lucius

Good Grief: Colorful pop act Lucius finds light in the dark
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK.com

photo by Piper Ferguson
photo by Piper Ferguson

Onstage, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius are a Day-Glo Rorschach, matching mod haircuts and sparkly capes. They occupy a single microphone at stage center, with bandmates Dan Molad, Peter Lalish and Andrew Burri fleshing out the mirror-image effect behind them. It’s striking, seeing Laessig and Wolfe’s powerful twin vocals performed eye-to-eye, which can turn from sweet to snarling. The human portmanteau that is Wolfe and Laessig operates as two halves of a whole. This impression is more yin and yang than it is identical.

“She’s definitely much more outgoing,” Laessig said of Wolfe. “I was very, very shy. I remember doing a (vocal) recital in high school, and afterward someone came up to me and said, ‘I didn’t know you could sing. I didn’t even know you could talk.’ ”

After meeting at Berklee College of Music in Boston more than a decade ago, the pair moved to Brooklyn and began work on what would become Lucius. Wolfe and Laessig co-wrote the band’s first record, “Wildewoman,” and spent the next years touring rigorously — home, according to a recent interview, a total of 13 days in 18 months.

Returning to a city of constant motion proved too much, and much of the band moved to Los Angeles to work on a follow-up record, 2016’s acclaimed “Good Grief.” The record details with uncomfortable clarity the trials of relationships at the hands of constant travel and where problems go when the whirlwind around you stops.

“At the beginning, it was maybe harder to write a song that’s very personal, to have someone put a different perspective on it,” Laessig said. “But we’ve been touring so much together, we’re together pretty much nonstop. We’re so much in each other’s business that it’s easy to just say, ‘Hey, remember that fight my spouse and I had? Let’s write about it.’ ”

One of the most gripping moments on “Good Grief” resulted from a rare fight between Laessig and Wolfe, followed immediately by a vocal recording session. They are in sync elsewhere — they echo their single microphone stage setup for recording as well — but part ways with abandon on “Gone Insane,” a wild, emotional vocal battle from start to finish. Other raw moments abound: “Leaving you has crossed my mind / I’m afraid another heart is hard to find” from “What We Have to Do to Change.” The album’s opener, “Madness,” starts with a spare, almost creepy duet: “I had a dream where you were standing there / with a gun up to my head.”

“It becomes therapeutic in that way. If you bring an idea to the table and someone else says, ‘But what about this?’ You think, ‘Okay that wasn’t where I was coming from,’ ” Laessig said. “Then you reassess your inner turmoil. It’s unusual and a learning experience to be so intertwined creatively with somebody else.”

The album’s lone “light” horse, “Born Again Teen,” is a spirited, feel-good pop anthem that was eventually chosen as the lead single — an unusual decision given its notable absence of sad subject matter.

“The record label wanted that. That was a fight, actually,” Laessig said. “But we took a chance on it because it’s the rebel on the album. When we sat down to write, we had a lot of heavy material. We thought, ‘Do we have to deal with all this right now, or can we just write something cheery and off-the-wall?’ It was born out of being different than everything else.”

“When we first came to L.A., Jess and I wrote a bunch of simple demos and sent them to the guys, and they got together and worked out arrangements,” Laessig said. “By the time we got into the studio, we were coming in with two versions of every song.”

Producer Shawn Everett (Alabama Shakes, Weezer) suggested that the band members put names of songs they liked into a box. They then listened to those selections and made notes about qualities they wanted to employ, song by song.

“It ranged from Beyonce to Metallica, so many different influences between the five of us,” Laessig said. “We got a lot of different references, and I guess that came through.”

The album’s release put Lucius back on the road for another grueling year of travel, in the throes of the lifestyle that produced the material for the new record, though perhaps a few thousand miles wiser. For Lucius, there’s sure to be more grief and an equal amount of experience and good to come from it.

“I think it’s good to grieve. If you do, it’s hard. If you don’t, it’s so much harder,” Laessig said. “It’s good to feel. It’s necessary. There has to be a balance of good and bad in everything, I guess. That’s just how it is.”

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