We hold the truth of Lucius to be self-evident. Turn on “24” off their latest album, Second Nature, and within seconds you’re transfixed by how frontwomen Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe unify their voices into something singular, powerful, evocative and unique.
It’s different than what you might experience listening to other illustrious vocal duos like Simon and Garfunkel or The Righteous Brothers, where you can hear the differences in each voice—with Lucius, it’s hard to track where one voice begins and the other ends, even as Laessig and Wolfe harmonize, change timbre and volume. Their voices are water particles barreling together down a river that flows over flat beds, crashes over boulders and thunders through waterfalls in many different directions, but, somehow, together. It’s one.
That unique voice is one big reason why Laessig and Wolfe have been asked to collaborate with dozens of artists over the last few years—notably Brandi Carlile (with whom they shared the SNL stage this year), Roger Waters (with whom they toured the world), The War on Drugs, Tweedy, Ingrid Michaelson, Harry Styles, John Legend, Sheryl Crow, Kurt Vile, The Killers and more.
So in-demand have the two been in the last few years that Lucius (which is rounded out by Dan Molad (drums) and Peter Lalish (guitars)) didn’t release an album for six years until they dropped Second Nature last year. The album takes the band down the road into disco with reverberating tunes you’ve definitely heard on indie radio abundantly over the last year, and pushes the duo into arrangements that showcase their ability to create unique sonic effects with their voices.
“In a way, it kind of feels like we’re just starting to get back to things,” Laessig says. “We’ve been so lucky to have these wonderful collaborations with Brandi, we went on tour with Roger Waters for three years. We’ve done a bunch of wonderful collaborations, but we haven’t been so attentive to our thing in a while. So we’re getting back into the groove. We put out Second Nature this year; we were really excited about that.”
Laessig and Wolfe have a seemingly endless toolkit when it comes to arranging their vocals to effect certain moods and match the vibes of their songs. Because they’ve been doing it for so long—the two met at Berklee College of Music in 2005—Laessig says they’ve developed communication skills to direct where they take vocals on any given track.
“When we go in and record vocals, there’s a lot of experimentation. [Wolfe] and I have been singing together for so long that we have sort of our own language—weird ways to describe different kinds of timbres and things like that. We’ll experiment with layering or, you know … we’ll swap parts because of where our voices sit. If we want something to sound more belty, then Jess might sing the top and vice versa. I can’t even remember what we did on the record, because on tour we’ve already swapped with each other a couple times. When you do it live, it also translates slightly differently as well. There’s different ways to sing it live. All tour with different songs, we’ve been swapping when we sing what.”
Their vocal ability is a marvel, and even amid alluring rhythms and sonic adornments like synths (they both play the keytar) and irrepressible rhythm, their voices are kind of… out there. Laessig and Wolfe don’t shy away from having their vocals laid bare, and, them being human and all, it’s worthwhile to wonder what happens when one isn’t feeling 100%—can these carefully crafted, synchronized, attuned voices handle, say, a cold? A bad night?
“Because we know each other, you can read when the other person is having trouble or needs that support and you can kind of fill in the space,” Laessig says. “It’s really cool in that way; we have that balance and do talk about that a lot. As a solo artist when you’re completely alone, you don’t have that crutch to lean on if you need it, so I think we’re really lucky in that way.”
The mutual support extends to songwriting. Laessig and Wolfe often write songs over coffee, talking, as friends, through issues they face and bouncing ideas off each other on how to package the emotions of those issues into song—love, heartbreak, motherhood, divorce, joy, isolation and more. That intimate process of co-writing is personally beneficial, Laessig says.
“It’s therapeutic. You know, writing a song on your own is incredibly cathartic if you’re able to find the most concise, clear and beautiful way of saying how you’re feeling,” Laessig says. “If you find that lyric and you’re like, ‘That is what I’m feeling,’ it’s the best. For me, I’m not always that good at expressing myself outside of song. But the songs are like that for me. And I think when you bring it into a co-writing situation, it does give you different perspective sometimes. Or maybe it’s not exactly what you thought it was. The other person says this is how I’m hearing it and takes it into another realm or another feeling.”
Now, powerhouse musical duos (and, of course Lucius is a band, but Laessig and Wolfe are the engine) don’t necessarily have the best track record of sticking together for the long haul, particularly when fame and acclaim come their way. But almost two decades in, Laessig says she and Wolfe are as good as they can be.
“Jess is a godmother to my child. We’re good,” she says. “Our goals are the same and the way that we try and look at the world is very similar. So I think writing is pretty easy. We’re trying to get at the same point a lot of the time. Touring is hard and this business is hard and I think ultimately it’ll come to some sort of meltdown at one point or another and we’ll be like, ‘What’s going on?’ and we’ll talk it through and feel better and pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. I think as we get older and have families, we’re getting better at knowing our limits and being able to communicate.”
Now that the proverbial seal is broken on Lucius’ new music, the hits won’t stop coming. They have another album finished, which, true to their trajectory, takes a different musical tack, and they’re working on another as well. Laessig is close to the vest about just what those albums will sound like, though.
“You’ll have to wait and see. It’s its own world,” Laessig says. “We like to explore different avenues. I think it’s been a blessing and curse for us. We want to stay engaged just as we want our audience to stay engaged. We just keep exploring. I guess if you stop, then you’re done. Art is like, you just keep searching. So we have fun with it.”
Lucius plays White Eagle Hall in Jersey City on April 11. Tickets available at whiteeaglehalljc.com.