Interview: Lucy – “It’s all about getting feelings out of the heart”

Under his moniker Lucy – an acronym for Love Unity Communication Yes? – Cooper B. Handy today drops his Devoted EP – a fresh trio of shoestring pop gems. He spoke to Jasper Willems about his steady rise to infamy, his collaboration with Boy Harsher, and the virtues of working with limitation

In the fall of 2020, I was messing around with the Spotify-algorithm to discover some new sounds amidst the lockdown drudgery, limiting playlists to relatively obscure new music. I had already discovered the work of Lily Konigsberg this way; the Brooklyn-based artist wrote songs with such a distinctly naïve yet undeniably creative disposition, I was quickly hooked. Konigsberg’s many projects all had this common ground: marrying a charming lo-fi personality with an irresistible penchant for hummable hooks.

It wasn’t long after I stumbled upon the EP she quietly released back in May 2020 called Laugh Now Cry L8r, featuring an artist calling himself Lucy. Soon this thing became pretty much my favorite record to hear; Lucy’s boyish earnestness acts as the perfect foil to Konigsberg’s playing-it-cool quirkiness, almost like a contemporary bedroom pop version of Sonny & Cher. “So who is this guy?” I wondered. 

The persona’s real name is Cooper B. Handy, an artist hailing from Cape Cod (though technically he now lives in Hadley, Massachusetts, but that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well), and he’s been at this music thing for quite some time now. Back in high school, Handy started rapidly releasing music online via YouTube under various Lucy-adjacent monikers – lucy, LUCY, lucyboy, L U C Y, and the acronym Love Unity Communication Yes? – and over the past decade he’s amassed a steady grassroots following. 

Having been pegged with novelty terms like ‘nursery rap’ or ‘happy to be alive-pop’, it feels impossible to pin down the anomaly that is the Lucyverse – a zone where everything is reduced to this fundamental joy. Lines like “No one belongs to no one / In this crazy game called love” or “I just drank a tank of gas” would feel too on-the-nose if not for Handy’s breathy, pure-hearted delivery. 

Hilarious by happenstance, his brilliant stream-of-consciousness phrasings often trigger deeper thought, and he powers through gloriously out-of-key ad libs with gung-ho bravado. “Yeah, sometimes it’s like that, almost a stream of consciousness kind of thing,” he tells me. “Rather than totally revising it, sort of keep a phrase that’s not the exact actual phrase. I feel I use a lot of phrases that are sort of scrambled versions of phrases people know, to keep it relatable.”

The fun factor in Lucy’s music is so oddly specific, it’s hard to put my finger on why it pops so hard. I find myself unbrokenly dumbstruck by how original his songs are – despite working with a limited palette of GarageBand plugins. His lyrics frequently border on the cliché, but they’re sung with such guileless, celebratory conviction that you believe each and every word. 

Maintaining simplicity has been a conscious decision for Handy. “I don’t like to get new sounds really,” he insists. “I mean, I get some here and there, but really I use the same 10 to 15 sounds as beat-making tools. I have friends who will get me packs, and send me links to get me stuff like drum packs. I like it, it’s cool, but the more stuff I have the harder it becomes to choose. I try to keep my music as minimal as possible so I don’t get distracted. ‘Cause I know I like the sounds I have already.”

Though technology seems to grant artists endless possibilities, Handy likes to wield digital tools with the same limitations as you would have when playing a physical instrument. This can be traced right back to his roots; at age 13, Handy started a high school punk rock band called Taxidermists with close friends. Now trimmed to a two-piece, Taxidermists features Handy on guitar/vocals and Salvadore McNamara on drums. They performed a show the night before this interview took place. “We’ve been playing together for 15 years now or something. It’s fun!” he enthuses. “We still play a lot of stuff we used to play back in the day and we’re writing new songs too.”

Handy’s humdrum seaside surroundings are about as charming as his otherworldly tunes, and you can easily imagine where all that horizon-peering big-dreaming bluster manifests. He had an early brush with quote unquote success with rap collective Dark World, creating raw beats and bovine VHS videos with friends to skirt the cul-de-sacs of rural American living. “When we started hanging out with Dark World it was almost half bands and half rap stuff. We played shows in high school together with their punk bands. But I was making beats before I joined them; it was the first time I had been in any kind of collective thing.” 

