Lucy Dacus + Jes Skolnik
JES SKOLNIK: So, you have an extensive Goodreads list.
LUCY DACUS: Yeah, if you are on Goodreads, just look me up. I want more friends and I think I have like eight right now.
JS: It's like the most positive social media there is.
LD: You just watch your friends burning through beautiful literature. It’s nothing like Facebook, where people gotta say weird shit. It's just like, only books. It's so lovely.
JS: So, what have you read lately that you really love?
LD: I just finished Zami by Audre Lorde today. That book was so stupid good, it was like one long poem, basically. I recommend it to anyone.
JS: That's one of my favorite books of all time. I've read it probably like, sixteen or seventeen times at this point. It’s about how to use language, how to write about yourself in a way that is actually about everybody else.
LD: And how to write about people that you have loved and been hurt by in a way that is holistic and caring. I can’t believe I haven't read it until now.
JS: There's a three book collection that Zami is the central point to. What else?
LD: Yeah, I'm in the middle of No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein. That book is so good; I think she wrote it in like, four months after Trump was elected. She uses this term, “disaster capitalism.” It's not easy to read, it'll make your blood boil. But it's good to know stuff that you don't want to know because it helps you be more aware of how to take it down.
JS: She is probably one of our best current political thinkers, in terms of fusing history and practical action. And she was talking about the idea of disaster capitalism after New Orleans, after Katrina, and how predictive that concept has turned out to be.
LD: What have you been reading?
JS: There's a book called Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman. She was the person who developed the concept of complex PTSD, when you experience multiple traumatic events, and are never given the chance to heal or recover. She wrote it in 1993. It's a book that's been super useful to me as a person. I found myself returning to it recently; there’s a lot of change and flux going on in my life. It has provided me with sort of a bedrock from which to move from.
LD: Sounds really good.
JS: I know that the way you write songs is very literary. Do you ever think about structuring your songs as short stories? Because that's what they feel like to me.
LD: Sometimes I'll write a song and I'll be like, this isn't a song, this is a short story. And then I'll write a short story, and I'm like this would be much better as a song. Clearly I'm here to do music and people are here for that. But I think it's important to keep your other creative avenues going when you're not profiting off of them. I don't profit off my writing at all, so it's like extra fulfilling to do it, because I know there's no reason that I want to do it other than that I just have to have it made.
JS: Do you think you'll publish your stories? Or do you just want to keep them?
LD: Like everything, it feels like once you start something like that, some wheel just starts turning, and people are just like asking for it, and then you have to balance what you want to do with what people want. Also, what people want is important and valid. People say, “Don't sell out," but there is this middle ground that isn't selling out and isn't doing what you want, but you're just trying to be respectful of people that care about your work. It's really difficult to figure out that middle ground. With writing, I don't even have to think about that right now. But I will. I also have like over 2,000 pages of journals. I’m like, when I’m eighty I'm going to publish this. I'll just drop them.
JS: Very, very into that. I've always loved both journals and books of letters.
LD: What are your favorites?
JS: Anaïs Nin's letters are among my favorites.
LD: Susan Sontag's journals are so, so good, and are a really good entry to the rest of her work. I like understanding people before I encounter their work. I hadn't heard of Edna St. Vincent-Millay, who's like an amazing poet. But I read her biography, and then I read all of her work, and to know her entire childhood and her upbringing, even before reading her work, was really awesome, it was amazing.
JS: You were saying that once you start doing something artistically people are demanding things from you. How do you balance that?
LD: I can't write if I'm trying to write… if I'm trying to write a song, it comes out stupid. I think by forcing something, it just usually sounds really cheesy or dumb. So I kind of have to wait until it's happening. I just have to notice that it's happening and have a pen nearby and cross my fingers. I don't really have any control over my writing style, and I kind of wish I did, because then I could write whenever. But it's not broken so I don't think I should try to fix it.
JS: Sometimes you can work with unconventional structures in a way that might not be possible if you came up with the concept trying to force it. I was listening to “Night Shift” and thinking about the structure of that song. It’s like a super short story; it's not long.
LD: I think something that is true of music that isn't true of books is that you watch people experience it for themselves. From the stage I can see everyone, and some people are singing along, and I see that this song is not mine. Like it means something to other people and that is even more powerful than how it started as my own. With books it's like, everyone is taking it in privately. Do you think that you prefer that, where you can put something out into the world and not really encounter how people are taking it in?
JS: In terms of writing personal essays especially, and giving of yourself in that very intense emotional way — to barf that into the world is a very difficult thing to do. And then you're left thinking, is that just like, a pile of barf that’s sitting on the side of the road and people are going to pass it by and say like, “That stinks?” Or is it going to transform into something that is magical and useful and actually worthwhile to other people? Being able to see that it's like a song when you're performing it, being able to see in real time that it means something to somebody else.
LD: Sometimes I just get really freaked out by like, needing an audience, basically. I don't feel like I need an audience in some ways, but I do literally need an audience to do this as my job. And I find it to be a weird dynamic; it doesn't always feel good to need the approval of people. But you literally have to, in any creative job you have to rely on that dynamic, and you just have to reckon with that in your head.
JS: It's really hard to let go of a draft for me. I'm one of those annoying writers that will keep editing in the Google doc after I've already sent it to my editor. And as an editor I know that that's incredibly annoying, but I'm one of those people. So performing music, in a way, you have the recorded version. But the song is never finished, necessarily, because you always get to perform it.
LD: Yeah, uh, I've never really thought about it like that, but you're totally right: every day is a new draft, but you have to rewrite it by memory. And you're not just writing with words, you're writing with your body, because everybody is like, witnessing you make it.
JS: The idea of making a song with your body — I really love that idea. How intimate that is, having an audience, and how intimate that is as an experience between the audience and the performer.
LD: Because you contain it like nobody else contains it, which is kind of nice. And another nice thing about music, or books, or any creative job, is that you make it your own. You're not filling a spot that somebody else could take. Your existence is the job and you're the only person that can do it. There's sort of a freedom in that.