Since the 2015 release of her debut single, the pointed “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” Virginia-based singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus has become an indie-rock stalwart. She’s released two albums that showcase her plainspoken lyrics and knack for writing subtly potent hooks, 2016′s “No Burden” and 2018′s “Historian”; she’s hooked up with peers Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker to form the supergroup boygenius; and she’s toured around the world.
“2019,” the seven-song EP she released in November, celebrates the past three years with a few new songs and covers of personally significant tracks, all of which are pegged to important days on the calendar. “These songs have been amassing over a long amount of time, without this project in mind,” says Dacus from her home in Richmond, in advance of her show Wednesday at Royale. “I would book studio time because I wanted to learn more about engineering and mixing, and practice my vocabulary, so that when we actually went to make a record I’d know more. I didn’t know if anyone would hear these; we had no plan to put them out.”
The EP unfolded as the year went on, with Dacus releasing some of its songs to commemorate holidays with worldwide and personal significance: Dacus’s version of Edith Piaf’s torch song “La Vie en Rose” came out in February, to coincide with Valentine’s Day, while “My Mother & I,” a cascading ballad written by Dacus, was released in April, in anticipation of Mother’s Day.
On that day, Dacus played a show in Asheville, N.C. “I’m adopted, and my birth mother lives there, so she was at the show,” she recalls. “My mom who raised me came to visit, and she sang with me. Also the band Mothers was opening, so there were five instances of mothers.” That’s not the only time Dacus’s mother has figured into the song’s live performance.
“My mom is a music teacher at an elementary school, and she’s got a great voice. She definitely loves the applause,” she says with a laugh. “We did a hometown show in Richmond recently that was by far the biggest show that we’ve ever played as a headliner, and the crowd, had, like, my second-grade teacher, and the guy from choir at church. My mom got up, and she got the biggest cheer. Now she’s like, ‘I’ll sing that song whenever you want. Whenever I’m at a show, you have to bring me up, and I have to do the song.’ ”
Dacus’s father figures into her humming take on Bruce Springsteen’s mid-'80s smash “Dancing In the Dark,” which was released in celebration of The Boss’s 70th birthday this past September. As part of the rollout, Dacus also wrote a lovely tribute to Springsteen that appeared in Vanity Fair. In the piece, she noted that she had a childhood aversion to her father’s favorite artist because it was “easier to rebel against the music than it would have been to actually rebel against my dad.”
But that adolescent antipathy eventually turned into adult appreciation.
“I really hated hearing Bruce Springsteen songs,” says Dacus. “[Becoming a fan] felt all the more powerful, because there was more ground to cover for my taste in him. It’s definitely brought my dad and I closer; it’s like how everybody talks about music being magic. It performed a function in my life beyond entertainment — it’s the grounds for conversations and depth of understanding of my dad. I’m glad that I didn’t write it off.”
The anxious thrum of “Dancing In the Dark” is well-suited to Dacus’s velvety alto. But as she revisited its lyrics, she realized that the knot of feelings Springsteen was describing, which he referred to in his 2016 autobiography as “my own alienation, fatigue and desire to get out from inside the studio, my room, my record, my head and . . . live,” also resonated with her.
"It was [about] how this man, the epitome of the ‘cool guy,’ looks in the mirror and is like, ‘This sucks. I’m not feeling myself,’ " she notes. "It’s great [for me] to be understood — especially by a rich, famous white dude. Even people who we see like the top of the cultural food chain can get down about themselves. ['Dancing In the Dark'] breaks down this myth of glory that people have [about Springsteen], and I know I’ve carried that with me.
"Even now," she adds, "I realize different things that have influenced me years after the fact. When you’re a kid, you’re not analyzing; [life is] just happening to you. You don’t really think to give credit to things as they’re happening."
Maura Johnston can be reached at email@example.com.
With Haley Heynderickx. At Royale, Boston, Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. Tickets $22 (advance), $25 (door), 617-338-7699, www.royaleboston.com