(Photo: Lera Pentelute)
Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus booked a tour together before they formed the new indie rock band boygenius.
It’s not the typical order of events, but that’s the genius of this trio. They are not bound by convention, nor do they hang on the word of “adult men” in the industry. These artists — all singers, songwriters, and guitarists under the age of 25 — were driven by their calling to make music together. Undeterred, they made it happen on their own terms.
Each young woman has a fairly new and successful solo career, a critically acclaimed album out now, and a talent for songwriting that has been lauded as bitingly honest, self-aware, and deeply personal, yet relatable.
Despite demanding individual projects and ongoing solo tours, the three somehow found four days in June 2018 when they all could meet at Sound City studios in Los Angeles to write and record together as boygenius.
Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus arrived prepared. Each brought one mostly-finished song and one idea, then finalized the six tracks in collaboration. Each artist had a turn taking the lead and showcasing her individual prowess, while the input and layering from new bandmates provided creative camaraderie and a cohesive sound.
“Everyone seemed both confident enough to present ideas and fight for their individual vision, but considerate and humble enough to make decisions which ultimately served the song,” Baker said in a press release.
The result is boygenius’ self-titled debut EP, released November 9 on Matador Records. The opening track, “Bite the Hand,” finds Dacus at the helm. Dacus said she prefers singing and writing over playing instruments, and tends to “care about the words a lot.” This song features her brand of simmering guitar and subtle rock edge. Over a soothing melody she crafts her words to lament, “I can’t love you how you want me to.” She finds solace in Baker and Bridgers, who share the sentiment as the three sing the line repeatedly, first in a round and then in a lilting three-part harmony.
Bridgers is at the heart of the mid-tempo “Me & My Dog,” which displays her lean toward folk, her classically trained voice, and her knack for conversational, intimate lyrics. Bridgers’ storytelling often melds overt anecdotes of real events with veiled imagery and strokes of acerbic humor. In fact, many of Bridgers’ ideas that originated as jokes ended up in songs on this EP. In “Me & My Dog,” she bares the remains of a fallen relationship and the struggle to recover from it. There is unity with her musical friends as Baker and Dacus blend in harmony, “I wanna be emaciated / I wanna hear one song without thinking of you.”
Baker’s atmospheric breakup ballad “Stay Down” features her powerful vocals, wondrous melody, and crisp guitar lines. The tune maintains her emo-tinged style and unflinching lyrics that see her, with complete vulnerability yet no fear, confront pain face-to-face. Baker reportedly played majority of the guitars on the EP and bandmates encouraged the Tennessean to play banjo and mandolin. At one point they persuaded her to “shred unironically.” On the slow-building “Stay Down,” Bridgers and Dacus support her emotionally and amplify her musically. They join her wrenching lines, “Push me down into the water like a sinner / Hold me under and I’ll never come up again / I’ll just stay down.”
In the past few years, the three musicians crossed paths at performances and on tours. They hung out backstage at festivals and in green rooms, ultimately fostering a close friendship and keeping in touch through group emails. They supported one another as their solo careers followed parallel rising paths. For example, Baker and Dacus compared notes when in talks with many of the same record labels. Both ended up signing with Matador.
“When we met, Lucy and Phoebe and I were in similar places in our lives and our musical endeavors, but also had similar attitudes toward music that engendered an immediate affinity,” Baker said in the release. “Lucy and Phoebe are incredibly gifted performers and I am fans of their art outside of being their friends.”
Then a fall tour was booked featuring all three artists under their solo acts. Baker and Bridgers would co-headline and Dacus would open the show. The tour prompted the idea of collaborating on a song or two, which became the trio’s LA recording session.
“It seemed obvious to record a seven-inch for tour, although many adult men will try to take credit for the idea,” Bridgers said. “When we got together, we had way more songs than we expected and worked so well together, that we decided to make a full EP.”
And that was the official formation of boygenius. As Dacus explained it, “A long time ago, before I even met Phoebe, Julien mentioned that she had a pipe dream of starting a band with both of us. Then we booked this tour and decided the time was right.”
The greater genius of the band lies in its members’ ability to foster a creative safe haven for songwriting based on mutual trust and support. Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus each felt encouraged to share ideas without reservation or fear of reproach. Those ideas were embraced by the other two and developed as a trio. Boygenius is a model in collaboration and the music speaks for itself.
“I think that’s when you get to a really cool collaborative place, when you establish trust enough to say all of your ideas, whether or not you know they’re good or bad,” Baker has said of the process.
“This was definitely a safe space for corny ideas and we did all of them,” Bridgers has said.
Each artist will play a solo set of songs but fans can expect to hear some boygenius tunes on the tour that began in Nashville November 4 and will come to the Fox Theater in Oakland November 27.
Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus
November 27, 2018