How Lucius Embraced 'Good Grief' on New LP

Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe on "darker" second album, rewards of audiovisual symmetry

Jeff Wolfe (left) and Holly Laessig discuss how they addressed the hardships of constant touring on their new LP, 'Good Grief.' Credit: Piper Ferguson

In 2013, folk-pop five-piece Lucius made waves with its debut album, Wildewomana record filled with lush harmonies and a soulful Sixties feel. But fans thinking they'd be in for the same kind of sound on the band's follow-up couldn't have been more wrong. Following the success of Wildewoman, Lucius' Jess Wolfe, Holly Laessig, Dan Molad, Peter Lalish and Andrew Burri spent most of their time on the road. It was a huge change for the then-Brooklyn-based band. "All of a sudden we were gone 300 days out of the year, and we didn't know what we were going into," says vocalist Wolfe.

Lucius' latest album, Good Grief, reflects the challenges the band met on tour and confronts them head-on through moody Eighties-synth melodies and raw lyrics about the hardships of marriage. The band's second LP is a clear departure from their sunny debut, but the introspective effort shows a new sense of maturity. Lucius' dual lead singers, Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe, opened up about the pains of success, how touring affected their relationships and finding humor in grief.

How have your lives changed since your debut record? It feels like a million years ago now.
Holly Laessig: It does feel like a long time, but it wasn't that long ago. So much has happened, so it feels like a long time. It was two and a half years ago.

Jess Wolfe: "We've been gone for such a long time" — it's a lyric from "Dusty Trails." It's wild because it feels like we've experienced so much and when you experience so much in such a concentrated period of time, sometimes it's just completely overwhelming and you can't process it. Sometimes it feels like every day is the best day of your life. It's a weird partnership of feelings, if that makes any sense.

Do you find humor in sadness? Obviously the title Good Grief is an amalgamation of those feelings.
Laessig: We wanted to make sure the title did have that kind of humor and poking fun at ourselves for complaining. We were recording all of these songs that were so heavy, and we needed some kind of comic relief. It was the perfect way to describe the good, the bad and the funny. It's really important to find humor in those kind of things because it's too much to air otherwise. Things can be too heavy if you can't find that, so I think it's a really important thing to maintain, especially when you're gone so much and live in such a nontraditional existence.

Wolfe: Embracing grieffinding the light in the darkness, so to speak.

Does this theme carry throughout the whole record or just certain parts?
Wolfe: Well, certain songs like "Born Again Teen" are that sort of "relief" from the darkness. We have a couple of songs like that, that provide an escape. As a whole, the record speaks to both of those sentiments and in each song, that title stays true and relevant.

Being on the road had a lot to do with the creation of this record. Can you tell me a little bit about the emotions you went through after touring for so long?
Laessig: I think like Jess was saying earlier,when you're in it, it's hard to feel it, see it or be totally present in it. So, there are a lot of emotions and stuff, but I think it wasn't until after when we were going back through voice memos, lyrics, talking or reflecting back on the experiences that we were able to identify some of those feelings.

Wolfe: Also because [Wildewoman] was our first record, and we had never really toured before. All of a sudden, we were gone 300 days out of the year, and we didn't know what we were going into. We didn't know what to expect or how to prepare for something. In a way, I think it saved us: I think [touring] showed how we were able to do so much, but in the end, we were fried.

You're both married. How did the extent of your touring and success affect your personal relationships?
Wolfe: Greatly. Luckily, we're best friends and writing partners so being able to tour, talk about it and write about it and relate, helps. I see what's going on with her home life and she sees what's going on with mine in a different way, but we're very much a part of each other's experience. Hopefully we're helping to guide each other along the way. If I'm having a hard time, Holly is reminding me what it is that we're here for. We're really fortunate to have each other. Of course, the grass is always greener, but it's really important to have that perspective. 

You two were making music together before Lucius, and then Lucius went from being a duo to a five-piece. How did that shift affect your sound?
Laessig: I think it had a big effect on the sound. When we started, we were singing and writing together and we had this rotating cast of characters that were playing with each other. Jess had met Danny [Molad] previously in Boston, but we hadn't really gotten to know Danny until we played a show with a band he was playing in, and he heard some of our stuff and said he really liked it. He was looking to produce and start recording different bands, and we asked him to help out. Then he brought Pete and Andy on board. The band really came together with the first record and everything really came together while we were on the road. The sound really evolved from there.

