Virginia singer/songwriter Lucy Dacus forged one of 2016’s most acclaimed debuts with No Burden. Yet the album wouldn’t even have been made unless guitarist friend Jacob Blizard asked if they could record her songs as his college project.

“I would not have paid to make this album,” says Dacus, now 22, as her band winds through North Carolina toward a May 26 Boston Calling kickoff show and after-party at Great Scott. “That would break the hobby mentality for me.”

Music wasn’t her focus, although that’s what her mother teaches in elementary school, and her father plays guitar in a church band. “I was always around music, but it was never presented as a career option,” Dacus says. “It’s a labor of love.”

She studied film before deciding to quit college and tour Europe for two months. But before she left, Dacus entered a Nashville studio to record No Burden with a small band she’d only played with for a week, under Blizard’s guidance. “I’ve never taken a music class, so I don’t even know what chords I’m playing sometimes,” she says. “It’s really helpful to have somebody right by me where I can say, ‘I really want this to happen,’ and he can understand and translate it to actual sounds.”

They mixed the album with co-producer Collin Pastore while Dacus tooled around Europe. “I would download a track, make notes and send it back while we were on the train,” she says. “Recording took 20 hours, and mixing took like four months, because it was hard to have that strange, faraway communication.”

The album itself communicates quite directly, sharing universal truths in Dacus’ self-aware thoughts, sung in an unassuming yet beguiling alto. The buzz began with lead track “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” an indie-rock gem about shifting identity expectations in middle school where she sings, “I hurt my friends saying things I don’t mean out loud.”

As soon as the single premiered online, Dacus was bombarded with industry interest, about 20 indie and major labels vying to sign her. She chose Matador (home to her longtime favorites Yo La Tengo), which rereleased No Burden in September and gave fresh legs to “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore.”

“What’s funny about that song is that it took as long as the song is to write it—that full thought came out in three minutes,” Dacus says. “I’d been thinking about it for so long, that thought had finally crystalized into something I could just say instead of ponder.” That idea of spontaneous art also surfaces in the sparsely strummed “Trust,” about perfecting “the art of letting go.”

“When you’re creating something, it should be natural,” she says. “If I have to try to make something, it’s usually disingenuous. All of my work that I’m proud of are things that I don’t even feel that much ownership over, because I’ve just let them come out. The control comes when you decide how to share it, and if you’re going to share it.”

When Dacus wrote songs in her early teens, playing acoustic guitar at sleepovers, she never thought about sharing them with a wider audience. Now she muses about trying to separate her onstage and offstage life. “When you see me onstage, that’s what I’m like,” she says. “I know that can be comforting as an audience member, people being real with you, but I don’t know. I feel [like I have] less personal space.”

Nonetheless, Dacus promises to broach more difficult topics on her just-recorded second album, her first time writing with a rhythm section in mind. “The songs are richer and reach a next level in intensity,” she says of the album, which includes “Pillar of Truth,” a track that deals with her grandmother’s passing. “The album is a lot about maintaining hope in the face of loss.”

Hopefulness persists in her writing—informed, she says, by her adoption. “At an early age, it established for me that family isn’t implicit, so your life isn’t implicit,” Dacus says. “That’s a huge topic that I keep coming back to, how to decide how to live, no matter what’s happening.”

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