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Desert Trip: Lucius on the daunting task of performing with Roger Waters

by James Kim | The Frame

Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius perform with Roger Waters during Desert Trip. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig started the indie pop band Lucius more than a decade ago. The band has made two albums — "Wildewoman" and "Good Grief" — and it recently released a new single called “Pulling Teeth.”

Rolling Stone magazine has compared the band to everyone from the WWII-era Andrews Sisters, '70s and '80s folk-rockers the Roches, and the '60s-era girl group the Shangri-Las. And The Guardian said their music is “the missing link” between Arcade Fire and the sister trio, Haim. 

Lucius also has a notable following, including Nobel prize-winning economist and columnist Paul Krugman and most recently, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. Wolfe and Laessig are performing with Waters at the Desert Trip music festival.

The Frame’s James Kim spoke with the duo on how they got to sing backup with the co-founder of Pink Floyd.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS: 

On how the two got on Roger Waters' radar: 

Jess Wolfe: We got a call from Jay Sweet, who runs Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island and he said, "I have this surprise guest that's gonna come and play a set at Newport. It's Roger Waters. And he asked me to find him some background singers." And I said, "I have just the girls." They flew us out there and we had one rehearsal a day before the show. 

Holly Laessig: [We were] told we should learn maybe five songs. We had written [Waters] and his manager had gotten back to us and said, You're going to be doing these two songs.  

Wolfe: So we got there and started singing and you could tell that Roger liked what he heard. He lets you know if he doesn't. And we sat down for a song that we weren't going to sing on. And he started singing and then he stops dead in his tracks and he turns his head over and he [says], "Man up." 

We were like, "Oh no! We weren't told to sing on this song. We were told just a couple songs." And he's like, "No, you're singing on every song." 

After the show, which was one of the greatest experiences for me — being up there and seeing all these people crying — the rain started pouring down for "Mother" and the clouds parted, rainbows came out of the sky. It was a pretty epic experience. And the next day [Waters] had written us this beautiful email saying, "We're brothers and sisters now. We'll do it again." Six months later he wrote us and said, "So, there's this crazy thing happening in Coachella Valley. You wanna be a part of it?" 

On the most difficult Pink Floyd song to perform:

Laessig: The most daunting and challenging, but has turned out to be great, is "The Great Gig in the Sky." 

When we were initially presented with that, it was kind of, Okay, what is the balance there? Because you want to keep some of the moments that people are going to be expecting and love and make it what it is. But you also want to do your own thing. 

We wanted to make our imprint and luckily [Waters] was very welcoming of that. But it was a daunting task and it ended up being good in the end. 

On trying to make these songs their own: 

Wolfe: It's different singing your own songs and your own arrangements. But when you're a part of something that is as iconic as this is, and people really know every moment of every song because they've grown up with these records, you want to serve it well. 

But you also want to turn their heads and try and do something that brings a new life to it in some way. Because, otherwise, what's the point? It would be a mistake to try and replicate something that wasn't ours. 

Lucius will release its latest single, "Pulling Teeth," on vinyl on Nov. 25. 

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