A Conversation With Boygenius Gets Weird

A conversation with a little of everything with Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus.

credit Kristy Benjamin.jpg
Photo by Kristy Benjamin

Don’t let the sad songs fool you. Boygenius is having a great time.

It’s Monday afternoon, and the newly formed band, made up of the singers Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus, are enjoying some downtime backstage at 30 Rock, having just wrapped soundcheck for that night’s performance on Late Night With Seth Meyers. We’re sitting on a couch in a smaller dressing room attached to the green room, whose door is ominously closed. I casually mention that the enclosed space feels like something of an escape room now.

“Never been to an escape room, don’t trust them,” Baker says.

“I went to one with Jackson Browne,” Bridgers notes.

Baker: “Get out of here! Phoebe, everything you say sounds like a goof.”

Dacus: “Did you escape?”

Bridgers: “Nope, we died.”

Dacus: “Were you a leader or a follower?”

Bridgers: “I was an ‘I don’t give a shit if we escape’ person. There were so many type-A theater kids.”

Dacus: “Is Jackson Browne a theater kid?”

This goes on for about four minutes, until Dacus gets serious. “I don’t want to be like Elon Musk smoking a joint in this interview, but I wonder if it’s because people want controlled horror. They have anxiety and they want to get it out, but they have parameters.”

Baker agrees. “Dude, yeah. That’s exactly what I’m saying. It’s fetishizing peril. But also, why, when there’s so much actual peril? Or maybe that’s it. I feel like the reason why I can’t get behind them is there is already actual peril that’s terrifying me. But the artifice of it all is what makes you feel safe and in control.”

There’s a serious silence in the non-escape room as this sinks in. “We’ve been talking about escape rooms for awhile,” Dacus eventually realizes. Like that, the spell is broken.

It’s hard not to want to continue this very, very random conversation, to feel like you have a new inside joke with three of the most talented young songwriters working today. But there’s much more than novelty live-action games to discuss.

Late last month, Boygenius released their self-titled debut EP via Matador Records, a six song record that came together over the course of five days in Los Angeles earlier this summer. “I feel really fortunate that we have pretty supportive teams that were like, ‘Do it, we’ll figure it out later, we’ll find something to do with this,’” Baker says. Each singer came with three songs in progress (a coincidence) that they then sat down and worked on together, ultimately resulting in the final cut. “I feel like if we had two more days, we would have recorded 16 songs,” Bridgers says. “It was the most we could have gotten done without compromising it at all.” Adds Baker, “I’m glad that it ended up being an EP, because I would rather have created six songs that I feel really great about than 10 songs that were okay.”

The idea to form the band came from the three musicians’ genuine friendship and admiration for each other’s work. The scheduling came together via group text. The name Boygenius came from the notion of men being generally celebrated as, well, geniuses. And thus, a supergroup was born.

“It’s really special,” Dacus says. “Some interviews have been trying to suss out if this band was a suggestion from a label, or if we really are friends. I’ve been hearing people talk about how supergroups are generally lame, but this one isn’t. But why do people think supergroups are lame? Is it because they are manufactured and they can tell that? Or is it because it’s everyone’s afterthought? I don’t have the answer.”

Says Bridgers, “One time, some girl on Twitter was like, ‘Who is on team Phoebe Bridgers is an industry plant?’ It’s hilarious. I like that I’m so in her face that she was like, ‘Clearly this is not natural.’ And this was such a good idea that people are trying to make it not our idea.”

Baker cracks up. “It could not possibly be just three women making music!” she exclaims in mock horror. “One of them is a lizard!”

The band has been making the press rounds to promote the record, so, as a precaution, I ask what question they are sick of being asked at this point. “It irks me when I’m asked, ‘Like, so what do you guys argue about?’” Baker says after careful consideration. “Because to ask that question, the assumption is that there must have been a conflict in dramatic terms. Because clearly we are three different human beings who have different ideas of how songs should go or how art should look or schedules should be or whatever. But then we use our adult words to reach a compromise.”

Bridgers agrees. “I will say, I don’t think we’d be getting that question if we were dudes,” she says. “You were saying the other day about the idea of the female artist being that she has no grasp over her talent, and it just moves through her like weird diva, erratic behavior. Which is the opposite of the three of us.”

And now, with the record release behind them, comes the good stuff: the tour. The night before, Boygenius performed their very first live show together, at the Ryman Auditorium, in Nashville. I ask how things went.

