Set among warehouses in the shadow of a Budweiser brewery, Sound City is one of Los Angeles’s classic recording studios. Founded in 1969, the studio has seen a slew of rock and heavy metal bands, but it’s also hosted Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Mavis Staples. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers set up shop there for more than twenty years.
And for a few days last June, Sound City became the spot where three of indie rock’s most acclaimed and visceral young singer-songwriters—Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus—carved out time to create boygenius, whose debut six-song, self-titled EP is one of 2018’s best records.
Each of the singers possesses her own distinct sound: Bridgers’s ethereal lilt, Baker’s whisper-to-a-scream dynamics, and Dacus’s warm, rich tone. When they’re stacked together, the harmonies are sublime. On “Me & My Dog,” Bridgers takes the breathy lead into a chorus that swells like nineties stars Wilson Phillips if they had eaten at the misfits table in high school. The tension on the Baker-led “Stay Down” increases with each note before reaching a stunning crescendo. For the finale, “Ketchum, ID,” the trio recorded while singing around one mic in the studio’s lounge. “I’ve always wanted to do a Carter Family–type thing,” Bridgers says, referring to the deeply influential country act.
The oldest of the group at twenty-four, Bridgers was born and raised in Los Angeles, while Baker and Dacus—who are both twenty-three—hail from the South. Baker grew up in Memphis in a religious household. She played in punk bands and went through fits of rebellion while wrestling with questions about her faith. When she was seventeen, she came out to her parents, deathly afraid it would shatter their relationship. But instead, her father paged through his Bible looking for verses that promoted acceptance.
Dacus was raised outside of Richmond by adoptive parents and has sifted through her own questions of identity in her songwriting. She met Baker in 2016 while opening for her at a show in Washington, D.C., and the two were drawn to each other immediately, something Baker says comes from a shared Southern upbringing steeped in family and storytelling. “Everyone I know has a predilection for sharing words,” Baker says, “and Lucy has such a deep, intuitive familiarity. It’s very easy to be open with her. I think she’s interested in everyone’s story and why people are the way they are.”
Bridgers had also joined Baker on tour in 2016, and while they had all felt a strong sense of kinship, the boygenius sessions marked the first time the three had played together. In addition to their musical sensibilities, the trio share the experience of head-spinning career arcs, with their solo efforts catapulting them from playing shows in front of small crowds to packed clubs and prime opening slots for the likes of Jason Isbell and the National. “There was already a shorthand established for not only where each person was in their career, but the journey,” Baker says. “It’s rare to find someone who you can articulate those feelings to.”
At Sound City, each came prepared with one song, but as ideas ping-ponged among them, new material emerged. All three maintain that the three days at the studio were some of the most creatively fulfilling they’ve ever had. “There was no hierarchy in there,” Bridgers says. “No idea was too dumb. There were no dudes in there arguing with us over what to do.” (The boygenius moniker seems in part a sly wink toward their having worked with men who think they know everything.)
“Every time I got home from the studio, I would jog around the block to get out some energy,” Dacus adds. “I felt high. We’ve coalesced in a really powerful way.”