Lucius Weighs In On Singing Backup for Roger Waters at Desert Trip

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

Proverbially speaking, when a member of Pink Floyd tells you to get your shit together, you do it. Which is essentially how Lucius singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig ended up singing backup for the entirety of Roger Waters’ sets at dual weekends of the inaugural Desert Trip music festival in Indio, CA (Oct. 7-9 & 14-16), which featured Waters, the Who, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. About an hour before the Weekend 2 finale, they sit down with me in a backstage trailer – already decked out in their matching black dresses and capes complete with custom Dark Side of the Moon prism and scarab motifs – to reminisce about how it all came to fruition.

“Originally we were only supposed to sing a couple songs, so we get [to rehearsal] and sing the first song … and Roger looked over at us and gave us a sort of look of approval. And we weren’t singing on the next one, so we just sat down in awe, taking it all in,” recalls Wolfe. “Halfway through the first verse of the next song, he stops, looks over at us and goes, ‘Man up.’”

DESERT TRIP’S WEEKEND TWO EARNS SUPERIOR MARKS

That was back in July of 2015 during rehearsals for a special set at Newport Folk Festival, which featured My Morning Jacket as Waters’ surprise backing band. During the moment in question, MMJ frontman Jim James spoke up to inform Waters that the pair was only singing on a couple songs. His unhesitant response: “They’re singing on every song.”

“So we just got it together,” Wolfe says. “It could have been a frightening thing for most people, but we took it as the ultimate compliment, because if he didn’t like what he heard, he wouldn’t have done that.”

Naturally, Waters’ endorsement extended to asking Wolfe and Laessig to come along for both weekends of Desert Trip, where they took pride in making up two-thirds of all female performers across the six bands (not counting Rihanna’s Weekend 2 surprise spot with McCartney, the Rolling Stones’ stellar backup chanteuse Sasha Allen was the third).

“As young girls, I don’t think either of us ever imagined sharing the stage with these people,” says Wolfe. “I mean, this week I cried during Paul McCartney, last week I cried during the Rolling Stones … it’s surreal.”

When I remind them that playing such an essential role both weekends – their explosive vocal solos during “The Great Gig in the Sky” and “Bring the Boys Back Home” proved them indispensible – immortalizes them as irreplaceable pieces of music history, their responses are wistful.

“It’s pretty incredible to be singing these songs, on that stage, with this lineup and that person,” muses Wolfe. “Every so often he turns over to us and blows us a kiss, or walks past us on stage and says under his breath, ‘Bravo’ – it’s super emotional.”

“When is this gonna happen again? Never,” adds Laessig.

Certainly, Laessig is correct in the sense that this show’s context is a moment in time never to be repeated – the likelihood of ever reuniting these weekends’ lineups is virtually nil. But Lucius has only one month left touring behind their sophomore album Good Grief, and the group’s only other plans thus far are to begin work on a third album. So could the duo join Waters’ massive Us + Them Tour, which kicks off its 42-date U.S. and Canadian tour May 26 in Kansas City, MO?

At this point, it’s too early to call, they tell me. Besides, they’re gonna need a little downtime to process the enormity of their double-weekend “trip.”

“I think in the middle of next week it might finally hit me,” says Laessig. “I’ll be like, ‘What the hell just happened?’”