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:
CE: So 1372 Overton Park is the New Record right?
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?
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: So you guys worked with a legendary saxophonist (Jim Spake), from Memphis right?
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.