Photography by Chris Velasco
I don’t think that anyone has ever called me from Los Angeles, so getting a call from Holly Laessig of Lucius was a very pleasant first.
Lucius, a female-fronted folk-pop group, is taking a well-earned break from a crazy year of touring to record their new album, Nudes. Much to my appreciation, Laessig took time out of her busy schedule to talk to me about where she’s been and where the band is going.
The band, comprised of Laessig and Jess Wolfe on lead vocals, as well as drummer Dan Molad and guitarist Peter Lalish, has been together since 2005. Before then, Laessig grew up in Fairview Park. She moved to Boston for college and later to Brooklyn, New York to pursue her passion of music. Since then, she and the rest of Lucius have made Los Angeles their home. Well, it’s home when they aren’t traveling the world as the backup singers for Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters, that is.
So how did Lucius end up on a world tour with Roger Waters? It all starts at the Newport Folk Festival. Lucius played the festival a few years ago and, while rubbing elbows with superstars backstage, ended up singing backing vocals for a lot of very big sets, earning them the nickname “The Newport Darlings.” One year, Roger Waters was a secret headliner, interrupting My Morning Jacket’s performance with a five-song set of Pink Floyd classics.
Waters asked the festival organizers if they knew where he could find some female backup singers. Lucius was their first call and Laessig and Wolfe said yes. They were told to learn two songs, but they learned all five just in case. During the one rehearsal they had before the show, the girls backed off the mic in the beginning of the second song under the impression they were not to sing on the specific song. Waters stopped the song halfway through, looked at Laessig and Wolfe, brushed his silver hair out of his face, and motioned them back to the mic along with the simple phrase, “Man up.”
Waters provides politically-charged performances, including a particularly memorable event in Mexico City. “We played a free concert for 350,000 people in the public square of Mexico City, which is basically in the backyard of the mayor and the president who don’t get along with each other at all,” Laessig recalled. “Roger directly gave a speech in Spanish to the president of Mexico about his corrupt ways. There were snipers all around and Roger is saying these things while his face was 50-feet tall on the screen. The crowd was cheering louder than I’ve ever heard any crowd cheer. I had chills.”
Although Laessig and Wolfe toured with Waters, Lucius is much more than a pair of backup singers. The band is currently working on its third full-length studio album, “Nudes” with producer Shawn Everett. Everett, who has worked with The Alabama Shakes, Weezer, and Kurt Vile, also produced Lucius’ last record, Good Grief. While on tour with Waters, the girls are bringing fellow bandmates Lalish and Molad along with them and playing shows in Australia, Europe, and South America over the next few months.
Laessig and discussed landmark events in the band’s career, which lead me to ask her what the moment that she realized that her dreams were coming true felt like. “I don’t know if that moment ever arrived really,” she responded. “You always think it’s going to, but everything just keeps moving so fast and it’s hard to realize that moment is happening.”
I asked Holly where her favorite place is now that she’s lived outside of Cleveland the past 15 years. Even though she is thankful for everything that is happening to the band, she still looks forward to coming home and enjoying a brat sandwich from the West Side Market, and seeing old friends around the city. She told me that a friend who does a lot of sports-related filming sent her a video of the Browns perfect season parade. She reflected on the video saying, “Something about that scene made even a California girl miss Cleveland.”