In the wee hours of April 20, 2012, a van filled with musical instruments and gear belonging to the Brooklyn-based indie band Lucius was stolen. The next morning, they drove (or more likely, bussed) to Boston to open for rockabilly singer JD McPherson at Brighton Music Hall. They performed on borrowed equipment and hired a saxophone player to replace some lost samples. When you can’t get a machine, a man will do in a pinch.
Even with the ad hoc setup they were memorable. Lucius—which performs at the Boston Calling Music Festival on Saturday, Sept. 7, just five weeks shy of the release of their first full-length album, “Wildewoman”—is fronted by vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, who wear identical outfits and matching hairdos and sing more often in unison than in harmony. They perform facing each other across keyboards, flanked by their three male counterparts—Dan Molad, Peter Lalish, and Andrew Burri—who wear less colorful (if equally matching) outfits, and, at various times, similar facial hair.
The visual gag underscores the eerie duality of Wolfe’s and Laessig’s performance. When the two women started making music together seven years ago as students at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, they quickly discovered that their power lay in unison singing. “That sort of was a changing point for us,” says Wolfe. “We just recognized what was happening, that it was special. Neither of us had used our voices in that way with somebody else before. Not just the fact that we were singing in unison, but the way that our voices sat with one another was a really almost haunting experience.”
Upon graduation, they moved to Brooklyn and drafted Molad, a drummer and engineer, to help them record a few of their co-written songs. Wolfe credits him with the rhythm-driven riotousness of that first recording, a self-titled four track EP with intricate, pop-minded production. Lalish was already a collaborator at the time, but Burri was not added until a year later. “The band had never really played together before the LP was recorded,” Wolfe explains. “We did everything backward.”
Lucius’s first full-length album, “Wildewoman,” is the culmination of what Wolfe describes as a process that was “really natural,” despite its backwardness. After more than a year playing live, the band, she says, is “like a machine, and each part plays a vital role that is integral to the mix.”
This is never more evident than in their performances. Percussion is a shared duty, with the whole band hammering away at “a drum kit which is essentially spread across the stage,” says Wolfe. At any given moment, someone might toss aside an instrument to thwack at a woodblock or brandish a tambourine. Their songs feature exultant, group-sung hooks that put The Lumineers to shame. At times, the band seems to enter a trance-like state, eyes closed and bodies swaying in tandem.
It’s a neat subversion of a paradigm in which the rock singer is worshiped as God. The members of Lucius are strangely egoless; they sing with one voice, beat with one heart. “When you can find people that you trust in that deep way and that you know have your back, and you get to play with them every night in a different city,” says Wolfe, “it’s a special thing. It becomes magic.”
Perhaps that is why the robbery seemed hardly to trip them up. A successful PledgeMusic campaign helped the band replace the van and their equipment, and in the year that followed, Lucius began a steady ascent towards notoriety, with mentions in Rolling Stone magazine and the New York Times and appearances at Bonaroo, Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival, and NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series.
There seems no limit to the band’s ability to write epic, visceral earworms, and “Wildewoman,” which is at once expansive and dense with detail, contains at least four such anthems. But the members of Lucius are equally adept at the slow, leisurely simmer. Their most affecting moments are often their quietest. Wolfe and Laessig write as a team, and as a result their songs are not so much confessional as they are narrative, populated by enigmatic figures (usually women) in search of something elusive and difficult to define.
At certain moments of intense focus, the group seems to channel the characters from their songs. “Lucius” sounds like the name of an individual, and onstage, its members certainly behave as one.
But to Wolfe, they are really more of a family than anything else.
“Before we get onstage we’re already together,” she says. “We’re already one.”
This article was originally published on August 30, 2013.
This program aired on August 30, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.