By Cady Kuzmich
CLIFTON PARK — Just two days before taking the stage at one of the nation’s biggest music festivals, Bonnaroo, in Tennessee, Holly Laessig of the indie-pop band Lucius chatted with Your Clifton Park & Halfmoon about the band’s formation, her first concerts and the root of the band’s name.
Lucius will be playing at Clifton Park’s Upstate Concert Hall on Wednesday, June 22.
On June 8, the band was taking 10 days off from touring after playing across Europe, promoting their latest album, “Good Grief,” which features songs like “My Heart Got Caught on Your Sleeve,” “Gone Insane” and “Born Again Teen.” Some of the tracks on “Good Grief” feature urgently pounding synth sounds that call to mind St. Vincent’s latest work. Previous work such as their album “Wildewoman,” was more reminiscent of groups like Haim and musicians like Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Holly Laessig plays keys and sings along with Jess Wolfe, with whom she formed Lucius while studying at Berklee School of Music in 2005. The two often dress as twins in their performances, something which Laessig said started off as coordination but evolved into full-on matching outfits and hairstyles.
The band has since grown to a become a renowned five-piece soul-infused indie-pop band with a sound that’s both modern and reminiscent of music of a bygone era. Laessig and Wolfe’s matching orange bobs and heavy cat-eye eyeliner add to the nostalgia evoked by the band’s sound.
Laessig grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. From one generation to the next, an appreciation for the arts was constant in Laessig’s family. Her grandfather was a painter and she described her parents as artistic, though they didn’t make careers out of their art. “They’re very hardworking Midwestern parents,” she said. “We were always going to museums and shows. They exposed us to a lot of interesting things.” Laessig’s sister now works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
She first began tinkering with piano keys at age 5. Laessig began with classical piano but quit shortly after. Her grandmother left her piano to Laessig after she died. “It was there and I just started playing around on it, trying to play the sounds I was hearing on the radio. Some examples of songs Laessig learned by ear include “Angie” by the Rolling Stones, “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers, “Fallin’ ” by Alicia Keys and “Ordinary People” by John Legend. “I was obsessed with the “Labyrinth,” so I learned all the songs on the “Labyrinth” soundtrack, too,” she added.
Then, in junior high, she realized her love of singing. “I really wanted to write my own music but I didn’t know how,” she said. “I knew how to write short stories and poems. I loved to do that. I knew how to sing and play piano. I just wanted to put those things together somehow,” she added.
Laessig decided to study music at Berklee School of Music in Boston where she had the opportunity to learn from other songwriters, like future bandmate Jess Wolfe. “Our roommates were friends,” said Laessig. “We were in the same dorm building. We were just around each other in different settings and parties for awhile,” she added. The two decided to embark upon a cover project after meeting through mutual friends and discussing their musical influences. While the project began as cover music, the duo never did the cover show and almost immediately started making their own music.
When brainstorming for names, the pair created a list of about 200 names on notebook paper. “It was Jess’s dog’s name. We were going through them and most of them were absolutely terrible. We kept reading through it and realized that was the coolest one. That’s what we stuck with,” she said.
The duo met drummer Dan Molad after they played a show at the City Winery in New York City. “Danny and Pete [Lalish, the band’s guitarist]’s old band were also playing the same show. We got talking to Danny afterward and things were winding down with his other band,” according to Laessig. Then about a year later, Laessig said Molad was working on another record that Andrew Burri [guitar and drums] was working on. “We loved his playing so we snagged him. That was four years ago now,” she said.
Along with performing on what has become many new musicians’ rite of passage, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, the band has collaborated with Shenendehowa’s Color Guard last year after receiving a personal request from David Byrne asking them to get involved. The former Talking Heads frontman is apparently enamored with color guard, which he considers an “underappreciated folk art” according to a piece in the New York Times. Byrne hand-picked several musicians including St. Vincent, Nelly Furtado and the Beastie Boys, to create music for several high school color guards before a major competition.
Laessig said she still has the T-shirt the Shenendehowa team made for her. Recalling the moment they received an email from Byrne asking them to get involved, Laessig said, “We were, of course, very excited and honored.”
When Laessig was 13 years old, she went to her first concert, by Billy Idol. Within a couple weeks, she was standing at her second concert, watching Parliament Funkadelic prance around the stage in all kinds of get-up. When asked whether those performances inspired her to want to get on stage herself one day, Laessig said, “I was just thinking this is so cool, and also, what the hell is this?” she laughed.
At the time, 13-year-old Laessig didn’t know what marijuana was and noticed a strange smell pervading the venue. “I probably had a contact high,” she laughed. “They had such fantastic costumes. That was really fun,” she added.
One of her favorite bands to see live include the Flaming Lips. “They’re are always fun to see.” She has yet to see Radiohead live. “I’m really dying to see them,” she said.
Asked who she’d pick if she could tour with anyone, dead or alive, Laessig replied without hesitation: “David Bowie.”
Laessig’s dream venue would be Red Rock. “It’s epicly beautiful.” She said she’d also like to play Madison Square Garden, as well. “I was a tour guide there for a long time. It would be funny to be on the flip side. I was always working in the back, selling tickets. It would be interesting to see it from the other side.” She said she’d also like to go to Iceland and Japan.