There’s no drama with boygenius, which is just the way the in­die su­per­group’s mem­bers like it.

The Georgia Straight - - NEWS - By Mike Usinger

One of life’s sad re­al­i­ties is that the older you get, the harder it be­comes meet­ing peo­ple who be­come truly close friends. Dou­ble down on that if you live a semi­no­madic ex­is­tence as a work­ing mu­si­cian, away from home for months at a time, days con­sist­ing of long hours in vans and end­less nights in a pa­rade of clubs.

That sur­real dis­con­nect from the nor­mal world is one of the hard­est parts of be­ing a tour­ing artist. Never mind the nonex­is­tent odds of meet­ing your new best friend dur­ing a 16-hour stay in a strange and new town—it’s hard to main­tain ex­ist­ing bonds when you’re con­stantly miss­ing out on birth­days, din­ner par­ties, an­niver­saries, movie dates, and cof­fee-shop hangs.

That re­al­ity was the in­spi­ra­tion for “Ketchum, ID”, the gut­ting clos­ing track on the epony­mous de­but from boygenius, the new in­die su­per­group con­sist­ing of Lucy Da­cus, Phoebe Bridgers, and Julien Baker. Sad­ness pos­i­tively drips from lyrics like “I am never any­where/any­where I go/ When I’m home I’m never there/ Long enough to know.”

When the three song­writ­ers, who are all in their early 20s, are reached on a con­fer­ence call in St. Louis, they ac­knowl­edge that the life they’ve cho­sen to lead as artists has both end­less re­wards and dif­fi­cult chal­lenges. One of the great­est things about boygenius is the bond­ing that they’ve done since what started out as a pack­age tour for a trio of solo artists spun off into an ac­tual band.

“For me at least, our type of friend­ship is re­ally rare,” Da­cus of­fers. “Mak­ing friends once you be­come a tour­ing mu­si­cian isn’t nec­es­sar­ily easy be­cause you’re in a dif­fer­ent city ev­ery night and you don’t re­ally have the time to share, I don’t know, com­mu­nity ex­pe­ri­ences in the way that you do grow­ing up in one par­tic­u­lar place. It takes a lot of ex­tra ef­fort, which is some­thing that I’m glad that we’ve made.”

The roots of boygenius date back to Da­cus, Bridgers, and Baker all sign­ing on for a pack­age tour, some­thing that makes sense in an era when in­die rock has taken a back seat to the cul­ture-shift­ing jug­ger­naut that is ur­ban mu­sic in all its var­i­ous guises. Play­ing alone on past swings through Van­cou­ver, Baker and Da­cus found them­selves book­ing into the in­ti­mate Cobalt. By join­ing forces with Bridgers, they’ve jumped up to mid­size rooms like the Com­modore on their cur­rent tour, which fea­tures them play­ing both in­di­vid­u­ally and as boygenius.

All three have been lauded as be­ing at the top of their class.

Da­cus first sur­faced with the ragged DIY stun­ner No Bur­den in 2016 af­ter aban­don­ing film school for mu­sic, fol­low­ing up that break­through with this year’s crit­i­cally hailed, orches­tral-pop tri­umph, His­to­rian.

Baker turned bat­tles with de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety into 2015’s strippe­draw con­fes­sional Sprained An­kle, the Mem­phis singer re­turn­ing last year with the equally grip­ping Turn Out the Lights. Bridgers, mean­while, hit in­die-rock gold with last year’s of­fi­cial de­but, Stranger in the Alps, the al­bum spawn­ing dev­as­tat­ingly sad “Fu­neral”, which will one day be re­mem­bered as one of the great­est songs of the decade.

As much as their in­di­vid­ual ca­reers are flour­ish­ing, there’s some­thing lib­er­at­ing about be­ing able to share the spot­light.

“I feel like this is a con­fi­dence builder,” Bridgers says. “Hav­ing to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for your project 100 per­cent is hard. When it’s just your name on some­thing, you’re not able to de­flect any re­spon­si­bil­ity or stress, and that leads to a lot of in­ner tur­moil. That’s to­tally dif­fused when you’re in a band. Nor­mally, I’ll spend four days ask­ing my­self ‘Is this a good idea?’ be­fore do­ing some­thing. I’ve never done that in this project.”

Baker adds: “Even if there are ques­tions about whether an idea is good, the an­swer is noth­ing is ever stupid or min­i­mal­ized in boygenius. It’s more ‘Let’s try this any­way.’ We re­ally trust each other’s in­tu­ition, and that’s some­thing that I don’t al­ways trust in other writ­ing con­texts. I’m of­ten very de­fen­sive or pro­tec­tive when I share my songs with other peo­ple.”

Ini­tially, the plan was to cut a sin­gle to pro­mote the tour. The col­lab­o­ra­tion quickly spi­ralled into an EP, the col­lab­o­ra­tive na­ture of boygenius best re­flected by the fact that the record of­ten sounds noth­ing like the solo works of those in­volved. Laced with heaven-sent har­mo­niz­ing, “Bite the Hand” starts out a grey-skies reverie be­fore the clouds sud­denly part and the sun floods in. “Salt in the Wound” con­nects the dots be­tween sun­set coun­try and Crazy Horse folk, while “Stay Down” time-trav­els back to the golden era of col­lege rock—right down to the in­can­des­cent gui­tar outro.

