Lucy’s Nursery-Raps Are No Joke
It’s a wet winter night and fifty bodies fill the basement. We clump into small groups, nursing 40s, murmuring, leering, judging, and recharging for the next act. A man with shiny sweatpants and blonde hair bursting out of a headband weaves through the crowd and plugs his laptop into the monitors. Suddenly, with a theatrical yowl, he announces, “Cooper is my name, and music is my game!” GarageBand stock noises clank across the basement. He leaps, twists, and wiggles in front of the circumspect crowd.
I feel like a parent watching my son, deep in his own fantasy world, fearlessly showing me the new “move” he made up. By the time the chorus repeats, the crowd is right with him: “Cooper is my name, and music is my ga-a-a-ame!”
This is how most people fall in love with Lucy, the Massachusetts cult-favorite singer/producer. Born Cooper Handy in Cape Cod, he’s charming, proud, sweet, and honest. His music is rambunctious, cheerful, and unforgettable. He looks like he leapt out of a science textbook, and he sings like it too. Including work he’s made with his punk band, Taxidermists, Lucy—which stands for Love Unity Communication Yes?—has released 21 projects since 2011. Eight of them are volumes of a series named after the default file name of his GarageBand sessions: Cooper B. Handy’s Album.
Including favorites like “Lucky Stars” and “Taste of Soap,” Lucy songs are filled with old sayings, familiar idioms, and life mottos. It’s about as fundamental as music can get. In fact, it’s so by-the-book that it’s damn near outsider music. We’re not used to being thanked for listening to a song, as a lyric, in the very song that we’re listening to, as Lucy does in “Turbulence”. We’re not used to confident musicians being openly curious about life. We’re not used to intentions this pure.
What we are used to though, is a music industry that attempts to manufacture the appeal that Lucy incidentally exudes. And although he “wishes them good luck with that,” and I believe he means it, Lucy titled his new album “The Music Industry Is Poisonous.” It’s also his first ever release under a record label. Obviously, this paradox raises questions. I interviewed Lucy to get some answers.
GABE ALLANOFF: Why did you name your studio debut “The Music Industry Is Poisonous”?
LUCY: I’d been thinking of that album title for a while, but I was like, “I’d only call an album that if it were to be released on a label, as a funny experiment.” In the beginning, people were like, “Hey, that might be offensive to the people helping you out with this. It might be, like, not good.” But I was like, “It’s just a thing!” If I saw a record at a record store that was called that, I would probably pick it up, even if I didn’t buy it. You know what I mean? Like, what the heck?
ALLANOFF: Do you think it’s possible for the music industry to be unpoisoned?
LUCY: I think it’s poisonous in and of itself. I think music is great, and many things that come with music are the best, but I don’t think there was ever a point where the music industry was not poisonous. As far as being an industry, or a money-maker, I think there’s always bad things and people getting the shitty end of deals.
ALLANOFF: Would you like to have mainstream popularity, or would you rather stay a cult favorite?
LUCY: Well, if I’m ever in a position where one of my songs could become a radio banger without me having to sacrifice too much, I’d definitely be down. I think some of my songs are pretty normal. If I had the right formula at some point, and that happened, I’d be down because I love the radio.
ALLANOFF: What do you like about the radio?
LUCY: It makes me like big artists in a way that I probably wouldn’t otherwise, like Roddy Ricch. Last year, he was on a lot, and at first I was like, “What’s the deal with this?” Then, after hearing that shit three or four times a day while driving around, I was like, “Oh, this is kind of amazing.” And now I’m probably going to remember that song forever because the radio burned it into my brain.
ALLANOFF: I also love the radio because it lets you relinquish control of what you’re listening to, even for just a moment. It gives you a healthy break from curated playlists and songs that already have memories attached.
LUCY: The playlist thing is crazy. That’s all new to me, as of this release. I didn’t have a Spotify until they were putting my stuff on Spotify. I recently made one just to monitor it, but I still don’t really use it. I’ll go to YouTube for music before anything else. The playlist thing is hard for me to wrap my head around as the thing to focus on, as far as getting your music heard.
ALLANOFF: I think it’s well-intended, but algorithmically recommending people new music based on their listening data is creating stylistic echo chambers, on the creation side and the listening side. Giving computer code divine power over the culture is pretty dangerous.
LUCY: That’s kind of how I feel too.
ALLANOFF: I’m so happy to see you collaborating with Surf Gang on “INTOUCH” and “COMPATIBLE.” They’re the most exciting and talented group out now, in my opinion.
LUCY: Yeah! They have a really well-rounded team. I think their production is a period piece of this time. And they really helped sculpt this whole sound that everyone—like, huge artists—are now using. When I heard the new Playboi Carti record, I was like, “These beats are wanting to be Surf Gang beats.” Their shit is just next level. Like Baby Sosa—her music on its own is kind of groundbreaking for pop. No one’s making hard music like that.
ALLANOFF: What do you have coming up?
LUCY: I have a bunch of evilgiane beats that I’ve been working on, and I hope to do something with them after this time period is up for this record. I’d honestly like to do a short tape with him or something, but we’ll see. I have a collaboration album with Gods Wisdom that’s done, and he’s like, “When are we going to put that out?” And then I have this punk band, Taxidermists, that I’ve been in for a long time, and we have an album that also needs to get released. I’m just sitting on a lot of music, so I think if I go back to unsigned life, it might be a cool way to quickly put a lot of shit out there. And then maybe I’d sign after that, but in the meantime, I’ve got to work with people, and see if I can work with other producers too, in a low-key Gmail type way.
ALLANOFF: I miss being able to go to your shows, with the sing-a-longs, and a bunch of people in a basement rapping nursery rhymes together. And your dance routines always blow everyone away. Do you practice your moves beforehand?
LUCY: No, I don’t. In like 2014 or 2015, when I started doing solo shows, I didn’t have moves down, but I would be active. It was moreso circling around, kind of like a hardcore frontperson. And then over the past five years or so, it became more comfortable to dance to the music. I end up doing different moves for different songs. It’s kind of fun, but definitely not planned out.
ALLANOFF: How does Cooper differ from Lucy?
LUCY: I don’t really think there is any difference. For the past bunch of years, I’ve been like, “Should I just change the project to my actual name?” And I always end up siding against it, just because I want to keep them separate as names. But there are no things that I say in my songs that aren’t part of my normal life. It’s not a character, it’s just my stage name.
ALLANOFF: In Pitchfork’s review of The Music Industry Is Poisonous, they say a ton of really nice things about your lyrics and beats, and then they end it with “You kind of don’t believe him at all.” How does it make you feel when people don’t take you seriously, or even interpret your music as a joke?
LUCY: Well, I was really stoked on that review, besides the part that’s like “I can’t tell if it’s a joke” or “it might come off as a comedy bit,” or something like that. That’s something I try to avoid. I’m definitely down to have a humorous element, but there’s a whole realm of funny music that I’m trying to not make. But it could be good that it’s funny, too. Most popular hip-hop music now has a lot of one-liners and things that are funny. But because I’m not really a rapper, those things are more magnified. If you hear a rap song that has a bunch of really quirky, funny lines in a hard flow, people aren’t going to be like, “Oh, this is hilarious.” They’re going to be like, “This is hard.” So I’m trying to be somewhere in between. I’m fine if people get a kick out of it, and that’s a good thing in the big picture, but I don’t want to go down in history as, like, you know, silly.
Here’s a first look at Lucy’s spooky new music video for “Believe” from The Music Industry Is Poisonous.