The Berklee Band That Didn’t Meet Until After Berklee: Lucius [INTERVIEW]

Photo credit: Peter Larson.
Photo credit: Peter Larson.

Photo credit: Peter Larson.

By Robbie Simmons

A series of changed plans found me in the back seat of Brooklyn-based indie quintet Lucius’ tour van, listening to Spirit Kid’s song “You Lit Up For Me,” and discussing the many changes in the area around Berklee College of Music since the band themselves had been students. They reminisced over their favorite places to eat (“Is Crazy Dough’s still there? How about that Indian buffet?” Wow, Little Stevie’s got a makeover!”) before we made a U-turn of questionable legality across Boylston Street and headed towards Cambridge for their show at the Middle East Downstairs with Pearl and the Beard and You Won’t.

Having seen Lucius once live and listened to their four-song EP (available on iTunes) an embarrassing number of times, I was experiencing a certain amount of fan-boy reverence as I climbed into their Ford Econoline. But upon entering the (surprisingly clean) van, I realized that this is simply a group of hard-working musicians doing what many (myself included) would refer to as “living the dream.” Sometimes groups like this can come off as “over it” or underwhelmed or bitter in some way, but not an ounce of negativity came out of Lucius during the hour or so I spent with them.

And so, after helping them load their gear into the venue, Lucius – which consists of co-lead vocalists/multi-instrumentalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, guitarists Pete Lalish and Andy Burri, and percussionist Danny Molad – and I sat down in the dressing room (Indian-style, on the floor, in a circle) and discussed the past, present and future of the band.


Berklee Groove: Tell me a little about the history of the group.

Jess Wolfe: Holly [Laessig] and I met at Berklee, and actually Danny [Molad] and Pete [Lalish] met at Berklee as well, but several years before us; none of us really knew each other. But, Holly and I started writing together like, junior year or senior year in school, and then decided to move to New York together. We lived in this big house with about eight other musician friends and started writing our first record there. After having written that record – I mean, it was our first attempt at any type of release or anything public- we just really wanted to start doing stuff that, honestly, was more fun, more exciting. And being in New York, you’re obviously inspired by everything going on around you… so we were really influenced by a lot of the artists that were in our community (or were not in our community but just that we were being exposed to) and we met these guys [in the band] just by living in the same neighborhood.  Holly and I were ready to record – I don’t even know if you’d call it a new record, but at the time we were just like, “Let’s record, let’s experiment, let’s see what happens.” There was no plan for anything and Danny had just parted ways with the band that he was in, and he wanted to record us. He was sort of the anchor in the experimentation process, and through that process brought in some of his friends, including Pete, to record with us. We weren’t really a band before the record was finished. And Andy went to Berklee as well, but only joined the band, like, seven months ago…. And really, after the first time we all played together, it was like, “Okay, well this is too good to be true.” It just makes total sense, and our first show together was really in May, so officially as this group it’s been about seven months. It’s been a long process getting there, but we’re really excited.

BG: So, how did going to Berklee prepare you for what you’re doing now?

JW: I think more than anything, it’s the people that you meet.  And I think anyone who went to Berklee, whether you hate it or love it, will say the same thing. It’s all about the relationships that you make, and that is certainly something that Berklee is the best at.

Andy Burri: It also just gets you used to being in those environments where you’re always meeting new people, new musicians, making the connection…it just gets you more comfortable with those kinds of environments.

Pete Lalish: It’s like, once you start touring, every week probably you’re going to meet a new band, or two or three bands per month and you start to make your friends that way. But school is kind of a big, heavy dose of, “Oh! Everybody’s doing the same thing.” We were all probably secluded students in high school before that, so now, you move to a major city and you see half of your school.

Holly Laessig: I always thought it was like the Blind Melon video [“No Rain”] where she finds all her other bees. That’s how I always felt.

PL: And then, after school, you realize that music is not a competition. Eventually, you lose that [feeling] the school is pushing all the time, for you to get better and better and better and then eventually you realize it’s not about that. But it’s a great place to really just focus on that.

BG: The configuration of your drums is not something that you see all the time. How did that come about?

DM: Well, it sort of grew out of two things. One, there is a part of me that always wants the “less is more” approach to everything. And then, we did a blog [performance] or a rehearsal and we said, “Why don’t we just do the show like that?” and then it evolved out of that, but now it’s really a full drum kit on stage spread amongst five people. But [we like to do] anything that brings an element of rethinking the conventionalism of pop songwriting, and [we try] to arrange things slightly differently. It’s not like we’re re-inventing the wheel or anything, it’s just trying to take a new approach to doing something.

JW: And to have fun, and to try to make it exciting for people.

BG: When I saw you in October, I caught Jess at the merch booth and asked about a full-length release coming out. You seemed a little unsure about saying next spring.

JW: Well, the goal is the spring, but we’re just waiting to finish the record, and then see how we’re going to release it. So, hopefully by then, but maybe early summer.

BG:And have you found that touring is delaying things?

HL: No, we’ve just been seeing how things are going and developing relationships, and kind of moving along naturally.

PL: Yeah, patience is an amazing thing. Putting the record out at the right time is one of the most important things.

BG: Visually speaking, your image has changed a lot from your first record to now. How has that evolved? I get the ‘60s girl group thing.

JW: I think we wanted to feel like we were being put in a certain place in time when we got onstage and have it be a reflection of what we’re doing musically, and not separate from what we are.

PL: And image is such an easy thing for bands to not realize, but such an easy thing to do. A band like Polyphonic Spree, all they do is wear a robe. It’s not a very complicated thing, but it leaves an impression in your mind and it changes the effect.

DM: And then you go back and listen to the record, and you picture that.  Then all of the sudden, it’s like, “Well, how does that relate to the lyric and the melody and all of it?” It’s all tied together.

BG: So what’s on the agenda for 2013, other than the new album?

JW: Touring.

HL: World domination.

PL: But, seriously, once the record comes out, it’s just promoting as much as possible.

JW: We’d love to be doing something in Europe, too.

AB: And South America!

HL: Everywhere.