EVEN IF you take away the band's striking visual element, the songs on Lucius' debut album speak perfectly well for themselves. Wildewoman is full of finger-snapping, inventive tunes that echo girl-group sounds, Motown beats, and candy floss '80s pop. It also has room for art-skewed vocal and instrumental experiments in the vein of Dirty Projectors, as well as a back-porch torch song (the devastating "Go Home") with moaning slide guitar supporting tumultuously gorgeous harmonies from co-lead vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig.
Wolfe and Laessig's twinned voices are the easiest touchstone for Lucius' ear-grabby sound. The two, who met at Berklee College of Music in Boston, share the mic on every track, their voices enmeshed in spine-tingling harmony. "Individually, we have completely different voices, but when we're together, something happens automatically," says Wolfe. "It wasn't something that we worked to make happen. Our voices just fit so well together."
The other three components that make Lucius whirr like a precision-tuned watch are multi-instrumentalists Dan Molad, Peter Lalish, and Andrew Burri, who split a drum kit between them, and add vocals and guitars to Wolfe and Laessig's voices and keyboards. The band formed in Brooklyn after Wolfe and Laessig left Boston and moved into a huge old house in the Ditmas Park neighborhood.
"Holly and I had been working on new songs for a while, and we had stumbled upon this house on Craigslist," says Wolfe. "We didn't know anything about the history of the house, just that it was an old Victorian and it was big enough for many of us to live there in something of a communal situation. We walk into the house and there are all these vintage organs and a grand Steinway piano in the living room from the '20s and a recording studio in the basement. We had no idea about the rich history of the house. We spent the next couple years living there and writing on that piano."
They've since moved on ("after a couple years, you realize two and a half bathrooms and one kitchen is not enough for 10 people," Wolfe says), but that incubation period led to not just Lucius' sound, but the band's carefully cultivated image. In performance, Wolfe and Laessig dress alike, in matching makeup and hair, standing opposite each other on stage. It's a simple but effective dramatic gesture, elevating their performance to theater.
"We wanted to play up this theme of duality, to have two voices as one," explains Wolfe. "When you look at the stage, we don't want you to see one person, we want you to see a unit. We're moving together and we're singing together and all these things—we wanted it to feel and look as cohesive as it felt when you're listening to us play. Holly and I have always been inspired by artists with a strong visual presence, like Björk and David Bowie and Prince. For us, there is a theatrical aspect to music. It's got peaks and valleys, it's got a lot of movement, and we wanted to reflect that. And it makes for automatic unification even before we get onstage, as a group—the two of us and the five of us. We're automatically connected because we're wearing the same things. We're not thinking about how we look individually, we're thinking about how we can connect as a unit."
It's pop art at its boldest and brashest, rendered in primary colors and uplifting melodies. The high point of Lucius' live set comes when the band climbs off the stage, entering the crowd and performing without microphones or amplification. It's yet another theatrical gesture that's defined by its very lack of artifice. And it's highlighted by the perfectly reticulated voices of Wolfe and Laessig.
"We're really lucky," Wolfe says of the pair's collaboration. "We have so many similar influences and I think we're both very open-minded people, and we tend to like a lot of the same things, musically and otherwise. We're both drawn to bold colors, and striking imagery, and geometry, and feminists, and men who are feminists. There are so many things that we connect on, and we're lucky that we're able to relate and that we each have ideas that are cohesive. It makes things easy."