Interview | The Quirky Sublime of Lucius

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YES! I was selected for the Green Day ticket lottery at SXSW 2013.

OH, HELL NO! I am not fighting thru 20,000+ fans at a civic center (to see a band I love, but have seen before).

EXCELLENT! Lucius is playing in 10 minutes at a nearby venue, and I’ve been told to not miss them. And what I was told was fortuitous, for what I experienced the entirety of Lucius’ set was musical bliss. Quite fortuitous, actually, as they have become my favorite act of the last few years.

St. David’s Episcopal Church seemed an odd venue, at first, but was both acoustically and meditatively a perfect place to see an group destined to become a important force in indie music.

Seemingly, anyone who listens to them falls in love with their offbeat and beautiful songs, with their wonderfully odd yet precise musicianship and arrangements. And then there’s the vocals…oh, the vocals. They are the backbone of Lucius, and are what truly sets them apart from most indie and alternative acts (hell, any act in any genre for that matter). Lucius sets the vocal bar at near perfection, creating a sound that seemingly receives a universally positive response, regardless of musical taste.

This is not by accident; the conceptual framework of their vocal styling is of tantamount importance to the group. Whether in unison or in harmony, all parts of the song are sung by at least two voices (usually those of Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig. They are often joined by their three male band mates in creating a uniquely gorgeous sound, one uncommon throughout modern music by virtue of its sonic beauty, blend and precision.

So, I was thrilled to see Lucius’ name added to the stages that feature emerging artists at this year’s Bonnaroo and formulated my schedule in order to ensure that I was front-and-center for both of their sets. A festival promoter was overheard saying that she booked Lucius due to the their manager’s reputation…never having heard the band. “I knew they would be good if he was managing them but I had NO idea they were going to be THIS good.” Her loud and strong endorsement should secure future engagements for the band on Bonnaroo’s larger stages in the years to come.

Anyone who follows their Instagram feed (@ilovelucius) can attest to their fun-loving and whimsical nature. So, it was no surprise to find all five members of the band jumping off hay bales at a Rolling Stone photo shoot just before I was set to interview them. That backstage moment had me feeling like a fan as we all sat down to chat.


Weeping Elvis: I understand that some of you went to Berklee College of Music in Boston … so you all met there?

Lucius: Well, actually all of us went there but only Holly and Jess knew each other there — we were all there at different times — all of this ended up happening as we reconnected later in Brooklyn.

Lucius1-Katherine GainesHow did the training at Berklee end up influencing what you are now doing with Lucius?

Going to school there is much different than when you get out in the real world — when you’re there you’re working on exercising very specific muscles and learning specific things. When you get out of school you realize, oh I’m not going to be necessarily thinking about these things all the time and you can move into thinking about yourself as a performer or writer or arranger. So being in school didn’t mean being in a lot of bands — it was more focusing on the academic and theoretical stuff. But being there actually had very little to do with being in school — it was so much about being around the other great people there. It was a great place but we realized when we got out and moved to New York and saw so many people from all over the country from school that we knew — well, it’s then that you reform your community and then that community is seemingly with you for your entire life.

We’ve been big fans of yours at WE but I always find myself at a loss of exactly how to describe your work. I usually say something like Arcade Fire meets the B-52s.

(laughter) Ah…yeah that’s good…we’ll take that.

Now, I hate to ask this obvious and stupid question but I do think it’s important — how would you like for your music to be described. You must admit that you’re a bit hard to pin down stylistically.

No, don’t apologize…it’s not stupid at all. Well, how would you describe Arcade Fire?

I would put them very solidly in the alternative rock world, but for me, what you guys do is MUCH tougher to define. You are firmly in the indie world but that just doesn’t seem like nearly enough description.

We have the toughest time with this question… I guess, however people identify with us is how they should identify us.

So you all don’t define it?

We come from such different backgrounds but we found that we connected on so many musical levels like 60s rock and soul music and with that I think we found that we are inspired by the community we surround ourselves with, the music we grew up on, as well as music coming out now that we take a liking to. Our sound is obviously influenced by all of those things but at the end of it we are creating something that is uniquely us.

Well, there is no doubt about the uniqueness. I’ve exposed many to your music and I’ve yet to find someone who doesn’t connect on some level to what you are doing and say “whoa, that’s a cool thing” — everybody gets it.

