Musical supergroups tend to be inevitably disappointing. Sometimes throwing a bunch of great artists together doesn’t result in great music. Personalities clash, styles don’t blend, and monumentally high expectations are dashed. Not so in the case of Boygenius, the supergroup (maybe the problem is expectations inherent in the word itself?) made up of Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker, and Phoebe Bridgers. In recent years, all three artists have released some of the best works of their still-young careers. Dacus, Baker, and Bridgers all specialize in moody, sharp songwriting. They make self-aware downer music that takes itself just seriously enough to not come off as maudlin, and as a result are the best kind of supergroup — one that, in an alternate world, might as well just be a band of three supremely talented women who all happened to be able to play the role of front person. But we live in this world, so if you dig Boygenius, you’ve got an extensive back catalogue of solo releases from each artist to explore. To help guide through that process, Vulture asked Dacus, Bridgers, and Baker to each talk about their favorite songs from the other two.
Lucy Dacus: “Good News” has always been my favorite of Julien’s songs. “My ribs creak like wooden dining chairs” is the best simile I’ve ever heard. Most of the song is only two chords and the tempo drudges on slow and steady, but the momentum never falls and her force strengthens subtly over the course of the performance. Julien has always been a master of the important contradiction of being both broken and strong, scared and fearless. The song is a panic attack, an apology, a prayer, an unsent letter. At its sweetest, it can be read as if she’s detailing the feeling of having a crush on someone. At its heaviest, it’s a self-portrait as the villain of her own life, hopelessly reducing all to wreckage. It’s so easy to find oneself in Julien’s songs.
Of all of Phoebe’s songs, I get “Scott Street” stuck in my head most often. There’s something timeless/classic/iconic about her lyricism, how she keeps it so simple, even mundane, and yet the scene is set completely. “I’ve got a stack of mail and a tall can. It’s a shower beer, it’s a payment plan,” is a good example — the narrator is characterized by only two props. Also, like, who the hell else can make a shower beer poetic? I was so immersed in the overall feeling of the song, watching her wander through the aftermath and kicking up the ashes of an old flame, that it took time to figure out realize how clever the words and the arrangements are. Every sound has a distinct place. The bike bells and children’s-choir-esque “aahs” at the end of the song would sound so silly on their own, out of this context, yet they fit in the mix, in the arrangement, and with the content. I think Phoebe can get away with anything.
Phoebe Bridgers: I have a new favorite Julien song every day, but my first favorite was “Everybody Does.” The first time she and I played a show together, her live arrangement of that song completely floored me, so I went home and listened to the recording over and over. Then when we toured together, I heard little melodic changes and her arrangement grew over time and ultimately I completely changed in my mind; the song somehow turned from a defeated ballad that I listened to and resonated with when I was feeling the lowest to a defiant anthem.
Historian is a masterpiece. It’s one of those records that takes me back to a very specific time in my life when I hear it, because when I first heard it I couldn’t turn off. It made me want to revisit No Burden with new perspective. So my favorite Lucy song right now is “… Familiar Place.” I’ve also been listening to a lot of Grouper and Low and I just love her guitar tones — plus, Lucy’s poetry is perfect for walking around my neighborhood looking moody with headphones on. I highly recommend it.
Julien Baker: One of my favorite Lucy songs is “Map on a Wall,” from her first record No Burden. Like many of Lucy’s songs, this one is sneakily profound. Among other things, the song is an exploration of the tension between the comfort of the familiar, the desire to protect one’s own optimism, and the longing to expose oneself to the potentially painful unknown, asserting confidently that her wonder indicates not weakness, but resolve.
The song shows us a protagonist who is frightened easily, of small and superstitious things — the dark, creaking floorboard — but who also states, confidently, “I am alive, and I made up my mind to live fearlessly…” This fearlessness is not innate, it is a decision, and one not made without some trepidation.
The lyrics balance boldness and reverence, admitting reservations while striving to preserve hopefulness, however guarded, hoping against hope that “good comes from good — and that good comes from bad anyway.” Regardless of what apprehensions attend moving forward into the future unknown, the song offers the affirmation that “if you want to see the world, you have to say goodbye, because a map does no good hanging on a wall” — reminding the listener that there is no substitute for the richness of experiencing something for oneself, despite what trials it might entail. Lucy manages to weave brief proverbs like these into her songs between pieces of very personal imagery, rooting the theoretical in something very tangible and human, I think that’s one of the things that makes her songwriting so accessible and so special.
Phoebe has a talent for taking a musical or poetic paradigm and tilting it, inverting the norm in a way that expands and challenges the boundaries of the standard. Her songs marry convention with experimentation, both with a musical arrangement and production, and in the actual poetry of the songs. My favorites of her album tracks are the ones which take the simplicity and pattern of a love song, disassemble and rearrange it to create a sort of antithesis of a love song, something that redefines the way that relationships are represented in music [and gives them more honesty]. Songs like “Demi Moore” and “Motion Sickness” both do this, resisting the idealization of love in music and offering instead depictions of relationships and situations that are salient and realistic. These are relationships that are human and tangible — confusing, sometimes damaging, often ugly.
Phoebe’s songs mix dark candor with careful levity, showing us images of moments that are at once laughably absurd and soberingly severe; I think this nuance of storytelling and the ability to convey the multiplicity of emotions within friendship, heartbreak, loss, or death is what makes her music resonate so deeply.