Tattoos, Tarot, and Rocket-Ship Sheets: Here’s What It’s Like To Hang Out With Boygenius
Hanging out with Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers — a.k.a. boygenius — you learn a lot about three of the most fascinating people in rock. For instance: Baker calls her barbecue the best $400 she’s ever spent. Dacus is currently watching The Sopranos for the first time. Bridgers loves Christian-era Bob Dylan. And Kristen Stewart is directing three music videos for the band.
By the end of our time reporting boygenius’ Rolling Stone cover story, we had 11 hours, 16 minutes, and 50 seconds of audio. Here are some of the best moments that didn’t make it into the story.
If Boygenius is CSNY, they’re all Neil Young.
The supergroup is constantly asked in interviews who would be their fourth member — the Y to their CSN, if you will. “Our go-to answer has been Adrianne Lenker,” Dacus tells me. “Partially because she’s a water sign and we’re earth, air and fire, and partially because she’s good.” Adds Bridgers: “Mitski or Adrianne. Those two writers keep me up at night about what is good and right in the world and art.”
Bridgers recently floated a new idea to her bandmates: Maybe they’re all Neil Young. Dacus and Baker are into this idea. “Maybe there’s some attributes about Neil Young I wouldn’t want to inhabit,” Baker told me, “But each of us are both a fully-formed entity and something that with the other two is more than the sum of its parts, not just the three gears that all turn together, which I think is really sweet. I would agree.”
Dacus came up with the a capella intro to their new album, The Record, while singing and washing the dishes.
The Record begins with no instrumentation, just the trio delivering tender harmonies acapella. This was intentional, meant as a way to connect the album with their 2018 EP, continuing on from that project’s final track, “Ketchum, ID.” They also just wanted to keep fans on their feet. “Let’s bring them in with something insane and alarming,” Bridgers says. “I really gunned for that song.” Adds Dacus: “We thought it would jar people a little bit to start it and be like, ‘Whatever you were expecting, we’re just going to do our thing.” Or, as Baker puts it, “Here’s barber shop harmonies!”
Baker used to be vegan — but not anymore.
The musician started eating fish within the last year, and now is on a “full-on chicken wings” diet. “Now I’m canceled, I’m fake,” she jokes. “All my Minor Threat-listening vegan straight-edge friends dropped me… I’m just kidding, that didn’t happen. I was like, ‘I started eating meat.’ And everybody goes, ‘OK.’”
All three members of boygenius use the word “gift” a lot.
It’s one of their favorite words. Here are some examples from throughout several group and solo conversations:
Bridgers: It’s a fun gift to give yourself to not drink at a party, I’ve realized.
Baker: [Cooking] feels like something useful and nourishing to the people around me. It’s like a really easy gift to give that also does something for me.
Dacus: I feel really lucky to have a job that I think matters. The response to it is a gift, and a gift that motivates us to do it.
Bridgers: I don’t have any shitty people around me anymore. It’s a fucking…gift.
Dacus: I love to be able to give a gift, instead of it being taken.
Baker: There is something about fun and giving a gift to yourself.
“Emily I’m Sorry” went through some lyrical changes.
The line “Now I’m wide awake, spiraling/And you don’t wanna talk” was originally “Now I’m wide awake, in quarantine.” Bridgers explains that she wrote those words in the early days of the pandemic: “It was the first couple weeks of that. As time went on, I was like, ‘God, that’s so corny and nobody ever wants to hear about quarantine ever again.’ So I changed it.”
Similarly, the instantly memorable line “I’m 27 and I don’t know who I am” was formerly “The world is ending and I don’t know who I am.”
Bridgers credits co-producer Sarah Tudzin for transforming “Emily I’m Sorry” from “chill beats to do homework to” into its present awesome form. “Spoken like a true poet,” Tudzin says. “Phoebe and I sat down for a few hours and took away the cloudiness and rebuilt it, basically, from what was there. It was honestly one of my favorite songs.”
Dacus doesn’t mind a few real-life boygeniuses.
“I love a couple boygeniuses, I’m not going to lie,” she told me. “I have guys in my life who were affirmed their entire lives, and that afforded them the freedom to have really great ideas. And I’m like, ‘Amazing for you. Your ideas are good.’”
