Jess Wolfe of Indie Pop Band Lucius Reflects on Their Past, Present, and Future in Boston
Best friends Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig first performed as Lucius back in 2007 inside the Paradise Lounge, a section of the Paradise Rock Club that has since ceased to host shows separate from the venue’s main room. At the time, Wolfe and Laessig had yet to meet permanent band members Danny Molad, Peter Lalish, and Andrew Burri, and were accompanied by a cast of rotating musicians instead.
It was a Wednesday night during finals period for nearby universities. About 78 or 79 people had shown up. Filled with excitement, Wolfe and Laessig neglected to look at their contract until the end of the night, when, as they tried to collect their money, they learned that in order to get paid, 80 people had to have shown up for their show.
“So that was our first lesson in music business,” said Wolfe in a phone interview last week from California, where, fresh off a tour in Europe, she was spending Thanksgiving with family and lounging around in pajamas instead of the retro-inspired attire she and Laessig are known to sport on stage. “But that was our first show and it was pretty exciting.”
Since then, the band has returned to Boston a handful of times, most recently to open for Tegan and Sara at the Citi Wang Theatre in July and to play at the Boston Calling Music Festival in September. On Thursday, they will headline a sold-out show at The Sinclair in Cambridge, in support of their recently released debut full-length album Wildewoman. But their beginnings also lie in Boston. At a college party a few years ago, Wolfe and Laessig, who attended Berklee College of Music at the time, began discussing their mutual love for The Beatles and David Bowie over red wine.
“The next morning, we got together and started working on music and writing and never looked back,” recalled Wolfe. “That’s sort of a golden rule we have—if it’s working and it feels right, don’t question it. I think we never really doubted ourselves.”
For both Wolfe and Laessig, Berklee—and Boston, by extension—provided a nurturing environment in which they could develop a distinctive sound.
“I know a lot of musicians don’t have the same feeling about music school, but for us, we both had a difficult time in high school and middle school—we were loners and weird kids and always had our own paths that we were creating for ourselves,” said Wolfe. “When we went to [Berklee], it was the first time we felt like we were part of a community. I don’t know if it’s [something about] Boston, but for us it was Boston—it brought such a release and it was such a powerful time for us as young women.”
After graduation, Wolfe and Laessig moved to Ditmas Park, a Brooklyn neighborhood heavily populated by fellow musicians, where they met Danny Molad—whom Wolfe is now married to—Peter Lalish, and Andrew Burri, all of whom had attended Berklee years before. It was only after the five of them began recording songs, which Wolfe and Laessig had spent years writing and were faced with the prospect of playing live, that the permanent lineup was finalized. Thus, Lucius as it is now is the result of a somewhat backward process.
“We’re a really strong unit—the five of us all together,” said Wolfe. “It just feels like you’re on the road with your family, which is really comforting and also can drive you crazy. But we’re really lucky that we’re able to be together all the time and not get sick of each other. I think it’s a testament to what types of relationships we have.”
The tight-knit bond, especially between Wolfe and Laessig, translates into the band’s music. Rather than trading off songs or lines within a song, they share the lead vocals, often singing in unison. The result is vastly different from the music of their record label mates Metric and Sleigh Bells, for example, both known for their energetic frontwomen. With Lucius, you get two.
“Holly and I are sort of like the yin and the yang. Where she has strengths, I have weaknesses, and where I have strengths, she has weaknesses and we really see that in each other. We just have an easy relationship,” said Wolfe. “We just really respect each other and we come from completely different backgrounds, but we have very similar parallel experiences and we’ve been able to relate to each other in a way that I can’t imagine relating to anyone else. There was just an automatic kinship when we started making music together.”
The visuals of Lucius’s live shows serve to emphasize the symmetry of their music as well. In addition to their matching hairdos and retro outfits—which Wolfe and Laessig coordinate without help from a stylist and refer to as “dressing the sound”—Molad’s drum kit is scattered on stage, allowing the other band members to contribute playing percussion.
“You’re creating a visual and aural world and it’s really important that they’re all aligned with one another,” said Wolfe. “We want to transport ourselves and we want to transport other people.”
As they embark on a new tour with supporting acts that include Boston-based bands Kingsley Flood and You Won’t, the band looks forward to playing to a familiar crowd.
“Boston’s such a loyal crowd. We definitely have at least 20 of the same people coming every time,” said Wolfe.
And while The Sinclair is a relatively new venue and one that Lucius members neither played before nor frequented during their time at Berklee—when they would hang out at the Middle East or attend parties in Allston—the band is enthusiastic about the sense of intimacy that its relatively small capacity could provide.
“There’s a part of me that loathes playing these huge, huge, huge rooms. You can’t really make the same connection that you do when you have 600 people. I want to feel people sweat. I want there to be that strong connection where you can actually feel somebody in the same space with you,” said Wolfe, who nevertheless admits that she dreams of one day playing at the 2,700-seat Orpheum Theatre. “We really thrive playing live—it’s where we can connect with an audience and that’s everything to us. I think people feel that—I hope they can feel that.”
Lucius will headline a sold-out show at The Sinclair on December 5.