s fun to get outside of what you are and trying to have an imprint on something else and it’s a good tool to have and it keeps things interesting. We sang a lot on other people’s records that were completely different and it was such a challenge and enjoyable and it strengthens you as an artist to be able to explore somebody else’s realm.

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