boygenius has a cold.
Well, that’s not exactly right. It’s a sinus infection (they think). The boys have a sinus infection.
The boys. That’s how boygenius — Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus — refer to one another. Bridgers is reading Katherine Dunn’s 1989 novel “Geek Love” at the urging of the boys. Baker made chicken wings for the boys.
And the boys have a sinus infection.
It’s the Wednesday between Coachella weekends. Bridgers is at home in Pasadena. Baker and Dacus are sharing an Airbnb in Los Angeles.
One Saturday night performance at the massive desert festival is under their belts. Another is a few days hence. boygenius played a pop-up at South By Southwest and a warm-up underplay at The Fox in Pomona beforehand. But Coachella? Coachella is a different thing. Coachella is a huge thing.
“Everything was perfect: our band is amazing, we look fucking fly, the production is really cool. We were so stoked and then we’re like, ‘Oh no, this is going to make it bad. We can’t hit our notes,’ but then it turned out fine. I don’t think that the crowd really noticed and we were having so much fun,” Dacus says.
From the outside, it looked and sounded great, too, CAA’s Kevin French, who represents Dacus and Baker, said.
“I thought the Coachella set was amazing. For one, their stage design and the production blew me away. It was the first time I got to see it,” he said. “I was so impressed with what they put together on the production side. I thought they sounded amazing. … They just work so well together.”
High Road Touring’s Dave Rowan, who represents Bridgers, agrees.
“The level of detail they have gone into, no two songs are the same. “The variation is really interesting and well thought through,” he says.
boygenius is, arguably, the buzziest act in rock. In 2018, the trio – who’d shared bills and mutual admiration for years – recorded an EP. The self-titled effort was critically adored and for good reason. There was a tour. Not a boygenius tour, per se, but a triple-billed tour with the three coming together to play songs from the EP. That loop started with a near-sellout at the Ryman Auditorium Nov. 4, 2018, grossing $66,575.
Almost from that moment, they were regarded as a “supergroup.” It’s not a term they have any problem with.
“I think it’s a little bit silly but totally fine,” Dacus says. “I think we didn’t want ‘side project’ to be what people called it because that feels diminutive.”
“It does seem like it’s a loaded moniker to put on a project, because you’re nominally associating it with, like, The Yardbirds,” Baker says “I think of us just as a band. … I just think of us as a capital-b Band and that’s my favorite part of being in it.”
Bridgers chimes in.
“I don’t know, man, it just reminds me of having band practice after school with your friends from school,” she says. “It’s not just a passion project. You’re motivated to do it because of the community.”
There’s the thing that’s obvious to anyone who sees boygenius – on stage, on social media, wherever: boygenius is having a helluva good time and the boys say what’s on their mind.
Subversive playfulness undergirds the structure. Even the name is a smirk at the coddled confidence cultivated in young men told their whole lives they are special and wise. The smart, tailored suits the trio sport on stage aren’t at all the stereotypical look for folk-adjacent indie singer-songwriters, which all three are as solo acts. A billboard advertising the band’s Coachella appearance mocked the ubiquitous marketing for Southern California personal injury lawyers.
It feels vintage, in a way. Even the anticipation built around the band’s debut full-length the record felt like something from a different time. The trio wrote it 18 months ago, recorded it in the spring of 2022 and it was released – to widespread adoration and critical acclaim, debuting at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 – at the end of March. It feels like something from the ‘90s. And that’s the point … sorta.
“I can’t speak for the decade on the whole,” Dacus says. “Because I wasn’t around.”
Dacus turns 28 May 2. Bridgers is 28 and Baker is 27.
“We wanted to invoke the idea that bands are still big and in the ’90s bands were big and they aren’t big right now. So we’re playing with imagery and trying to trick people into thinking bands are still big.”
They are poking at the patriarchal milieu of the precious, precocious dude-fronted bands, punching up at it and repackaging all those preconceptions into something that’s very much of the moment.
Swirled into that playfulness is some righteousness, as well. All three women are queer and outspoken and embrace a responsibility to express their anger when marginalized groups are attacked. But there’s also a sense that living openly and joyfully is just as radical as righteous rage.
“We are joyful. We are all queer. We don’t have to perform any of that,” Dacus says. It’s important in that I would have benefited from seeing more of that growing up.”
“You are orienting yourself to the Utopia you want,” Baker says. “I can see queer people laughing and having a good time and making out at a boygenius show. It doesn’t have to be solemn. I spent so long being solemn. There’s joy around too.”
Given the hyperbolic tendency of the music press, there is a discussion of boygenius “saving rock ’n’ roll” or if the boys are the most important rock ’n’ roll band on the planet.
“We are in the middle of it and we are it, but we aren’t doing thinkpieces about ourselves,” Dacus says. “I can only engage with it as a hobbyist. We are playing rock ’n’ roll and having fun doing it.”