We like that you can’t really pinpoint us or pigeonhole us into a genre. It seems to allow for us to have a wider variety of people listening. We might go to a town where one of our parents lives and play there and they are just as enthralled as well, say a sixteen year-old girl … and that’s nice, we like that. Also, not being stuck in any sort of genre really gives us room to truly explore ourselves, to try things our way and see where it’s going. This way there seems to be no expectation then of what we are supposed to sound like.

Lucius2-Katherine GainesYour bio talks about the concept for your vocal sound — I think it’s one of the most unique things about Lucius — and you seem to do a lot of unison doubling of the lead line. Was that a concept you have or had or (consciously) tried to create? Is that just what you hear?

I think we just allowed that to happen. We’ve been singing together for about eight years and when we first started we tried new things, just as anybody would when you start a new musical relationship with someone. We sort of randomly started singing in unison one day — it’s not anything that we were thinking about too much — we were like, oh wow we’ve never really heard that sound before and it just felt natural for us. Then it seemed people sort of latched on to this idea that we were two voices as one and now that’s sort of the heart of what we do now.

So the new album (Wildewoman) comes out in the fall [a release date has since been set for October 15th] …is the plan to tour and promote it?

Yeah, a lot of touring. Up until the record comes out we’re gonna tour and after the record comes out we’ll tour so a lot of that….we just really want to get in front of people.

I’ve seen a lot of acts on this emerging artists stage but none that drew the crowd like you did. And, there was a long line of autograph seekers afterwards. How was that for you?

It’s nice. I think we really do well on smaller stages because sometimes we really need one another to make it a symbiotic thing. Sometimes on the bigger stages, when the band is spread out, we tend to physically cluster together because every part relies on the other part to happen. If the bass sound stops working or the keyboard drops out for a second, all of a sudden it’s like one of our limbs is missing and it’s a nice feeling to feel like every part is working together and playing off one another.

I caught the set in the church at SXSW — that was such a great space for you guys — do you remember that set? Would you seek out more venues like that?

Yeah and absolutely! I think we really thrive off of alternative spaces. I mean, that was really an almost spiritual experience for all of us. I think after that set there were tears between us. To be able to hear yourself so well and to have such an attentive, supportive crowd was just amazing. We love it when the room dictates the sound. We love to be able to go into a room and see what we think it will be like and say should this be a more broken-down, quiet set. Or, if there is potential to be loud and as anthemic as possible, and if so, we’ll do that. It’s so nice to have those options. That keeps it new all the time for us.

We discussed a few other technical and music-school-geek type things; the fan and the music student in me could have spent all day learning about what goes on in the heads of a band like Lucius. Their answers gave rise to more questions — questions that at the end of the day can never sufficiently be answered as they speak to what may be the ultimate musical or artistic questions, “Why do great artists see, hear or feel things like they do…how does the muse move through them?…why did they think to do it like that?”

When these questions arise, it’s generally a sign that one has stumbled onto something great. Lucius doesn’t seem to spend too much time thinking about these questions or analyzing their process. Maybe that’s exactly what their formal education gave them, something that’s now endemic. The musical “stuff” just emerges, and whatever their process…it works. Lucius seems content to impart upon their audience an inquisitive, musical bliss, and their listeners are richer for hearing what they have to say in their uniquely quirky and wonderfully enigmatic musical language.

Lucius releases their debut LP, Wildewoman, on October 15th and will be
touring in support, starting tomorrow at Portland’s Bunk Bar.

Lucius-Katherine Gaines

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Clem emerged from the underbelly of NashVegas where he began his love of ALL things musical. College found him in the commercial music program at the University of Miami where he actually learned what the hell he was doing. New York was next and whether he “made it there” is still up for debate. From playing in the honky-tonks of Nashville and the dance clubs of Miami to Broadway and theatrical stages around the country, to Carnegie Hall (while practicing one day somebody told him how to get there) and the recording studios of New York and L.A., Clem’s variety of musical experience has transcended the boundaries of genre. He owns a production company, lectures on music in colleges across the country and is on the visiting faculty of Elon Univ. He has a port-o-johns named after him at Bonnaroo, Coachella and Lollapalooza.