Lucius: Dancing Like Nobody’s Watching With Second Nature

The Austrian novelist Vicki Baum once said, “There are shortcuts to happiness and dancing is one of them.” It’s a mantra Lucius embraced when they embarked on cutting Second Nature, the quartet’s fourth effort that was released in April 2022. Co-produced by storied Americana producer Dave Cobb and Brandi Carlile, the 10-song outing is steeped in thumping grooves and vintage disco vibes.

Lucius (from top to bottom: Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe)

Anchoring the whole project are founding members Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig whose synchronized vocals reflect the aesthetic musical twinning they engage in whether its wearing the same outfits while performing or appearing on stage simultaneously wielding keytars as they did on a recent episode of Austin City Limits. In a released statement, Wolfe admitted the dance-driven turn take on the current album was a reaction to the personal traumas of her divorce and navigating the isolation and uncertainty wrought by the pandemic’s lockdown. In a word, “…our focus was on dancing our way through the darkness.” It’s a sentiment Laessig echoes.

“We’d gotten to a certain point after touring with Roger [Waters] that we just kind of wanted to write songs that came to us without thinking about anything,” Laessig recalled. “We started writing a few songs and then lockdown hit. I think a few weeks into it, we decided to take the opportunity to write as much as we could while we had to be home. A few weeks in, it was starting to get a little isolating, so we decided to start writing some dance music and I think that’s where things started turning around for the record. That’s how it sort of came together.”

In recent years, Wolfe and Laessig’s vocal talents had landed them side gigs providing background vocals for numerous artists including Waters, John Legend, Dawes, Harry Styles, Sheryl Crow, Ozzy Osbourne and Carlile, who brought Cobb along for the production ride on Second Nature. With Lucius decamping to Nashville’s legendary RCA Studios, Cobb revealed his desire to work on a disco album, an odd turn for someone better known for working with country artists ranging from Chris Stapleton and The Oak Ridge Boys to Shooter Jennings and Jamey Johnson. It was a suggestion Wolfe and Laessig were quick to go with.
“We thought that sounded totally bizarre coming from him and we love that,” Laessig said with a laugh. “We figured by the end of all this—not that we’re fully at the end—people are not going to want to be in their head listening to some mopey record. They’re going to want to dance and feel free. That became the focus—how can we feel connected, free and joyous together after all of this.”

Brandi Carlile
(Photo by Alyse Gafkjenh)

For two weeks in February, Lucius, Cobb and Carlile spent time shuttling between a local Airbnb and the studio, noodling around on guitars in the couch/lounge area, singing parts and sussing out arrangements. And while working with outside songwriters and producers was a new experience for Wolfe and Laessig, the recording site and Carlile’s background as a fellow musician proved to be a balm for the duo as they went beyond their comfort zone.
“It was special being in the RCA [studio] and feeling the vibes of that room,” Laessig admitted. “We were [recording] where so many amazing records have been made, so that was really awesome. It was great working with Dave and Brandi. It was really nice and special having a producer there who was a singer. We’ve never had that before. A lot of times making records or just recording in general, whether it’s singles or on other people’s work, I think a lot of times it’s up to us when we want to stop or push ourselves. It was really nice having an outside person there to say that we got this take and didn’t need to push anymore. Or to say that we can do more and be told we have more in us and that we should do a further take. With someone like Brandi, you trust them. You know she knows the instrument inside and out. And also, there’s a level of wanting to impress someone like that because she’s so bad-ass.”

The infectious vibe of Second Nature is immediate starting with the bubbling Afro-pop groove that bubbles in the intro of the opening title track that gives way to the gurgling electro-funk swagger of “Next to Normal,” a jam that sounds like ABBA and Talking Heads having a baby with P-Funk. Elsewhere, Lucius weighs in with their bid for dance-pop anthem of the year via “Dance Around It,” a pulsing ear worm that finds Crow and Carlile augmenting the song’s already-juicy vocal harmonies. Providing balance are heart-rendering musical statements like “The Man I’ll Never Find,” a gem framed by gentle symphonic arrangements while the duo sings, “I thought it would be you/I wanted it to be you/And I’m sorry I was always looking for the man that I’ll never find.” Equally poignant is the pathos of the synth-soaked ambiance of “White Lies” and “Promises,” a break-up song whose chiming acoustic guitar accompaniment is offset by lines like, “Promises, empty like a bed you sleep in/Broken like the spell you’re keepin’.”

The symbiosis infusing Wolfe and Laessig’s friendship goes back to when the duo were attending Berkeley School of Music, eventually forming the band in 2005 and taking the name from Wolfe’s dog. It’s a partnership that found the duo’s vocal talents eventually getting noticed by Waters at the 2016 Newport Folk Festival, where the twosome were only supposed to sing on two songs of a surprise secret set that was going to find headliners My Morning Jacket serving as the Pink Floyd founding member’s back-up band the next day. It didn’t take long for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer to take note of Wolfe and Laessig’s singular vocal chemistry.
“We got to meet [Roger] there and he initially asked us to do two songs and when we were in rehearsal, we did them and sat down,” Laessig explained. “He started another song and just looked at us and said, ‘Man up.’ We said we weren’t singing on those songs and he said we were singing on every song. We had to cram for finals that night before the show the next day. We did it and then he asked us to do Desert Trip with him. He then asked us to hit the road with him, which was an incredible experience. He’s a wonderful person to work for.”

While Lucius may not have Water’s touring budget, Laessig promises the inspiration they received from working with him is translating to her own band’s current string of shows.
“The important things you take from it—its definitely made its way into all facets of how we see our own project,” she said. “It’s a really exciting live show where we’re going to have lots and lots of sparking everything and plenty of dancing. We’re going to bring audience members on stage for what is going to be a disco party that’s really fun.”

Lucius will be appearing on Dec. 6 as a part of the Holiday Cheer for WFUV concert which will be held at the Beacon Theatre, 74th Street & Broadway, NYC. For more information, visit www.beacontheatre.org or call 866-858-0008.

Dave Gil de Rubio
In addition to being editor of theNassau Observer, Dave Gil de Rubio is a regular contributor to Long Island Weekly, specializing in music and sports features. He has won several awards for writing from Press Club of Long Island (PCLI), New York Press Association (NYPA) and Fair Media Council (FMC).

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