Wolfe: We had never really spent time unraveling a song in a recording process. We hadn't spent enough time in a studio to really have an opportunity to discover or throw spaghetti at the wall. Danny had just parted ways with that band, and he had all this free time, and it was his opportunity to do something new. For us, it was so great to have somebody interested in what we were doing. So we all dived in together. There was never a discussion of "What are we doing this for?" We didn't have a label or anything. We just had a group of songs that we wanted to record and see what happened. Through that recording process, we brought in a bunch of friends.

Laessig: Around that time, we knew that we wanted to make music that we could dance to and get people to dance to. We wanted to rock out. The guys use a lot of different guitar sounds so there's a lot more instrumentation that we've got to experiment with.

Did you ever expect the amount of success you had with Wildewoman? And did you have any trepidation about how your sophomore record would be received?
Wolfe: Of course, I wonder how people will receive it because it is different, darker and heavier. We've grown, changed, hopefully matured and experienced a whole lot in a pretty short amount of time. We're really proud of what we have to say about it. The fact that we were able to get it out felt like an achievement in itself. I want people to love it and receive it well. I consider it our baby, so it's only natural to wonder how people are going to receive it and to hope that it's the best. All that we can do is put out the best thing that we can possibly make, and I feel strongly about that. I'm nervous, but also really excited.

How has the band evolved sonically?
Laessig: I think we just tried to push the envelope a little further with the sounds. The energy is louder and bolder. There's mixing of different acoustic elements with lots of synths. We just kind of experimented with a lot of stuff.

Wolfe: It's the first record we went into the studio as a band to do. There were five powerful opinionsfive people who were really excited and motivated to do something that was really special and important. Before, it was just the two of us going into the studio, and we'd meet Danny who would help us get out whatever it was we didn't even know was going to come out. This was the first time we were going into the studio as a unit. That, in itself, made for a completely different recording experience. 

You guys always look great in your matching outfits. What first made you want to dress like twins? Do you ever get tired of it?
Laessig: I think it helps us get into character on stage. When we go on the road, we have what we can fit into our suitcases. We have about three or four outfits. It makes life a little easier. It stems from being a character — transporting ourselves and transporting the audience. We were always very aware of the symmetry of sound and our voices acting as one. There are multiples of things in all of the band members. There's a lot of symmetry in all of that and we're expanding upon it visually. 

What characters do you feel like you're playing?
Wolfe: I don't think it's a specific character per se. We're attracted to different shapes, colors, light and dimensions — anything that's fantastical. We're attracted to anything that will take us into a dream world. If the light is hitting Holly's cape, it does something to me and vice versa. We feel like we're a unit and we're creating this world for us to play in and bring people into. That's the highlight of why, in my opinion, we do it in the first place. It's just fun. There's something about getting dressed ... and there's something about getting undressed: taking it off, letting it rest and getting out of character as well. I think you can give breath to each dimension of yourself.

Why did you decide on "Born Again Teen" as the album's first single?
Laessig: Well, it was kind of the rebel of the record. It raised some hell and became the single on its own in a way.

What do you mean by "it raised some hell?"
Laessig: We were thinking of not even putting it on the record at first. It kind of made itself known, though. It's not like the other songs, and I think that's why we like it so much.

Tell me about the album art. Was it supposed to evoke a nostalgic feeling?
Wolfe: There are many interpretations of it. I think it pulls whatever meaning anybody has for it. There's something about embracing nothing, embracing grief, finding the joy in the darkness and also, there's something very sexy about being intimate with someone that you can't see. You don't know who it is that I'm holding. It's me on the cover and Holly on the back. The point wasn't to make it obvious: the point was that the image was striking.

At this point, I feel like Lucius could soar to the top. Do you fear the success or fame aspect of the music industry?
Wolfe: We were talking about this earlier ... I don't think you can ever prepare for what to have or not have. We hope that people can strongly relate and take Lucius into their hearts, as cheesy as that sounds. We hope people can make us a part of them. That's what touches us the most: when people relate to what we're doing. I don't think that we're necessarily on the road to a particular destination; I don't think we're preparing ourselves for fame. Even if you wanted to prepare yourself for that, you'd never actually be prepared.

Laessig: It's like we're jumping on a train and not knowing where you're getting off. There's so much that could come with [success]: a lot more work, joy and a lot more potential loneliness — being away from home. But we're going with it. That's all you can really do.