A LUCERO INTERVIEW ON THE EVE OF THEIR NEW ALBUM, 1372 OVERTON PARK:

It’s a big week here in ninebullets.net land. Our (my) favorite band, Lucero, is officially releasing their sixth album (and first on a major label. Hey! Did you know it has horns? I don’t wanna get into the album too much today as I’ll be posting a piece about the album specifically tomorrow but did you know there are horns on it?

Anyhow, when long time 9b reader/commenter Cliff in England asked if I’d be interested in running an interview he conducted with the boys a few weeks back I jumped at it. Hope y’all enjoy it.

~ Autopsy IV


A Night with the Boys from Lucero (an interview by Cliff England):

Formed in Memphis, Tennessee in 1998, Lucero has been tearing through this country with their punk/rock/country (insert about any aesthetic adjective here) outfit for some time now. Lead vocalist, Ben Nichols, has one of the most distinctive voices in music today. It’s unrefined, rough, and exposed, in other words it is the definition of rock n’ roll. Brian Venable, lead guitarist, and co-founding member does the balancing act. His guitar ranges from solid country blues, to raging rock guitar. Bassist, John C. Stubberfield, and drummer, Roy Berry, round out the quartet with solid layering and depth. Lucero goes beyond skin deep though; Nichols writing sets the tone as raw and emotional as his voice. Life on the fringe seems to be the biggest theme in Nichol’s writing. The words seem to pour out of him with honesty and sincerity like someone decades before his time.

The “Lucero Sound” is hard to characterize, at its core it is a medley of everything great in American music of the last fifty years. The teenage punk angst of Black Flag, a 1970’s Kris Kristofferson country folk tune, and the soul of Springsteen’s Born to Run are all pieces of the Lucero puzzle. Slowly, but surely the band is finding each of those pieces. They are undoubtedly a force helping put Memphis, and everything the home of Elvis Presley embodies, back on the map.

On October 6th Lucero releases their sixth full length record 1372 Overton Park. It marks a change for Lucero, goodbye to their record label and on to the infamous, Universal Republic. Many fans and skeptics are concerned with the jump to a major label. The concern lies in the droves of bands that have made the same leap only to be misguided and left to be a skeleton of their previous selves. The question that lingers now is; on which side of the line will Lucero ultimately land?

That question among many others was asked when I sat down with Brian Venable before their show in Urbana, Illinois at the Pygmalion Music Festival which Lucero was headlining:

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CE: So 1372 Overton Park is the New Record right?
BV: Yes

CE: You guys lived there for quite a while?
BV: Yea, the four of us from like 8 years ago up until recently. That’s how we we’re able to tour so frequently, the rent was cheap. All living in one spot

CE: All you guys living together I’m bet there is some stories you could tell from that?
BV: Umm probably, I think realistically, you go out for six weeks you come home, the warehouse was huge. Everybody would just kind of splinter off, and not be in the same van for awhile. A lot of drinking, a lot of you know, pretty much we could destroy a garbage pile and shoot with bb guns. Pretty much if your twelve year old self got to live in a place with your friends and do anything you want.

CE: You guys just signed with Universal this last year. Has that brought about any change or anything?
BV: There is a lot more red tape sometimes. It sounds better to your parents. We’re pretty much doing the same thing. I think between the label, and the new producer, they forced us. They wanted demos, which we’ve never really done good demos, like they wanted completed demos. And it forced us to actually concentrate on the songs more before we even went into the studio. Which I think help make it a better record.

CE: You guys had to be a little bit more responsible about the whole thing?
BV: Yes, yes, there were deadlines.

