Ever since forming their band Lucius in 2009, singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig have strived for a look and sound uniquely their own. They paired their combined singing prowess with the ensemble’s dynamic pop melodies and started donning identical outfits and hair styles (or wigs).
That formula has proven to be a winning one. For the past five-plus years, the band has relentlessly toured the world and sold out many of their shows, many of which are characterized by having an electric and loud sound. But recently, Wolfe and Laessig realized the potent energy they had when they stripped songs to their essence.
Lucius: An Intimate, Acoustic Performance With: Ethan Gruska When: 8:30 p.m. March 13 Where: Thalia Hall, 1807 South Allport Tickets: Sold Out Info: thaliahallchicago.com
“There’s a moment in the set where we strip everything away and have this intimacy with our crowd,” Wolfe says. “Sort of to create a moment and connect with them. It’s that moment of the show that’s really precious time. I think people really relate to it and gravitate toward that particular time in our show.”
That feeling was so overwhelming that they wanted to take that moment and make it into an album and take that album on the road for an acoustic tour.
“It gives us the opportunity to play all these incredible theaters all over the country where we can have that moment for the entire hour and a half to two hours,” says Wolfe. “It’s a dream.”
The resulting album, entitled “NUDES,” was released earlier this month. They recorded the album’s ten tracks, which put Wolfe and Laessig’s soulful voices front and center, over a couple of days at Electric Lady Studios in New York City. The collection features three new songs, four reimagined songs from their catalog and three covers.
In addition, the album features a couple of collaborations: Wilco’s Nels Cline on “Million Dollar Secret” and Pink Floyd legend Roger Waters on folk standard “Goodnight Irene.” Interacting with other artists is nothing new for the duo as they’ve become in-demand musicians. In addition to touring and recording with Waters, they’ve worked with artists such as The War On Drugs, John Legend, Mavis Staples, Jeff Tweedy, Nathaniel Rateliff, Lukas Nelson and David Byrne.
“We feel privileged to collaborate with the people we admire so deeply, in places that are inspiring and historic,” Wolfe says. “These experiences are special and precious and significant in our lives.”
“Good Night Irene” stands out from the rest as it was recorded using a telephone recording booth. The song was a staple of the band’s early shows and one they still jam on during late-night jam sessions. Wolfe says she likes the vinyl-like sound that is a “crackling, crispy, beautiful sound.” It’s just one of the many experiences they’ve had working with Waters.
“He’s somebody who is thinking about every moment of the show and thinking of how to make it special for his audience,” says Wolfe. “The music informs the visual and that’s something significant in our own band and show. He’s the guy that kind of invented rock theater. So, for us, it was very inspiring and creatively stimulating.”
They had a similar feeling working with Cline. His artful guitar strumming on “Million Dollar Secret” gave the song a jolt that differentiates it from the moodier version featured on hit HBO series “Girls.”
“We had collaborated with Wilco a few different times,” says Laessig. “We’ve been in touch over the years and thought it would be cool if he could come play and add something new on the song.”
They’ve enjoyed their many visits to Chicago over the years. They enjoyed singing “Jesus, etc.” with Jeff Tweedy at the Metro and recording with the singer at The Loft. During the recent Waters show in Chicago, they backed Eddie Vedder as he sang “Comfortably Numb.” They also got to watch a Cubs game in actor John Cusack’s box.
Wolfe says this tour “feels so relevant and important to be part of right now.” The hope to use their experiences as they write their next album. “We’re constantly creating and on the road to so many beautiful places,” she says, “that we’re able to take a moment and take it all in and use it to fuel the fire.”
Joshua Miller is a local freelance writer.