Phoebe Bridgers is driving “through the canyon” on the way to meet her Boygenius bandmates when NME calls the trio in early December. Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker are already together, waiting for her arrival and to celebrate yet more good news together. After a year of big feats, the boys are ending 2023 with their debut album, ‘The Record’, being crowned NME’s Album Of The Year.
Despite all the highs this year has brought them, Dacus had some trepidation going into it. “I was afraid of the vibes being off,” she shares. “We’re all so important to each other that I worried working so much together would become work, and we’re all prone to overworking ourselves, and I just didn’t want to symbolise exhaustion to each other.” Thankfully, that hasn’t been the case – “We all got tired, but we’re not tired of each other,” she confirms – and, together, the band came out of the studio with an album that turned their immense individual talents into one electrifying force.
The stakes weren’t exactly low for ‘The Record’, either. Five years ago, the trio released their self-titled debut EP and elicited almost universal praise, while each member has carved out their own space in the pantheon of indie heroes for their own sound and style of songwriting. The album, though, didn’t buckle to the weight of the anticipation around it and instead shone as an album with huge emotional depth and beautifully enthralling storytelling. Wherever the boys go next – whether solo or together – ‘The Record’ stands as a testament both to what you can make when you allow yourself to be your most ambitious, most honest self and to the creative power of great friends.
When you were sat in Shangri-La making this album, you probably weren’t thinking about end of year lists or what other people would think of it. What does it mean to you to have seen ‘The Record’ resonate so strongly with so many people this year?
Phoebe: “It rocks. I’ve never put something out so early in the year, for one, and then been reminded that people like it after the tour’s after. I think if we’d done it a little differently, it would have timed out weirder. So much has changed since the beginning of the year, and it’s been our whole lives, so it’s nice to be reminded that people loved it.”
Lucy: “It’s nice to be validated that we made something to our taste and that other people also liked it. It helps us to be able to relate to our own fans because we actually like it. One thing about end-of-year lists that I like is that I’ll go back to, like, Best of 2017, or I’ll look up an end-of-year list randomly for a year that I am feeling nostalgic for and listen to stuff that I missed or stuff that I liked at that time. I know people have gripes about lists, but I think I’m a big list-maker myself, so I’m into it.”
Who would be on your personal albums of the year list?
Julien: “That Allegra Krieger record, SZA…”
Phoebe: “Arlo [Parks].”
Lucy: “Yves Tumour!”
Phoebe, you just said so much has changed for you this year. What have been the biggest changes?
Phoebe: “To do business jargon, I think it’s like proof of concept. We were actually thinking about how we were going to feel at the end of this project or the end of the year. I started a notebook on January 1, 2022, and now the album’s out, people have been listening to it all year and I’m almost done with that journal. I don’t know, I just like a cycle. It just feels nice, and I’ve certainly changed a lot, but I don’t know what the fuck the biggest change is!”
Lucy: “Julien definitely has [changed], and I definitely have [changed] separately as people, but then also, of course, as Boygenius, everything has changed for us as a unit. In our own lives, I just feel like we are growing a lot.”
How did you expect to feel at the end of this year compared to how you actually feel?
Phoebe: “In my wildest dreams, I was going to feel this way – and that’s cool. I don’t think we went into the project with any fear, but it’s just nice now, being in the middle of it and looking back on this year being like, ‘We did everything we said, we feel as good as we ever hoped to feel, and better’.”
One of the main narratives that has been picked up around ‘The Record’ has been centred around your relationship with each other – it feels like you’ve almost become ambassadors for this kind of very close friendship in a way.
Julien: “I love it! I think it’s great if that’s the thesis statement that people are taking away from this band. Representing the validity of making something with your friends for your own fulfilment is a great thing for people to take away from this. That’s why I also felt a little apprehension of, ‘What if it flops?’. Then I was like, ‘If we play a tour where people are stoked at the shows and no one’s throwing tomatoes, and beer bottles at us and kids are remembering lyrics, we already accomplished what I would have wanted to accomplish in my purest idealisation of a band’. So I’m happy with it.”
Phoebe: “I like that the concerts ended up being like a Rocky Horror Picture Show type experience, where you go with a bunch of people, and you dress weird. I like that it was interactive. It represents friendship in that way too, which I love – the friendship that is completely outside of us.”
Right, it feels like your shows have been really safe spaces for your audiences this year. When I was watching you on stage in London this summer, it also felt like perhaps they’ve become that for you as well. Is that accurate for you?
Lucy: “For sure, you can tell by how unhinged we’ve gotten over the course of touring.”
Julien: “Phoebe and Lucy talk about this a lot, and I feel it, but when your persona or your identity as a human being gets wrapped up in your job, there’s some cognitive dissonance there with the rest of the life you lead. Personally, going home and visiting my family for Thanksgiving is kind of jarring cos I’ve been out on the road and in one mode, and then I’m just someone’s weird cousin at the family function. But for that hour and a half [on stage], we get complete agency over how people perceive us. We built the show, we wrote the songs, we’ve constructed the lyrics and the execution and the performance to represent who we are to people. So, in a sense, it’s like a performance that feels more authentic than just the performance you put on at the office. I get to totally embody something of my choosing; I’m in a costume that tells you about myself.”