Those tooth tattoos aren’t their only matching ink.
Each member also got a tattoo of the Three of Cups tarot card. “I used to be so weird about tarot,” Baker says. “I thought God was going to dementor my soul out of me for dabbling in witchcraft. Lucy read my tarot for the first time ever with Phoebe, and I pulled the Three of Cups, which is about how friendship is the highest form of love. It was really sweet.”
Speaking of tarot, Dacus kept a detailed record of the band’s readings.
When the Boys spent all of January 2022 at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La studio in Malibu, Dacus made sure to write down each reading in her journal. From her first entry, on Jan. 3: “First day of recording with Boygenius. As I was shuffling, the High Priestess fell out. Then as I was rifling through the deck, the cards on either side of my thumb were the Two of Pentacles and the Magician. These all feel like great messages. We have everything we need, but most importantly, our instincts, and any difficulty we come across will not have the power to sink us.”
A lot of men might try to take credit for the formation of boygenius, but all three members agree that Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis first suggested they jam in 2018.
“Out of all people, he probably said it first and was the least annoying,” Dacus says. “It was coming from a music perspective, and not a marketing perspective.” Adds Bridgers: “He never tried to take credit. That was also really cool. We’ve had a lot of people be like, ‘I always thought that would be a good idea!’ And he, who actually thought that, has never tried to die on that hill.”
Bridgers had her rocket-ship sheets sewed together to fit a king-sized bed.
Fans love to discuss Bridgers’ bedroom decor, which originally belonged to her brother, Jackson. “When I got my first apartment when I turned 18, I was like, ‘I want those fucking rocket sheets,’” Bridgers says. “I had a full-size bed for a long time, then I upgraded to a queen-size bed, which is still pretty small. I have a king-size bed now, and I had them sew a bunch of them together because I didn’t want to let go of the rocket sheets… Someone asked me recently how I pick aesthetics, and I genuinely don’t. I literally am just pointing at life being like, ‘Oh I love that, and I’m going to do that like a crazy person.’ It’s an instinct.”
Hummingbirds, which appear in the Dacus-penned track “We’re in Love,” are a symbol for the band.
The magical bird first entered their minds when Dacus and Baker were in an Uber at 6 a.m. “The driver was so gentle, asking us about our morning, and we were exhausted,” Dacus recalls. “And then I asked him about his, and he’s like, ‘Well, every morning I wake up with the sun and I sit on my back porch and I watch for hummingbirds. And if I could, I would do that the entire day. It’s everything to me.’ He was so poetic, and basically just spoke to something that we were struggling with: how to enjoy the day-to-day and how to be enchanted again when you go through a season of not feeling enchanted by life.”
After that, the band started to see hummingbirds frequently. “They were at a place where Julien lived in Tennessee,” Dacus says. “They were outside places that we’ve been writing together. They were constantly outside the window at Shangri-La. I drew her a hummingbird that she keeps on her desk. It’s a theme.”
Baker and Dacus are supportive of Bridgers’ growing fame.
“The way she navigates the world, I’m not surprised in the slightest that she has this level of notoriety,” says Dacus. “She handles it so gracefully. In ways that I would feel complicated, she has such clarity.”
Baker agrees. “It’s wild and it impresses me the scale that she is able to sanely deal in,” she says. We’ll get random texts from her, ‘Just hung out with…’ some famous hero. It’s like a bingo box of unimaginable interactions.”
They wouldn’t mind if The Record gets panned.
Not that it’s very likely to happen — but Baker has pondered this hypothetical, and found she’s OK with it. “I don’t think it will affect how happy I am with the record or make me feel a crisis of insecurity about where we sit in the zeitgeist of indie rock,” she says.
“We’re in our flop era!” Dacus jokes. “Album one.”
The final song, “Letter to an Old Poet,” contains the line “I wanna be happy” — something that Dacus is manifesting for her bandmates.
“All three of us have struggled to actually want to be happy at times of our lives,” she says. “But I think we all really deeply do want to be and often are, but it’s not a constant state. I’m so excited to sing that every night, and make Phoebe and Julien sing that every night. The stories you tell yourself about yourself come true. It’s a spell to cast.”