Handy reflects back at that time with mixed feelings, suggesting that he never quite fit in with the rest of the projects. “It wasn’t as if the other music was bad, but if people only associate you with other people all the time, it’s going to be disappointing when you’re…not other people?” he muses, letting out a self-deprecating chuckle.

Though some people make music to escape the nest, Handy appears perfectly at ease with his longtime whereabouts. Other than recording music and playing shows, he fills most of his days working at Amherst College, where he also met Jae Matthews and Augustus Muller of Boy Harsher. The seed was planted for Handy to feature on the recent single “Autonomy” off of Boy Harsher’s The Runner soundtrack. The song has been met with a lot of positive response, causing a significant uptick in interest for Lucy’s solo music. For Handy, it feels almost like a soft reset.

“People I haven’t seen since high school who are like, ‘Woah! I came across this song of yours!'” he says. “‘Cause Boy Harsher has this huge audience, and I think it helped a lot for people finding out about my own music. It’s been really cool, I’m glad that Boy Harsher had me do that song with them.”

A steady rise in notoriety – through publications like The Fader, Pitchfork and Interview Magazine  – has given Handy optimism in doing more live shows in the near future, an aspect he’s keen on honing further. Though his music is bringing in more money, he isn’t naïve enough to be quitting the day job either. Where some artists at this stage might make that leap of faith and sign with a label, Handy is a bit more apprehensive dealing with industry machineries. (Lucy’s last album was called The Music Industry is Poisonous and he only started using Spotify recently; “It’s not my favorite”.)

At the moment, he is leaning towards the spontaneous output that granted him a loyal fanbase in the first place.“I wanna get back to releasing music right when I’m making it,” he says. “Everyone who I talked to in the music business world tells me that’s not a good idea. You have to have somewhat of a campaign or let people know that you have an album, or have it be like a ‘proper release’. It’s been a while since I’ve been in that mode. I used to release music pretty much as I was making it. I think more people can relate to the vibe of the music that way; if you make an album in the winter and it has a really specific winter vibe, but you have to release it in the spring or the summer because of timelines or campaigns, it strikes different for the listeners, you know?”

Right now it’s kind of a Catch-22 situation for Handy; The Music Industry Is Poisonous was released via indie imprint Dots Per Inch, bringing his work exposure within different circles. “I think there’s a healthy way to be in between,” he says. “There’s definitely a way to make music and release it. As long as you have the right kind of people to help you promote it, and help you tour and play shows, I think it’s all good.”

The three singles Lucy has released today – “Radiation”, “Don’t Worry” and “Last Dance” – contain all the wide-eyed hooks and wonky beats we’re used to hearing. “These were all written within the past five, six months,” he says. “The second track “Don’t Worry” I put through a Portastudio four-track and I messed with the speed a little bit. The whole project sounds a bit more like stuff I used to do, a little more homemade, which I’m excited about.”

“Radiation” contains another Lucy staple; borrowing a ubiquitous pop hook and adapting it within his own oddball vernacular, in this case Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain”. “Quoting other songs, which I feel like I do in almost every song, it’s a subconscious’s thing,” he says. “I don’t know if younger people listen to my music, if they even know some of the stuff. I wonder if someone who was born in 2000 is even aware of that Carly Simon song. There’s a lot of songs I reference that I think everyone knows. But younger people might feel I’m just making stuff up. I guess it’s a way of passing music along.”

Though his songs rarely clock above the two-minute mark, they have infinite replay value and easter eggs to explore. A tune like “Rock, The” could be about saving the planet, about playing a game, about going on a drug bender, or just a bunch of random bullshit flunked together. And though Lucy’s music often draws a laugh, he never plays for it. “People do get the humor out of my music, but usually I’m never thinking it’s very funny,” he says. “It’s all about getting feelings out of the heart. It’s kind of all serious to me. But I’m also happy when it brings people joy. But I’m never going for laughter, you know what I mean?”

Lucy’s Devoted EP is out now. Follow Lucy on YouTube, Bandcamp, and Instagram.