An interview with Holly Laessig of Lucius, on life, playing music, and saving the world

By Lindsay Kosma

June 10, 2016

We caught up with Holly Laessig of Lucius prior to their upcoming show on Monday, June 13th at the Visulite Theatre in Charlotte, NC. We chatted about crazy experiences in the studio and life on tour as well as biggest inspirations and up-and-coming artists on their radar. Laessig, who has a perfect story for everything, gave insight into the band’s creative process and the ups and downs of being on a tour bus with the same people for a year straight. It is obvious, that the brilliance in their music and performance comes from huge amounts of dedication from a group of massively talented, genuine people.

CLTure: So you’re currently on tour, promoting your newest album Good Grief, just about to take on Bonnaroo and then swing right through to visit us here in Charlotte. How has the tour been going so far? Do you have any favorite venues or cities that you’ve toured before or are excited to go to?

HL: Going well so far and just starting back up again after ten days off (which felt like an eternity) and we are in Birmingham today. I love going to Europe, we’ve done that several times and my favorite place there is the Netherlands and were going back which I’m excited about. Tomorrow we are headed to Bonnaroo and haven’t been for three years. Some of us are staying for the weekend so we’ll actually get to be audience members for the first time. It’s hard to know which are our favorites because sometimes we go to places we have never been that really surprise us and show up to the party. So we are excited for all of it for that reason, I guess.

Lucius Piper Ferguson CLTure
Holly Laessig (left) and Jess Wolfe (right). Credit: Piper Ferguson

CLTure: Well, we’re excited to have you back in Charlotte and we’re good people here in NC despite what the news may tell you!

HL: Oh no, we always have a good time there and some of us have family there too so we’re excited!

CLTure: How is this album, Good Grief reflective of how you have evolved as a group from the the days of your first EP, three years ago, until now?

HL: I think it was kind of a reflection of life on tour and it was our first experience with it. Danny and Pete had toured before but it wasn’t as intense and it was Jess, Andy and my first time. It was our first experience being together 24/7, we only had two weeks off and they weren’t even consecutive days for an entire year. So it was a lot of highs and lows and learning about each other– the good, the bad, and the ugly. We didn’t have time to write or even think about what we were going to write when we were on the road so, I think, we were just sponges absorbing it all until the end when we were overloaded and had a lot to say.

CLTure: The album is a pretty good mix of experimental ballads and upbeat pop tunes but lots of emotion. Was there a particular theme you were targeting or is the album intentionally across the spectrum and reflective of those highs and lows?

HL: Jess and I went through a bunch of our journal entries and voice memos and things that we had collected along the road and just sifted through it to see what we had to work with. A lot of the stuff was pretty heavy and dark so our response to that, in order to get through the record making process, was to find balance with some really happy, energetic, and lighter things to counteract. So there wasn’t really a plan– we kind of wrote all the songs and arranged everything and then looked at it and thought, Okay so how does this go together. The realization of the album, the artwork, and titling came after.

CLTure: Every artist, regardless of their medium, has a unique creative process. Can you describe yours, perhaps in the context of writing a new song? Where do you gain inspiration, how best do you collab with the rest of the band, in what setting are you most productive, etc?

HL: It varies, for this record, Jess and I got together first and had a bunch of writing sessions just sifted through ideas. Maybe I had a series of verses to bring to a session but no chorus, so she would kind of fill in the blanks or have an idea already that might work. We created these really simple demos from that– just her and I singing with a piano or acoustic guitar. Sometimes we did vocal arrangement to express what we could see as far as instrumentation. And then we sent those demos to the guys who worked to build arrangements around our demos. So when we went into the studio we had two demos of everything and it was a process of meeting in the middle, expanding further, and finding something that we are all happy with.

Credit: Piper Ferguson

CLTure: Your songs are such a juxtaposition between thoughtful, provoking lyricism and positive, free-spirited music. Some of my favorite examples of this are “Turn it Around” and “Until We Get There” (which actually changed my life). What are some songs, either off of the new album or from previous work, that hold the most meaning to you?

HL: Well it’s different… Like some things I feel very connected to lyrically like “Gone Insane” and “Two of Us on the Run”… and then there are songs that I feel very connected to musically, that maybe we had a special experience recording in the studio. Songs like “Better Look Back”… when we recorded this there was all kinds of things going on in the studio. Sean, who is our producer, is just the most insane person. He has the craziest fashion sense it’s so amazing. Jess always says you can never tell whether he is walking down the runway or he’s homeless… it’s a fine line. He looks like how he is– he has a million ideas and he is just throwing stuff out there. So there was a dog named Chloe in the studio, and Sean suggested we keep her barking on the track so you can hear it at the end. Songs like “Genevieve” remind me of favorite times on stage because that’s a song we really rock out to. So yeah, we connect for different reasons.