Baker: “Wait, can we say three, two, one, and everybody says their real, honest answers?”

Bridgers: “I mean, it’s just going to be one of the two words I use to describe everything.”

Baker: “Sick or tight. I was wondering if anyone was having reservations about it.”

Bridgers: “It was definitely frightening.”

Baker: “The two days you guys were in town, I woke up every day at five to go for a run because I felt stressed. Headlining the Ryman is, like, the biggest show of my, or our, lives. It was a huge show, and I was worried about it. But once we got on stage, I was like, Oh, this is just a huge practice space. It didn’t feel as austere once we were all there together. I had way more anxiety about my own set.”

Bridgers: “I’m getting emotional. I kept fucking up because I was nervous, but I realized that I’ve gone on tour and opened for people where the crowd wasn’t even all on the headliner’s side. They are just there to party, and at least half the crowd is like, ‘Play the old shit.’ People who were at the show, they were all rooting for us 100 percent. It was the best energy. There was the idea that if you fuck up, it’s endearing to them.”

Dacus: “I feel a third of the pressure, and three times the joy. Each of us are the heads of our bands that are named after ourselves, so everything reflects back to not only who you are as an artist, but who you are as a person. This is more about a thing that we’ve made externally, and we can just celebrate the thing. It isn’t as much about who I am, so I can be proud of it by looking at it.”

Bridgers: “I feel like I got onstage for the Boygenius set and was like, Fun!”

Baker: “I haven’t felt like that in a long time. Now I’m getting emotional. But I haven’t felt like that really since I played house shows.”

Dacus: “Same. I’m like, How did the Ryman feel like a house show?”

Baker: “Yo! But it did.”

In just a few hours, they’ll be playing together again, albeit to many more eyes, while making their late-night debut—a big deal in every sense, and something the singers are still trying to wrap their minds around.“Something happened that has happened to me before, where if there is something that seems like the craziest thing that could happen to anybody ever and you can’t imagine ever being in that place and it happens to your friends, you feel so happy for them,” Dacus says. “And then when it’s happening to you, you’re like, This is pretty normal. Most bands have been on TV. Or you just see the nitty-gritty, or the fact that we had to be up at 3:30 a.m. to be here. I find myself diminishing it. I’m trying to practice getting out of that, and being like, This is really sick.”

“I have a thing where I’m like, This will be a great memory,” adds Bridgers.

“The issue with me is not necessarily diminishing the weight of it, but it’s an abnormality that I find in the negative, because it’s daunting,” says Baker. “So I’m unable to think, This is really exciting, because I’m anxious about pulling off the right notes. Then I do this thing where I’m like, If I can push my way through this, I’ll be like, Whoa, that was fun.… Sometimes I get too far inside my head during a performance and I’ll forget where I’m at. But I’ve been doing that because I’m trying to notice when I’m freaking out, and to tell myself to be where you are and enjoy.”

The following night, the tour will continue, with a sold-out show at Brooklyn Steel, where they’ll take the stage just as midterm results begin to roll in. “I’ve settled in to the idea that this is going to be the craziest night of the tour, because either way, the emotions are going to be wild,” says Dacus. “It feels like everyone will be going through it in a major way that is specific to them.”

Baker has some experience with the feeling. “I don’t know if we’ve ever talked about this, but I was on tour with Kevin Devine and Petal, and we had a show the night of the presidential election. It was fucking rough. I looked at how it was going right before I went onstage, and it was looking bad. And as I was playing, I could tell that people were looking at their phones and getting bummed, and I just started crying and cut my set six songs short and walked offstage.

“But with this election—I’m trying to think how to put this,” she continues. “I didn’t think the worst thing was going to happen with the presidential election, but now that we’ve been sorting through the aftermath for all the time that we have, I feel much more prepared, if the results are disheartening, to regroup. I feel like I have much more elasticity after being made aware of how wrong it can go, and how much people can respond to that. I have a little more resilience to deal with that now, the most unfortunate resilience.”

Another wave of steady silence falls over the non-escape room, which feels like the wrong way to conclude an otherwise very fun interview. So let’s end on a good note: It was just announced that another very famous group of female musicians, the Spice Girls, are getting back together.

Baker: “But Posh Spice is not in it? How are you going to have the Spice Girls with no Posh Spice? Are they going to have a replacement Posh?”

Dacus: “Spice Girls could be like the Dead, and just be an entity.”

Bridgers: “Or just have John Mayer do it.”