Let’s talk about some of the huge shows you’ve played this year, like Madison Square Garden recently. Phoebe, before you’d even finished making the record, you were convinced the band would play there. What made you so sure?
Phoebe: [laughs] “Well, I’ve been on tour for a long time already and watching that grow, watching Julien and Lucy grow in the same way post-COVID, and the lore around Boygenius – I couldn’t do an interview without being asked about it. I was doing interviews knowing we were making a record the entire time I was promoting my last album. So I was just aware of the excitement, I was stoked, and I was like, especially with Julien’s sensibilities, ‘I think we’re gonna make a heavier album than I would make my own’. So it was just a thing that felt tangible.”
What was it like actually stepping out on stage when that show did come around?
Lucy: “It was dreamlike.”
Julien: “When I was a kid, I used to play [Fall Out Boy’s] ‘From Under The Cork Tree’ top to bottom and teach myself chords, and imagine I was in a stadium in front of a bunch of people. Then I started playing solo shows, and I would close my eyes and just imagine I was in my bedroom because I was so nervous. I feel like on this tour, especially big meaningful shows like Madison Square Garden, I was in the experience that felt dreamlike, feeling really present. Also, I’ve been thinking a lot about Phoebe recognising the excitement or lore around the band, and I was like, ‘Yeah, we live up to it’. Because we really fully dedicated ourselves to something that’s been vital to us since childhood and that is the crux of our friendship. It felt really… empowering is cheesy, but it did feel powerful. Like, ‘This is awesome, these kids are freaking stoked!’ Giving that [joy] to people, I was like, ‘Oh, my life means something’.”
You also played Hollywood Bowl on Halloween, where you went through what feels like a rite of passage for modern rock bands and had Dave Grohl come out and drum on ‘Satanist’. How did that come about?
Phoebe: “I made friends with Dave backstage at a Billie Eilish show. He’s the coolest guy ever. I was texting the boys, being like, ‘I met Dave Grohl, and he exceeds every expectation of how a rock star can be in the world’. I think we, as a group, look for that a lot – like, who is living their life the way that we want to get old and live our lives?”
Lucy: “He’s so game. I just want to stay game the way that he is.”
Phoebe: “Yeah, exactly. He’s the best. He was like, ‘I’m gonna be a priest, by the way’, when I told him what we were gonna be for Halloween.”
Who suggested which song he would come on for? Was it him or you guys?
Lucy: “I think it was us?”
Phoebe: “Yeah, well, we also have a friend who knows him and toured with Foo Fighters, and there was this missed connection where Dave was actually going to come to the studio and play on [‘The Record’]. Then he slept through it or whatever, and we didn’t end up meeting. So it was actually kind of a perfect full circle moment of having him play on that song because we knew we wanted the drums to be crazy on that.”
As well as being NME’s Album Of The Year, ‘The Record’ has earned you a bunch of Grammy nominations. Lucy and Julien, this is your first time being nominated – what was that moment of getting the news like for you?
Lucy: “I think for a band that over-intellectualise a lot, I was surprised by how simple my excitement was. I was just like, ‘Wait… this rocks, and I don’t really need to think about it or theorise or make it any deeper than that – it’s just kind of sick’. If you know us personally, that is a huge thing – not having to write a whole thesis statement about something. So it feels really pure.”
Phoebe: “Like, Julien thinks that birthdays are a capitalist construct.”
Julien: “It was also crazy – I have aversions to any institutionalised thing where it’s sometimes a little bit funny when, like, The Ramones are in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, or Sid Vicious’ fucking tie is on display at the British Library in a punk exhibition. It’s weird to see institutions recognise historically anti-establishment art-makers. But then, I don’t know, I also have to be like, ‘Dude, the institution is recognising you – you did something, you waved your weird flag high enough that someone had to recognise it’. With any progressive ideology, with queerness, with anti-nationalism, with anti-establishment, being so dedicated to something and pulling it off well enough to be recognised for it is validating no matter what. So all that went out of the window when they were like, ‘You got nominated for six Grammys!’ I was like, ‘Hell yeah!’”
You’ve spoken recently about not knowing where Boygenius goes from here or whether you’re going to be separating back off to solo projects next. Whether the band does keep moving forward next year or whenever you reconvene, what are your hopes for your future together?
Julien: “I like it being a surprise. I like having this band be something that, because it’s more ephemeral or whatever, it’s not concretely tied to one of us or a person we have to live in every day. It’s something we can revisit when we feel motivated to, or it’s a place we can retreat to. I like saving it as something sacred instead of feeling like I have to constantly grind on it.”
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