Lydia Luce Pours Her Heart Out on “Dark River”

Photo Credit: Alysse Gafkjen

Lydia Luce was listening to a podcast discussing how humans often retreat into nature to find themselves, the host pointing out that since we are made up of the natural elements of the earth, shouldn’t we go into ourselves to discover the answers?

This compelling notion draws connection to the title track of Luce’s upcoming album Dark River, arriving on February 26. The 11-track set came during a time of emotional healing after Luce left a toxic relationship and began looking inward, going to therapy to work through her own challenges, using the knowledge to form new habits that help set the course of her life moving forward. “I’ve never really been this vulnerable in my writing until this record, which feels good and scary,” she tells to Audiofemme.

Luce relies on the craft of songwriting as a mirror for what she’s experiencing internally, noting how songs have a distinct way of instilling her with valuable lessons on the other side of writing them, citing the title track as an example. “‘Dark River,’ for me, is a beautiful thing,” Luce says. “That song is about recharging yourself, fueling yourself up so that you’re able to go out and be a light in the world and be your best self.”

The song finds her declaring that she’ll no longer allow someone else to claim her power or light, demonstrated in richly poetic lyrics: “They put me on a pedestal/And I gave them everything/Now I’m waking slowly, with an empty feeling/I go down to the dark river/They can’t see me there/I’m gonna drink ’til my belly’s full/Pour it out when they need my help/Please, won’t you save some for me.”

“It took me a long time to write this record because first, I needed to settle into some of those negative tendencies and really come face to face with them and identify them and then start to dismantle them in myself,” she observes. “This year was an unveiling of interesting information about myself that I hadn’t come to terms with and then seeing how it’s affecting different areas of my life.”

The song and corresponding album was born after a Luce took a solo trip to the Pacific Northwest in 2019, Luce crediting the purity of nature in allowing for self-awareness she wouldn’t have otherwise. “Nature always cuts through lyrically, metaphorically in my songs, but also has been a source of quiet for me to be able to sort through whatever it is that I need to sort through in my own life,” she explains. “What I’m continuously learning, and a habit that’s really hard to break, is that when it’s hard to sit in struggle and there’s so many distractions around us, my tendency is to reach to that instead of sitting in the place where I’m uncomfortable, especially when it’s something like recognizing ‘that’s not good, I don’t want to be that anymore. I don’t want to do that anymore because that’s not helpful to me or other people,’” she continues. “That was the lesson that I worked through with that song.”

The theme of shedding the layers of her former self also arises in two of the album’s other key songs, “Maybe in Time” and “Just the Same.” Growing up in a Christian, conservative household in Florida, Luce has found herself straying from her family’s religious identity in recent years, yet is still able to find common ground with her loved ones. “’Just the Same’ was about me being so different from my family, but loving them just the same,” she shares, adding that she wrote the track after visiting her brother who is currently attending Bible school, the two bonding over their interpretations of the passages he shared during her visit.

The song also reflects the compassion and empathy she feels for her loved ones in spite of their opposing views, pointing to a “beautiful” and “respectful” conversation she had with her her father recently, confessing to him that she does not follow the Christian faith, her father respecting her decision and acknowledging the importance of being able to question something one doesn’t understand. “I value the things that we do have in common, but I also appreciate the respectful disagreements that we have,” Luce remarks of her family, channeling that understanding into the pair of tracks.

Creating the album was a liberating experience for Luce, one she hopes fans identify with and use as a safe space to genuinely be oneself. “For me, the writing of it has been me settling into more of who I am and being honest and open about it. I really hope that there’s some kind of freedom found in it and it’s okay to be the way you are and be proud of it and not ashamed of it,” she says. “I think the dark river is this place of serenity, where I have this place to go back to, and that is myself, and I’m finding that in myself more and more. So maybe I’m the dark river.”

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