CE: So tell me about the record then, it comes out October 6th right?
BV: Yes

CE: There is a lot of talk around the fans and everything about the horns section…
BV: Yea, we’re curious about it. It’s been 50/50 for me looking on the boards. For every person that’s like “ohh this sounds like ska”, which I always assume is some twelve year old kid that likes Rage Against the Machine. That has no concept of what’s going on, like a soul record, or a Bruce Springsteen record, or anyone of them till they get older. Most everybody schools them online, like ‘don’t be dumb’. It’s an exciting progression if you think about it. I went back personally because I had heard bands. I wanted horns on the record not even in a soul way originally. But just in a ‘rock you in the crib’ (sorta way) There was this band from Denver, Hearts of Palm. It’d be exciting to just do this on a one or two songs just mix it up. It ended up working out really well. A friend of mine heard some of the early demos with horns, and he said it sounded real Memphis soul. And you go back all the Lynyrd Skynyrd studio stuff had horns, Alice Cooper’s first three records (had) horns. You know like, you never heard the horns as much until you start concentrating then you’re like ohh wait a minute. It’s like piano, when we introduced piano. People were like, “ehhhhh that’s different,” you know but the saxophone and piano are right there with the birth of rock n roll.

CE: Amen.
CE: So you guys worked with a legendary saxophonist (Jim Spake), from Memphis right?

BV: Yes

CE: How was that?
BV: It was fun, I think he’s Memphis, so I don’t think we don’t necessarily go in thinking “Legendary Saxophonist”. It’s Jim. Which is one of the things about Memphis, stuff happens and nobody gets a big heads or egos about it. Whatever record you’re working on is the most important one at the time.

CE: Speaking of Memphis in that sense, I know there is a big music scene down there. Can you kind of describe what that was about, where you guys came from?
BV: I think it’s always been a real interesting situation. Like, with the 60’s and 70’s you had your Elvis. And then you turn into your, or a lot of times you went to record in Memphis. There wasn’t a lot of artist coming. There were labels, or there was American Records. Wasn’t that what it was called?
RS (Lucero pianist Rick Skeff): Yes.
BV: Like “Dusty Springfield in Memphis” and “Memphis Experience.” You’d have a whole lot of that. And I think the city wants the commerce industry, they were like “OHH ELVIS yeah yeah yeah”, but they’ll miss the entire underground. That was always the joke with Memphis; some of the best bands in the world started, played, and broke up after a year. Maybe put out a seven inch, maybe didn’t even do anything. But we just came out of that huge music scene that is boiling underground that never really goes anywhere.

CE: So any bands out right now around Memphis that you would recommend? Somebody might not get a chance if they’re not in Memphis to check out online.
BV: We’re taking out a few people. Amy LaVere. She plays upright bass. She’s kind of a….I don’t know what a chanteuse is but,
RS: How about a classy woman in a long silk dress, playing sultry tunes.
BV: I always thought it was the color red. But she did that “5$ cover” TV show with Ben and everything. So far from what I’ve heard everybody is really excited about the “Dirty Streets”. They just kind of started. We’re taking them out for a little bit. But I mean they’re so new I haven’t even heard em’. But everyone that has immediately says they sound like the MC5 and they’re amazing. There is like the “City Champs” and they’re kinda like “Booker T & MG’s” soul thing. Then there is always the makeshift people, which is Snowglobe, Jimmy James & the Hall, any kind of number of them. There is just a group of them, like a little community of about 20 people that all play in the same bands.

CE: So it’s like a little community?
BV: Yea, just like that.

CE: You guys have a few more dates around here then you’re heading back to Memphis?
BV: We do Detroit, really Ferndale, which I think is a suburb or something. Then we’ll do Columbus, OH, and then we’re home for two-weeks. Hopefully we’ll spend most of those days practicing.

CE: Big Tour right?
BV: Trying to get the.… We’ll we’ve recorded with the horns but we’ve never actually played live before with them.

CE: So you’re breaking them out for the tour?
BV: Yea, we’re taking the horns out for the fall tour. So it’s going to be a gigantic crazy deal.

CE: How long is that going to go on then?
BV: Six weeks, October 8th to November 21st

The scene was nearly four hours after the interview. Lucero finally walked on stage at nearly one o’clock. By that time the robust crowd at the Canopy Club had dispersed to a dreary, but steadfast hundred or so people. Concern was obvious that the people left were either too drunk to find their way home, or trying to get to that point. All the while it was clear they did not care about the band coming on stage. Doubts and reservations quickly left when the first chords to Lucero’s set started. “Sound of the City”, a new track, quickly got the crowd out of its lull of drunkenness.

