When Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker announced that they were releasing a six-song EP as boygenius late this summer, many of their fans did a double take. After all, these three rising indie stars had already booked a triple- bill tour; now they’d gone a step further and formed a band.
But for the most intuitive fans—and the singers themselves—creating the supergroup boygenius was anything but shocking. It was obvious.
As the Los Angeles-based Bridgers explains, “Once we put the tour together, we thought: ‘Oh, shit. We should make a promotional 7” together.’ And then: ‘Oh, shit. We have more songs than we planned—let’s make an EP. Oh, shit. We should self-produce. Oh, shit. It’ll be all women playing.’ They were all decisions we made, but they didn’t feel like big ones. It was all very obvious to us.”
That doesn’t make the project any less special, of course. The EP, out November 9 on Matador Records (though the band already released it digitally), is a rare chance to hear three exquisite voices fusing into one billowing sound for a gorgeous, harmony-laden, deeply emotional collection of songs. What’s more: All three women are fresh off of their breakthrough years. Bridgers released her sparse, haunting debut Stranger in the Alps in late 2017, closely followed by Baker’s cutting, introspective Turn Out the Lights. Dacus unleashed her more rocking, shadowy sophomore album Historian in early 2018. While their sounds differ, all three write with astounding personal detail and, unsurprisingly, “the triple Venn diagram of our fans overlaps quite a bit,” says Baker.
“We all delve into this delicate subject matter, and a common thread in our fans is that a lot of people listen to us in solitude and feel understood,” adds Dacus. “I feel that way with Phoebe and Julien’s music. So boygenius was further confirmation to fans that, yes, we understand you. We hear you.”
Both Dacus and Bridgers credit Baker with pushing the project from an exciting idea to a heart-pounding reality. With complex touring schedules, all three singers began uploading song snippets and voice memos to a Google Drive, leading up to a one-week writing and recording session that came to fruition during the summer of 2018. But not all demos were created equally.
“I had just one voice memo—it was two minutes long, like Guided by Voices. My idea of a demo is recording on a phone in my hotel room, and they were using [recording software] Logic and adding harmonies,” laughs Bridgers. “My experience with Google Drive was feeling intimidated and inadequate.”
By the time they all converged in Los Angeles at the famed Sound City Studios, though, any creative doubts were quickly wiped away. The trio began workshopping ideas from the Drive first, but soon discovered that they craved more collaboration; before long they were hashing through songs nearly from scratch, careful to create music with themes they could all stand behind.
They assembled the swirling, propulsive, Dacus-led “Bite the Hand,” with its chorus “I can’t love you how you want me to” about “not wanting to give in to the expectations of your fans, while still being thankful you have fans to support you and put food on the table,” she says. “You can’t date every fan that asks to date you.”
The trio quickly zeroed in on each of their strengths and watched them play out in these new, vividly blossoming songs.
“Julien is like Explosions in the Sky, but with tighter songs and amazing lyrics,” says Bridgers. “And Lucy—Lucy is a true rock poet.”
“Phoebe is clever without being corny, funny without being silly and ballsy without being annoying, and she is a better storyteller than anybody right now,” says Dacus.
The EP came to life in just a week, with each songwriter singing lead on two songs, anchored by heartbreaking harmonies and often explosive, emotionally purging choruses. The songs move and breathe, swelling with three powerful voices, expansive, ragged guitars and pensive piano—singer-songwriter fare meant for towering speakers. But beyond a batch of music that ranks with the most beautiful each artist has released on her own, the trio wrapped the session emboldened about their shared experiences in the music industry.
“Something we all connected on the entire time was just being lumped together. ‘Women’ is not a category of music. We deal with that every fucking day, answering for our gender and getting talked down to even when we’re each the bosses of our lives,” says Bridgers.
The band name boygenius is their perfectly sly response.
“It’s shorthand for dudes who have 50 percent of the information but act like they have it all,” continues Bridgers. “A boygenius isn’t the most competent but is the most confident. And that’s 98 percent of the music industry.”
The trio, then, walks a tightrope in a male-dominated musical landscape: acknowledging the importance of their collaboration without pigeonholing boygenius as a “girl group.” While the
music can certainly speak for itself, the best way to strike the balance, says Dacus, is to inspire more women to pick up guitars and play.
“The only way not to tokenize boygenius is to make us more ubiquitous because, sure, a group of all women is interesting and rare,” she says. “But the tragedy in that sentence is the ‘rare.’ There are plenty of groups who’ve come before us, but the more there are, the less people will freak out when a new one comes into view.”
This article originally appears in the October/November 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interview, album reviews and more, subscribe here.