“I think rock ’n’ roll is gonna be fine,” Bridgers says. “I am having a great time. Kids like it. If we get to be novel by doing it … if we get to take everything we’ve ever loved and get to do it in a vacuum where there aren’t a lot of guitar-based bands on the radio, then great.”
There’s a certain perichoresis that happens in their music. Each woman is in her own right accomplished and distinctive: Baker’s Boanergic emotion, Bridgers’ intimate melancholy, and Dacus, forthright as a barroom donnybrook. All are wickedly smart songwriters, crafting barrages of emotional throat-punches literary and evocative. The resultant amalgam – boygenius – is a band of unique sonic consubstantiation, ethereal and honest and kickass rock. There’s not some consanguineous in-born harmony there, all perfect fifths — they aren’t the Wilsons (take your pick which) – but there’s just some Something.
“It’s funny intellectualizing it after, because I think we just walked into it,” Bridgers says. “It’s just part of it. It working was why we did it for whatever reason. I think the timbres of our voices are complementary, for sure, but it’s not something I thought about until way later.”
Agents French and Rowan said, even on earliest listens, there was little doubt the new music would be successful in finding its audience, making their jobs a lot easier. No small task for a band that hadn’t, in any real way, toured.
“We started plotting this thing out last summer,” Rowan said. “We were hearing some music, even though the album wasn’t done, but we knew how good it was and the trajectory everyone was on.”
“Whatever was going to happen, there’d be some element of magic,” French said. “We had a level of confidence going out underlying all the things we were going to seek, it would deliver. We didn’t have to waffle, we could be really clear.”
And when it was time to do it live, it wasn’t a matter of learning the songs all over again.
“It was learning them for the first time,” Bridgers says.
“When we were recording, we didn’t figure out all the parts,” Dacus says. “It was pieced together. So band practice was the first time we heard it happen all at once.”
But, Baker says, that approach – building songs in the studio and then figuring out how to do it for an audience – served the music better.
“It was pieced together as a studio experience and what serves the song … it’s a very rock opera experience. And then you have to reverse engineer it like a Floyd record,” she says.
There’s a massive (all-woman) band behind the boys on stage. And an astounding 96 channels used for the show.
“It’s unmistakable from the very first note that this is a rock band,” Rowan says. “The first two songs punch you in the nose.”
What was interesting – or challenging – is that the level of production opened doors the boys, individually, were not used to.
“Having less limitations sometimes is hard,” Baker says. “My immediate inclination is to say these songs are in this key and we can do some sound design to make this set sound seamless, but to understand there’s an entire creative team with their own ideas and inspirations and the only thing that informs how we place the songs is how the live set flows as a theatrical performance. It’s a wild freedom I’ve never been afforded so I was like ‘whew, uh, y’all make the set list.’ So Lucy made the setlist mostly.”
In May, Bridgers is scheduled to open 10 shows on Taylor Swift’s “Eras” tour before rejoining the boys. The band will co-headline AEG’s Re:SET series – a sort-of hybrid roadshow/traveling festival – in addition to their own amphitheater dates, concluding at Red Rocks Aug. 5, followed by a European loop.
Baker, Bridgers and Dacus are all first name-last name acts, in general. All three relish and are rightly proud of that, but being in boygenius is different. It scratches a different itch.
“I don’t feel actively lonely when I’m doing my own thing,” Dacus says. “But I feel the opposite of lonely doing this.”
Some discussion ensues about what word is “the opposite of lonely.” “Connectedness” is the best English has to offer, the boys agree, but it’s insufficient to the feeling Dacus described and which Baker and Bridgers agree they share.
“It’s easy to ask for the things I need from these guys because they don’t feel threatened,” Baker says. “I’ve known y’all for long enough to intuit what you need. … It’s nice to be fluent in caring for you.”
“We didn’t realize we were existing in a professional context until we started,” Dacus says. “We just made something and then we were like ‘What the fuck do we do?’ and that’s continued to be a part of what this band is.
“We don’t have presupposed ideas of what this should be. We’re finding out what this is along with everybody else and it allows us to have more fun and take more risks. The professionalism is influenced by the interpersonal. We work well together because we are good to each other as friends.”
Band dynamics are, famously, often fraught and messy, and in supergroups – by definition, constructed of members successful in their own right – that can be exacerbated. But why, Baker wonders?
“We work with our friends. We care for them. It’s aggressively, toxically capitalist to make a taboo out of the relationship between friendship or care and empathy and a professional economic financial security,” she says. “Those things are interdependent. You want the survival and success of your friends. That’s two things that depend on each other.”
The bonhomie is contagious, French and Rowan agree. Team boygenius has three artists, three managers, two agents and a substantial backing band and production staff and on and on.
“We are really super lucky. Everybody is wonderful,” Rowan says. “It’s as good a scenario as it could be in these circumstances and that starts with the artists. We have this great situation that is unique and special and wonderful. So much of what you see is actually what it is.”
What it is is a helluva lot of fun.