Ben humored the crowed by taking multiple shots from concert goers and taking request after request. Lucero essentials like “Nights Like These”, “All Sewn Up”, and “Chain Link Fence” were all played. As well, new Lucero songs “Hey Darlin’ Do You Gamble”, “Darken My Door” and “The Devil and Maggie Charcarillo” were played. The songs set the mood as if it was an early era punk show, then slowed it to a halt with sincerity like a Merle Haggard acoustic set, just as any Lucero studio record can do.

The show was not without its faults. It was evident from the start drummer, Roy Berry, was having problems with his drum kit. Chaos and antics ensued mid way through the set when Roy decided to quit drumming and sat down out of frustration. Then he stood up and sprayed beer all over the stage. After some encouragement from Ben, and rest of the band, Roy decided to saddle up and finish the show. The incident did little to hinder the enjoyment of the show; if anything it affirmed the notion that the band lives up to its’ rock n’ roll persona.

The night was capped off with moving solo performance by Ben of the new song “Mom,” a poignant tale for mothers everywhere. Nichols thanked the audience for staying up so late with the band, and asked what time the bar closed. Pouring their hearts and souls out up on stage, like the most genuine bands before them, the answer was simple; No, Lucero had played past closing time.

LUCERO – 1372 OVERTON PARK SAMPLER

Any time a band whose reputation and philosophy were grounded firmly in DiY ideals makes a jump to a major label, there are bound to be concerns about selling out, dumbing down, cleaning up and all of those other concessions that aren’t tolerated among rabid fans and purists. Lucero’s transition from under-the-radar darling to major label act is no different, and while the band’s fans are dedicated enough to be tolerant of departures, they’re also passionate enough not to tolerate any slick bullshit in the name of appealing to a broader demographic (couFiveDollarCovergh). For the first time in their career, Lucero will have more than just raving critics and word of mouth behind them. They’ll have the lumbering – often fumbling – major label machine shoving their record down the listening public’s throat. This is great if the record’s as good as the material Ben Nichols and co. have been cranking out for the last decade, but what if the record sucks?

From the opening piano notes of “Smoke,” which kicks off the free six-song sampler available now with a pre-order of 1372 Overton Park, one thing is clear: Nichols’ affinity for anthemic classic rock is not going to be buried here; it’s right up front. “Smoke” sounds like Tom Petty aping Bruce Springsteen and, which Nichols’ rasp cutting through the pulsating piano, organ and guitars, it works. Springsteen is echoed in the second track, “Sounds of the City,” as well, with the swirling boardwalk organ and Memphis horns propelling Nichols’ tale of bad boys who “know when to push [their] luck.” Somebody’s been listening to Marah records. The addition of a horn section to Lucero’s sound shouldn’t be unexpected or unwelcome by anyone who’s witness the band’s maturation over their last few albums, as piano and organ were added in layers to flesh out Nichols’ bruised and bleak vacant lot anthems. However the band’s sound may have shifted, Nichols’ narrative remains constant, maybe even to a fault.

As “The Devil and Maggie Chascarillo” chugs along, sounding for all the world like a Thin Lizzy B-side, Nichols calls out for Love and Rockets and wrings his hands over punk rock girls and lonely saints. It’s a good tune but how long is Lucero’s audience going to be subjected to – and tolerate – Nichols’ bludgeoning of the “rock ‘n’ roll outcast” horse that was beaten dead about the time Green Day embarked on their first foray into rock operadom. Touching on familiar thematic elements is part of maintaining a dialogue with one’s audience – just ask Springsteen himself, nobody does it better – but that’s a far cry from writing the same song in six different keys, which is damn near what Nichols has done here. Luckily, he’s a good enough writer and compelling enough vocalist that the act isn’t tired — yet. But if, upon release, 1372 Overton Park turns out to be little more than a dozen recitations of “boy meets girl, boy fucks up, boy loseWeight Exercises girl, boy and girl find salvation in rock ‘n’ roll and live scrappily ever after,” Nichols is going to have a lot more to answer for than why Lucero incorporated horns into their tunes.

