Seeing Double: Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius
When Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig sing together, they sing together. Their voices and movements match each other so succinctly, so poetically, that you can’t help but believe they share the same blood. Surely they’re siblings or cousins or, at the very least, best friends.
They are, in fact, the latter. Wolfe and Laessig are the glue that cements the Brooklyn indie-pop quintet Lucius, an ensemble eight years in the making (though they only settled on their current lineup two years ago). With vocal arrangements that crash in, swoop you up and churn you around like a tornado, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the frontwomen met at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Wolfe recalls one night in particular during their second year at school when she and Laessig got into a splendidly booze-fueled conversation about all the bands and sounds they grew up with. “We started talking and just kind of bonded over the musical influences that we loved: old-school soul, ’60s rock ’n’ roll,” says Wolfe. “I don’t think either of us were interested in [performing this music] alone.”
Shortly thereafter, they rearranged a Beatles tune (“Happiness is a Warm Gun”) and began composing original work, and it was hard to ignore the spark. “When we started singing together, something really special happened. We recognized it right away,” says Wolfe. “We never forced anything. Nothing was ever rushed.” A folk recording came along, and later an EP. Now, the training wheels are off, and Lucius is flying—October 15 marks the release of their debut album, Wildewoman, on Mom+Pop. It can be streamed in full on NPR First Listen. “We’ve taken our time and really had the willingness to develop what it is we wanted…or didn’t know we wanted but now we do,” Wolfe says.
After graduating from Berklee, Laessig and Wolfe moved to Brooklyn in 2007, where they met the rest of their band mates—multi-instrumentalists Dan Molad, Peter Lalish and Andrew Burri—in piecemeal fashion. A bundle of songs in tow, they first encountered Molad, an engineer and producer at the time, and now their drummer. He had recently parted ways with his band, “so we asked him if he had the time and was interested in experimenting,” Wolfe says. “We had noreal plan. We were just interested in finding something new and exciting, and he was really eager and intrigued. Through the recording process, we had a whole community of musicians playing.” Through Molad they met Lalish and a year later, Burri joined. “We started learning how to play live, the five of us as a family. It’s really a special thing when the five of us get together.”
The whole band contributed to writing the new album, though Wolfe and Laessig’s innate synchronicity facilitated the process. “There was no formula for writing,” says Laessig. “We have a weird way with similar experiences falling in and out of love and it’s very much in sync, very conducive to our songwriting habits.” Being best friends, Laessig adds, means that, “if someone couldn’t speak, the other would fill in to support. It’s a special thing.”
While Laessig and Wolfe are serendipitous soul sisters, none of what happens during their nostalgic stage act is by chance. From a flick of their arms to the swaying of their torsos, their momentarily locked gazes to the perfectly-timed grins, everything is plotted and all is one. The mirror effect is completed by the ladies’ identical flared floral dresses, bow-garnished updos and retro makeup. “We liked this idea of two people, one voice, same outfit,” says Laessig. “It’s a symmetrical thing visually and an automatic visual representation of the sound. It captures [the audience’s] attention, and hopefully after [the initial impression] they don’t think about it so much as a [separate] thing as an addition to what’s already there.”
On Friday, September 5, Laessig and Wolfe were enjoying their final moments at home in an atmosphere Wolfe describes as “about as small-town as you can get in Brooklyn.” It was the calm before the touring storm: Lucius would be playing Boston Calling Music Festival that Saturday, a show in Connecticut on Sunday and filming the music videos for two Wildewoman singles (the bouncy “Hey Doreen” and harmony-ridden “Tempest”) Monday through Thursday.
Over the course of the next few months, Lucius will perform in locales ranging from Texas to Belgium. “Playing cities we’ve never played and the rooms are full, that’s a testament that people are listening and finding something in us that they connect to, that they’re curious about,” says Wolfe. “It’s really the thing that we are most grateful for: being on the road, building those relationships in different cities. It’s the most thrilling and rewarding thing.”
And their momentum is only going to keep building. The girls recently shot photos for women’s lifestyle brand Anthropologie, which is now selling the eponymous “Lucius Lace Shift.”
To think these style icons and fiercely talented musicians were once concerned about how they would be perceived is perplexing. Even selecting a proper band name was a struggle. “At the time when we first started writing, we were like, ‘It has to be something dark and mysterious, has to sound sexy,’” explains Wolfe. “Like The Pixies.” However mysterious, dark or sexy the band’s name might initially sound, however, its origin is anything but: Lucius was actually the name of Wolfe’s long-deceased English bulldog, who possessed a crooked underbite and the unfortunate tendency to run into walls.
There is some confusion about other bands called Lucius, which could perhaps raise the mystery quotient. Laessig insists there’s a hardcore Norwegian metal band out there named Lucius, or maybe Uncle Lucius.
Wolfe shrugs it off. “There’s only one Jess and Holly Lucius.”