On 'the record,' boygenius' friendship has never been stronger
Musicians Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus all have big solo careers, but they joined forces a few years back on a joint project. And it's clear from the moment NPR talked to them that they are entirely in sync.
As a band, the members call themselves boygenius, which in 2018 released its first music together in the form of a six-song, self-titled EP. Fans have been begging for more ever since, and now the band is back with a full-length record, the record.
All three members joined Weekend Edition to talk about writing songs about the power of friendship, being called a "supergroup" and the joys of pressing the button that tells you not to press it.
The following interview has been condensed and edited. To listen to the audio version, click the link above.
Miles Parks, Weekend Edition: I was hoping we could actually start with the "supergroup" moniker. What do you guys think of that title?
Phoebe Bridgers: I like it better than "side project."
Julien Baker: Yeah, I feel like side projects are when a person from an already successful band wants to do something obscure or a little bit more esoteric and make, like ... dub jams for a little while.
Bridgers: Something less fun.
That's what I couldn't tell. Like, does "supergroup" trivialize it? Or does it not trivialize? Because this music is obviously an amazing album.
Bridgers: I think it only trivializes it because contextually there aren't very many cool supergroups. I think there are some great ones, but you need the context of the people's solo work for it to be cool. There aren't a lot of supergroups that are greater than the sum of their parts, I don't think. And I think we're the tightest.
One of the themes that I hear a lot as I've listened to this record is digging into intimacy. That lyric [on "Emily I'm Sorry"] — "I can feel myself becoming someone only you could want" — really plays on this kind of two sides of intimacy. It's obviously really nice to be close to somebody, but it can sort of shine a light on the parts of you that maybe you don't love. Phoebe, what are your thoughts on that?
Bridgers: It's clearly self-deprecating, but it's also a dig at the other person.
Lucy Dacus: I always thought that that line is the essential context for the chorus because it's like the person convinced you of the lie. It's like when you're feeling like, "Oh actually, you are the only person." That's why you're like, I'm sorry. Because it's like, you're my one chance at being loved, which is what toxic people want you to believe. I've had that experience where someone's like, this is the best you're going to get.
Bridgers: "No one's gonna love you like I do." Exactly. Please, never again. [Laughs]
Baker: Because no one else sees how despicable you are. They're like, no one else sees the real you — and if other people saw the real you, they wouldn't love you.
I want to talk about [the song "$20"]. That line, "It's a bad idea and I'm all about it," can encompass so much of your music, Julien, in terms of trying to understand some self-destructive tendencies. I wonder why are you all about it?
Baker: [Laughs] Why am I all about it? What's more fun than pressing the button that says, "Don't press this button?"
Baker: What is it about me?! That's been my perpetual struggle since I was like 5 years old of trying to not be that guy and I guess trying to interrogate what is it within myself that's looking for a more sensational, extreme feeling than what would be like a healthier, more stable practice. Like, how do I arrive at that? I just wrote that part and that riff and then sent it to them. And then Phoebe and Lucy extrapolated it into a whole entire story and setting.
I want to turn to you, Lucy, and talk about this awesome short song called "Leonard Cohen" on the album that opens with this kind of vignette [about driving]. Can you just tell the story of the opening of "Leonard Cohen"?
Dacus: After our first writing trip together in April of 2021, we were in — [Laughs] I keep calling it "Upstate California" — Northern California and driving back to L.A., and Phoebe was like, "Oh my God, have y'all not heard "The Trapeze Swinger" by Iron and Wine?" She got on the interstate the wrong way, and I noticed part way through the song, but she was so serious.
She was like, "Y'all need to shut up and listen to this." It was not gonna be okay to interrupt the moment. It's like a 10-minute song or maybe more. Julien and I were like, "That was awesome, um, you're going to have to turn around though."
Bridgers: It's just funny to me that if anybody interrogates that lyric, the only way that it happened is if you're in a Tesla. No missed exit would add an hour. The giant iPad was screaming at us to turn around. And I wasn't.
I was talking to our great critic at NPR Music, Marissa Lorusso, and I was just asking her what she thought about the album. She was saying one of the things she loved so much about this record is that many of your songs are about friendship and viewing friendship as a love that's worth writing about. Can you talk about why that's something worth writing about?
Dacus: I just had a realization that we're doing the "historically close friends" thing.
Bridgers: Yes. We're Eleanor Roosevelt.
Dacus: You know how like people don't say "lesbian." They just say just "being historically close friends." [Laughs] But I don't know, friendship is something that I think about a lot. My life is defined by my friends. I feel like there's maybe some good media about friendships, but not a ton.
Romance also has typical touchstones, whereas every friendship is so unique. I kind of feel like there's even more there to play with. So why aren't people doing it? It doesn't feel like a hack subject. The way that I've been writing a lot of love songs recently and I feel myself being like, this is overplayed or this isn't profound in the slightest, but I can pick any one of my friends and write something that is just completely unique to them.
One of the other moments I really loved on the album was at the end when you reference the "Me & My Dog" melody from the first EP. Full disclosure, [I] got some chills. How did you decide to do that?
Bridgers: I just started writing a song that I was like, god, I have to stop writing this. It's just exactly "Me & My Dog." Then I was like, wait, I am making a boygenius album. I have a problem with that, just kind of not being done writing a song. Once you crack the code of phonetically and rhythmically how to write in a song's world, once I'm done is when I'm the best at it, and that sucks.
To be able to write a sequel song was so magical. Then Lucy suggested — because I was like, "I'm feeling like this and I'm feeling like this and I'm feeling this" — what if you just say, "I want to be happy?" And I was like ... [pretends to sob.]
Dacus: It's the saddest thing Phoebe's ever said.
Bridgers: And you get through the entire record before you realize we're referencing anything we've done or any similar ideas even. I was really excited for people to be like, "Wait, what? Is it about to be? It is about to be that!"
It sounds like you guys are having a lot of fun writing these songs and playing them. There was a lot of anticipation [after] the EP about whether there would be a full length and then here it is. What's the plan for the band going forward?
Bridgers: I feel like it's hard to answer that question because we're so excited about having done this.
Dacus: There's no plan, because all the plans we're making are about this right now.
Bridgers: Because we're living in it.
Baker: Yeah, that's true.
Dacus: We did say, we're gonna give this year to each other. We all have our own things, and so carving out a whole year is a lot. I think that's part of people's interaction with the band — extreme presence and gratitude, which is what we also have. We're all on the same page that this is an unexpected treat from life. ... I think that's part of why it's good to feel present.
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