Until the full album is released, I’m more than willing to suspend judgment – God knows Lucero has earned it. And don’t mistake me, these are not bad songs, quite the opposite. 1372 Overton Park may well end up being the rare example of how to cross over without selling out but it may also show us a band struggling to find new ground while walking in place. For now, new Lucero tunes are better than no Lucero tunes, and these sings songs are good enough to keep expectations for 1372 Overton Park extremely high.

Lucero – Sounds of the City

Lucero’s Official Site, Lucero on myspace, Pre-Order 1372 Overton Park

LUCERO : A PRIMER

One of my favorite twitter friends, Romeosidvicous, posted a really nice 4 mix-tape introduction to Lucero yesterday and was kind enough to allow me to repost it here on ninebullets. I’ll let him explain the idea behind the tapes:

“I have made many Lucero CDs over the years to turn people on to their music. Today I decided that I would be lazy and simply make three one hour playlists and post them here. Now I can simply give people a URL instead of spending time making plastic discs that people just rip and file away somewhere. Three one hour playlists turned into four playlists as I decided to toss in some of Ben Nichols’ solo work as well as some tracks from his prior band Red 40. I enjoyed putting these together and I hope you will enjoy listening to them. You can get all of the music here, on the original discs, from the Lucero Store.”

Below are the first two. If you enjoy them and want to check out the other two, head over to Romeo’s blog.

Tape 1:

I chose “Cowboy Emo” as the name of this compilation due to a rumor of the conversation between Ben and Brian that laid the groundwork for Lucero. I won’t bore you with the whole story but rumor has it that Brian described the music he wanted to play as “Cowboy Emo” during that conversation. I don’t think there’s much emo and not much cowboy in the music but it’s a fitting title nonetheless. The track archives have proper id3 tags and even some horrible cover art I threw together so they should drop nicely into iTunes or whatever you use.

  • Tracks 1-3 are from the Attic Tapes which was recorded prior to the release of their first album. I have heard this was around 1999 but that could be wrong.
  • Tracks 4-7 are from the boys self-titled release on Madjack from 2001.
  • Tracks 8-13 are from Tennessee released in 2002. Coincidently the first Lucero song I ever heard “Sweet Little Thing” was from this album.
  • Tracks 14-17 hail from That Much Further West which was described by Rolling Stone as “The country album Paul Westerberg never wrote…”. This album was released in 2004.

Tape 1 Track Archive

Tape 2:

Tape 2 shows the growth of this band. Only having a line-up change once and going back to the original line-up has proved to be a strong point for the boys. They have grown together musically and listening to Ben’s lyrics mature from fleeting romances to deep desires has been a pleasure over the years. Of course he hasn’t stopped writing songs about drinking either but even those have a touch more maturity to them. Any band that’s been together as long as they have either sounds the same as they did at first or they grow. Lucero took the second route and each album is a little different but after a while you can still tell when there’s a Lucero song on even if you hadn’t heard it before. The first time I got to see them play live it was on the tour supporting Nobody’s Darlings and I have seen them every chance since.

  • Tracks 1-5 are from Nobody’s Darlings released in 2005.
  • Tracks 6-11 are from Rebels, Rogues, and Sworn Brothers released in 2006
  • Tracks 11-14 are from the yet to be released 1372 Overton Park which is due out in October ‘09

Tape 2 Track Archive

As I said earlier, there are two more tapes over on romeosidvicious’s blog. They feature live Lucero, Ben solo as well as some material from Ben’s band before Lucero, Red 40, so go check it out.

NIBBLES AND BITS (chuck ragan, revival tour II, dan auerbach, deep blues festival and more)

Here is some stuff I’ve been sitting on that I’m not gonna be able to make a full post out of but I think might interest some of y’all:

  • This years Deep Blues Festival takes place from July 15 to July 19 in Minneapolis, MN at The Cabooze. A full festival pass costs 100 dollars but currently are offering them at a discount rate of 80 dollars. If that’s something that might interest you then go get ’em.
  • If you live in the Tampa Bay Area and you make music then The Homemade Music Symposium might be something that will be of interest to you. It takes place Saturday, June 13 and Sunday, June 14 in Ybor City and will feature seminars and workshops as well as plenty of live music. As an added caveat, your truly will be sitting in on one of the panels.
  • A song from one of the Black Key’s frontman/guitarist, Dan Auerbach’s earlier bands, The Barnburners has been making the rounds. They’re performing a cover of  Hound Dog Taylor‘s song “Gonna Send You Back To Georgia”. You can listen to it here.
  • From the “oh my god I can’t believe I am getting this lucky” file. While I am up in Minneapolis for the Deep Blues Festival this year none other than Slim Cessna’s Auto Club are also gonna be in town. Going to see them means I am gonna miss some of DBF’s Friday night festivities but actually having a chance to see Slim Cessna’s Auto Club with my own two eyes and not doing it…well, quite simply, that’s just not an option at all. With this new addition I am afraid my head may explode from the awesome at some point that weekend.
  • Slim Cessna’s Auto Club – This Land Is Our Land (redux)

5 DOLLAR COVER: MEMPHIS: MY THOUGHTS:

There has been a considerable amount of time devoted to talking about 5 Dollar Cover here on ninebullets over the past few months. Mostly due to Lucero front man, Ben Nichols’ involvement in the project. Well, the show finally debuted Friday night and I’m still have no idea what it’s about. Or if I liked it.

This weeks episode introduces us to Amy LaVere, Muck Sticky (Memphis’s version of the Insane Clown Posse?) and Harlan T. Bobo. In between meeting these bands Amy’s character fumbled through some disjointed plot points to get us from her recording session to a Muck Sticky show and finally to a Harlan T. Bobo show.

Perhaps the show is riveting for Memphis locals who know some of the band back stories but for me, I found all of the action that wasn’t musical performances to be forced, clunky and, in a word, boring. Perhaps it will get better. I’ll wait it out till Lucero’s performance before I pass judgment but right now it’s giving me that “The Hills with southern accents and guitars” feel.

Amy Lavere – Killing Him
Muck Sticky – The Icky Muck

Harlan T. Bobo performing “Too Much Love”:

Lucero performing “Dangerous Thing”:

BEN NICHOLS (LUCERO SINGER) VIDEOS FOR 5 DOLLAR COVER (MTV faux-REALITY SHOW) HAVE BEEN POSTED:

Last time I mentioned Lucero’s (but mostly Ben) participation in the MTV reality (but not really) show, 5 Dollar Cover: Memphis it got alot of comments both good and bad.

For those asking what the fuck I’m typing about right now I’ll explain a little. 5 Dollar Cover, Memphis was written and directed by Craig Brewer (who wrote and directed Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan). The project is made up of a feature-length web-series by Memphis filmmakers and twelve documentaries on the bands in the series produced and directed by Alan Spearman. For more information on the project go here.

Whether it’s good or bad for Lucero to be involved in this project, and more specifically MTV, is really a matter of personal opinion (that should be aired in this posts comment section) but I wanted to mention that some videos featuring Ben and the band have been posted.

One is a performance of San Francisco from the show. The other is a short-film featuring Ben waxing about the pull of the road versus the pull of a woman back home. Watch them and lemme know what you think.

SAN FRANCISCO

Ben Nichols: ‘A Dangerous Thing’
Directed by Alan Spearman

AROUND THE WEB IN AMERICANA MUSIC:

This is a new thing I am trying out. Since I am now contributing to the music side of Creative Loafing’s website I am trying to post a rundown of what’s going on in Americana music and it’s related blogs over there every Friday and since I am posting it there…well, why not post it here. So, without further ado:

  • It’s been unseasonably cold this week which I’m sure has resulted in another cover or two on your bed. In the spirit of covers the Lucero Message Board put together a compilation of bands doing cover songs. It’s worth checking out for the Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s cover of Danzig’s “Am I Demon” alone. You can download it here.
  • In Drive-By Truckers news: In a recent article Patterson Hood mentioned that the band has began work on a new, as if yet untitled, album. And in even better news he said “I feel it’s time to make a big, loud, rowdy rock record“. Thank God! I’ve always liked the loud rocking Truckers over the newer kinder Truckers of recent albums. In other DBT news, NME had an article this week about the new Booker T album, Potatoe Head, in which DBT is his backing band. The album, out April 20 (420…get it…), also features Neil Young on guitar. Booker T, Neil Young and The Drive-By Truckers….how could this album not be awesome?