CLTure: In addition to the music, you’re also known for your visual performance. You’ve won an award for Best Animation for your “Go Home” video, and have created a short film made up of 3107 pictures for “Gone Insane.”  A huge amount of effort must go into something like that.  Why do you think this is an important enough addition to your music? That it is worth the investment?

HL: I don’t know, if we think about it… it’s just something we want to do… always looking to do wildly creative things and it’s something we just feel compelled to do. It is intentional as far as creativity but I don’t know that it is strategic, per se. For the “Gone Insane” video Jess had a dream of us pulling each others faces. And we met with Nathan, who did an incredible video for Son Lux, and we collaborated on the idea. I think it is how it goes with the songs, too, we just have an idea and we make it, and people like it or they don’t. But, I think, people tend to like it is so honest and they believe you if they think you believe what you’re doing.

CLTure: Your music pushes boundaries, it bends genres. How do you continue to produce new content and maintain innovation in a time inundated with so much new and talented music?

HL: It is along the lines of what I just said. We try to be as honest as possible with the music and then wrap it in a crazy show so people want to see it but also can connect to it. All five of us have totally different influences, so bringing that to the studio just creates this thing that we can’t help.

Credit: Piper Ferguson

CLTure: Who/what are some of your biggest inspirations, musically or otherwise? Why?

HL: David Bowie for sure. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know of him. I think I saw Labyrinth when I was two or three and learned all the songs on the soundtrack by ear on the piano. I became so fascinated by his work– the way that he was a chameleon and could do whatever he wanted but still maintain himself– I think it’s an incredible accomplishment. Jess and I connected initially listening to soul music and the oldies. I used to go on car rides with my dad all the time and listening to the oldies was the thing that we did together. Jess had a similar experience so we bonded on that. We knew all the same songs and could sing all the same songs. One of the first things we were going to do was a Beatles cover show which we never did.  Also, very inspired by songwriters from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and visual artists from that time. Pete loves Metallica, Danny is a producer and engineer and loves really great sound. Burri is also really into songwriting. So we all come from different places but can appreciate and push the boundaries within ourselves.

CLTure: Lucius came about when you and Jess Wolfe, both students at Berklee School of Music, began singing together. What advice do you have for a young creative person struggling to find their stride?

HL: I would say, every experience no matter how small or insignificant it seems adds up and leads to the next step. Sometimes it’s easy to think you’re getting nowhere and you’ve been doing something for so long and nothing is happening, but you can’t disregard all of those experiences because when it happens for you. If you keep going you will see how all of it added up. That is an important thing to remember and something I noticed when things started to roll for us. I mean, we had been at it for about 12 years, Jess and I, and it didn’t really go anywhere until four years ago, and didn’t really, really go anywhere until a couple of years ago. And right before that we were like, “Man, how many open mics have we done and stupid shows where two people were there have happened, and how many songs do we have that are so shitty?”

CLTure: Speaking of young people, are there any up-and-coming artists that you think are really doing it right?

HL: Well, the band that’s being talked about lately amongst us is Big Thief. I think they will be something very special.

CLTure: So I have two fun questions to end on. The first: If you had an opportunity to solve one of the biggest issues facing our world, what would the issue be and how would you solve it?

HL: Oh god really….I hate this…so much pressure. Can I hear the second question first while I think about this one?

Lucius Daniel Coston CLTure
Lucius in Charlotte in 2015 opening for My Morning Jacket. Photo by Daniel Coston

CLTure: Ha, sure! If you were a drink, which would you be?

HL: I guess I would be some sort of coffee stout because beer and coffee are my two favorite drinks.

CLTure: Awesome, now back to solving the world.

HL: This isn’t a great answer but I would say I can’t solve the world by myself and that’s the point. Everyone has to solve the world together. It is hard to say how to start that…a lot of people have big ideas. You can break it down to a one-on-one relationship where you can try everything to make something better but if the other person isn’t willing, it is really hard. So teamwork is the ultimate goal and I think the biggest problem is the communication. If people were really able to understand where someone else was coming from it would solve a lot of things but I think people don’t always understand. So it’s up to mediators to get people to understand in their own way.

CLTure: Alright, Holly, well thank you so much for speaking with us, it has truly been a lovely, insightful conversation. I wish you all the success in the world on this tour and in life.

HL: Thank you so much…so we will we see you in Charlotte? Yes? Looking forward to it.

Check out dates for the rest of the 2016 Tour

Check out the new album Good Grief. 

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