All three mem­bers of the group have been la­belled, as is typ­i­cally the case, pop­u­lar nar­ra­tives be­ing that Da­cus is the book­ish nerd, Baker and Bridgers the brood­ing lon­ers. With boygenius, that pi­geon­hol­ing be­comes harder.

“You don’t re­ally know what peo­ple are go­ing through from their work, and I’ve been think­ing about this a lot,” Da­cus says. “Think about how co­me­di­ans of­ten have a lot of sad­ness or tur­moil in their per­sonal lives. In the same way, Julien and Phoebe are of­ten talked about as sad girls, but be­hind the scenes they are al­ways crack­ing jokes and be­ing re­ally funny.”

That hasn’t stopped out­siders from pur­su­ing the idea that, when you’re deal­ing with three artists whose work em­braces the dra­matic in the most per­sonal of ways, there’s bound to be drama be­hind the scenes.

“It’s funny—i’ve be­come re­ally para­noid about mak­ing jokes in in­ter­views,” Baker says. “Peo­ple keep ask­ing us things like ‘So, was there ever a time when you guys have fought about stuff?’ I guess they are look­ing for some kind of con­flict, so I’ve had to try and make it su­per clear that there’s not.”

And that’s be­cause, Bridgers sug­gests, some­times you’re lucky enough to meet the kind of friends where bonds al­ways tri­umph over bull­shit.

“I think it’s pretty easy to not be a fuck­ing dick,” she says to great laugh­ter from Da­cus and Baker. “I re­ally do think that. There’s no great chal­lenge to be­ing nice and hum­ble when you are around oth­ers. There’s this idea that mu­sic is full of li­cence to be an ass­hole, but all of my favourite peo­ple have never been tempted by that. That’s why we laugh at the ques­tion ‘How do you set­tle your feuds?’ The an­swer is ‘We don’t have to.’”

from pre­vi­ous page pro­duce her lat­est re­lease, Golpes y Flores. The re­sult, with Cuevas’s lilt­ing melodies bol­stered by the com­plex Afro-venezue­lan rhythms of per­cus­sion­ists Yonathan “Moro­cho” Ga­vidia, Javier Suárez, and Juan Car­los Se­govia—who con­trib­uted their parts dig­i­tally—is by far the most com­pelling record of her ca­reer. It’s also an al­bum­length love let­ter to a coun­try that, for now, she has to adore from afar.

“In the last few years, since the sit­u­a­tion has de­te­ri­o­rated so much in Venezuela—eco­nom­i­cally, po­lit­i­cally, so­cially—it has re­ally af­fected me emo­tion­ally,” Cuevas ex­plains, reached at her home in Toronto. “Of course I’m in Canada, and here I don’t have the kind of prob­lems that a lot of my fam­ily are fac­ing right now. But it still mat­ters to me, and I know that de­spite all of these prob­lems that Venezuela is fac­ing, there are so many beau­ti­ful peo­ple, so many beau­ti­ful places, and such a rich cul­ture there. So I felt re­ally strongly that I wanted to high­light some of the beauty that is still in my coun­try, even dur­ing such a ter­ri­ble time.”

To sym­bol­ize the strength of the Venezue­lan peo­ple, Cuevas turned to the rhythms of the hot At­lantic coast— rhythms brought to South Amer­ica by slaves. Like Afrocuban beats, which they closely re­sem­ble, these pat­terns were orig­i­nally as­so­ci­ated with African ri­tual, and although they’ve be­come sec­u­lar­ized over time—and blended with el­e­ments from Venezuela’s Span­ish and In­dige­nous pop­u­la­tions—they’ve re­tained a sense of pas­sion­ate in­ten­sity.

Cuevas points out, how­ever, that Golpes y Flores is not some kind of eth­no­mu­si­co­log­i­cal ex­per­i­ment. “We have in­cluded the rhythms, but we’re us­ing them in the con­text of my own songs,” she stresses. “And I didn’t re­ally grow up in the Afro-venezue­lan com­mu­nity: I’m from Cara­cas, and in the city you don’t see it as much, right? Peo­ple know about it, but the com­mu­ni­ties are not there, so you don’t get to see the ri­tu­als, you don’t get to see how it is used—be­cause it still is used very much in ri­tu­als. But oc­ca­sion­ally there will be peo­ple who come to per­form, or you’ll hear mu­sic on the ra­dio that has the in­flu­ence of the Afro-venezue­lan rhythms. That was how I came across this mu­sic, but it was only af­ter I moved to Canada that I was able to ex­plore adding these beau­ti­ful rhythms to my mu­sic.”

In­te­grat­ing the Golpes y Flores drum­mers with her band re­mains an un­ful­filled dream; for Cuevas’s up­com­ing Frankie’s Jazz Club shows, she’ll be work­ing with Led­bet­ter and a lo­cal rhythm sec­tion. But some day, she hopes, it will be pos­si­ble. “We’ve Skyped, we’ve been in con­tact through the In­ter­net, which is a great tool, and we’ve man­aged to make a record to­gether, but we have not met in per­son,” she says. “But we want to meet in per­son, be­lieve me. I would love to be able to bring them here—and, ac­tu­ally, I’d love to go there, too, once things are a bit bet­ter.”

Left to right: Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Da­cus of the in­die su­per­group boygenius.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.