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“To me this record is about accepting all the different facets of myself, instead of trying to hide the parts that I maybe felt uncomfortable with in the past,” says Luce, a Nashville-based multi-instrumentalist whose background includes playing viola/violin for legends like Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson. “That includes leaning into the fact that I’m from Florida, which is such a weird and mysterious land that people tend to have preconceptions about. It feels really freeing to get to the point where I fully know who I am, and I’m not so worried about what anyone else thinks.”
The follow-up to her acclaimed debut Dark River (a 2021 LP praised by the likes of No Depression and Paste), Florida Girl finds Luce joining forces with her longtime friends and bandmates Anthony da Costa (a musician who’s worked with Joy Williams and Michaela Anne) and Aaron Steele (Joy Oladokun, Portugal. The Man), who helmed the deliberately unhurried process behind the album’s production. “In the past I’ve always done weeks of pre-production and known exactly what the plan was once we got into the studio, but this time was much more experimental,” says Luce. “We all just trusted each other’s instincts, and the whole experience felt very fluid and organic.”
A perfect introduction to Florida Girl’s shapeshifting soundscape, “Never Enough” opens the album on an elegant piece of psychedelia laced with moody guitar tones, resplendent piano melodies, and gently cascading rhythms. “I’m someone who’s always looking to the future, and my life is constantly giving me lessons about how important it is to be in the moment,” says Luce. “‘Never Enough’ is about trying to appreciate the present, rather than constantly reaching and seeking more than what you already have.” On “The Other Side,” pounding drumbeats and fierce guitar riffs converge for Florida Girl’s most explosive and existentially searching track. “During the pandemic, when death was on everybody’s mind, it felt so cathartic to write a song about death that’s mostly just asking questions and not looking for any definitive answers,” says Luce, who penned “The Other Side” with her frequent co-writer Raymond Joseph. Threaded with ambient and unearthly interludes (including several pieces featuring the brightly bubbling sounds Luce captured while scuba diving), Florida Girl also contains such unexpected moments as “Saline”—a heart-on-sleeve track that begins in hushed simplicity, then bursts into a joyfully frenetic statement of devotion. “My relationship with my husband was very tumultuous at the start, but we did a lot of work and finally settled into the really beautiful place we’re at now,” says Luce. “‘Saline’ is a promise to him, telling him I’m choosing to be in this and I’m going to keep choosing it every day.”
All throughout Florida Girl, Luce finds so many spellbinding forms for her nuanced self-expression. To that end, the lush and haunting “Your Garden” looks back on a past relationship and discovers a newfound freedom from the pain of attachment, while “(H)our Glass” lends a bit of lived-in poetry to Luce’s reflection on her effort to stay present (from the chorus: “I can’t taste the skin of a shadow/I can’t place this feeling in my head/I won’t hold the hand of tomorrow/Hour glass of falling sand”). On the album’s hazy and hypnotic title track, Luce slips into a moment of gorgeously detailed storytelling steeped with the ache of nostalgia. “‘Florida Girl’ is about one of my closest friends growing up and the guilt and heaviness I felt after we had a falling out,” she says. “We hadn’t talked in about ten years, but the week I wrote that song she texted me and said she was coming to Nashville. We ended up getting together, and it was so powerful to reconnect with her as this new version of me.” And on “Face and Figure,” Luce presents the album’s most intensely personal track, an emotionally raw but radiant meditation on her journey toward true self-love. “I’ve struggled with eating disorders for most of my life, but over the past few years I’ve gotten to a much healthier place,” she says. “I wrote ‘Face and Figure’ as a way to remind myself that I’m more than my looks or my weight or whatever anyone might see on the outside. It took me a long time to get a place where it felt safe to share that part of my story, but it’s felt so healing to finally take that step.”
Naming the impressionistic songwriting of artists like Damien Rice and Joni Mitchell among her longtime inspirations, Luce first began writing songs of her own in her early 20s, expanding on the refined musicality she’d honed since taking up classical violin as a small child. After graduating from Berklee College of Music, she worked at world-music label Smithsonian Folkways Records, later relocating to Nashville and establishing herself as an in-demand session musician. In 2016, soon after making her debut with her 2015 EP The Tides, Luce founded Lockeland Strings—a Nashville-based community arts organization that hosts a monthly showcase of local artists accompanied by string quartet arrangements, alongside performances of new contemporary classical pieces from local composers. With past guests including country superstar Kacey Musgraves, Lockeland Strings’ profits go toward nonprofit groups like ACLU of Tennessee and Girls Write Nashville. “It started as a house show in my living room and grew so quickly,” Luce recalls. “I love being able to offer a way for people to experience string music without having to pay whatever it would cost to go to the symphony, and I hope to continue doing that for as long as I can.”
With the release of her most intuitively realized and imaginatively composed work to date, Luce hopes to provide listeners with a listening experience that’s transportive on multiple levels. “I’m very much drawn to songwriters who create a beautiful visual world with a strong underlying meaning, and I’d love it if these songs could paint those same kinds of stories for people,” she says. “At the same time, I hope the album helps people along in their own healing journeys and reminds them that they’re not alone. I learned so much by letting myself be completely vulnerable in these songs, and now I want to keep creating that safe space where we’re all free to talk about everything.”