Memphis Road Warriors

Lucero spreads gospel of the modern bar band Discovering a band several albums into its career gives you layers to peel back. That’s how it’s been for me with Lucero, after 2009’s excellent 1372 Overton Park. Since then, it’s been a trek into the songwriting of Ben Nichols and the seven other releases he’s issued under the Lucero name. Anchored by Nichols’ rough bar band howl, Lucero has put out records that jump from fully-acoustic affairs to electrified, boozy Replacements-influenced punk ‘n’ roll. Nichols never had to work to acquire his distinctive gravelly vocal delivery which is one of Lucero’s signifiers. It’s just been that way since he was 19, he says. Life on the road in Memphis’ best country-rock bar band has only helped add grit to his voice, says Nichols, who acknowledges Tom Waits and the Pogues’ Shane MacGowan among his favorite singers. “The whiskey and the cigarettes didn’t help it,” Nichols says. “I’ve got to be careful with it or it’ll go away.” For now, that means an attempt to stop smoking, Nichols says. Meanwhile, Lucero is about to step out on a nine-week tour, most of which will be in support of Social Distortion. “We’re gone forever,” Nichols says. “It’s going to be Christmastime when we get home.” He says he’s excited about the six weeks with Mike Ness and company, as he’s listened to Social D since he was 14. “It was a big compliment just getting offered that tour,” Nichols says. Long tours are nothing new for Lucero, as the band’s averaged 100-plus shows yearly over most of its decade of existence. Nichols says he misses home when he’s out on the road, but when he returns to Memphis, the itch to get on the road quickly returns. While the road keeps a tight hold on Lucero, the band has planted roots deep in Memphis. Between the history of Sun Records, Jim Dickinson, Big Star and garage rockers Oblivians, Lucero found its own messy, boozy rock vibe. “Lucero has always kind of existed in between the lines of all that stuff,” Nichols says. Memphis also served as an anchor for 1372 Overton Park. The address was home to several band members, including Nichols, for nearly a decade. Around the time the recording process wrapped up, the band had mostly packed up and moved in with girlfriends, Nichols says. “It was definitely our home,” he says. The album also was the band’s lone bow on Universal Records, after which Lucero and the major label parted ways. Nichols says it wasn’t a terrible experience, but one that didn’t quite work. “We gave it a shot. I don’t think it was a very good fit for Lucero,” he says. There was also no compromise with the label when it came to making the album, which prominently features horn contributions. The band is in line to obtain rights to the record for re-release through their Liberty and Lament reprint. “They let us do exactly what we wanted to do,” Nichols says. “I don’t think they cared too much, to tell you the truth.” Nichols is writing and recording demos for a new record, considering what the next chapter might be. While he says the next record might be mostly acoustic, he isn’t certain. “One of the things I like about the band is we’re not tied down to any one direction,” Nichols says. He says he’s tried to make each new Lucero record more of a cohesive, coherent statement. Nichols’ songs are based on personal experiences, tales of nights out and trying to seize those fleeting moments in the small hours of morning. “I think because it happened, it rings more true,” Nichols says. “Making shit up … I’m not good at it.” Lucero lives the life of some of those songs live, cranking out high-energy rock that belongs in the barroom. Nichols says while it’s not a conscious movement, it seems like there are guys in bands as different as the Hold Steady and the Drive-By Truckers, who are of an age where playing no-frills rock ‘n’ roll makes perfect sense. “I think we’re looking to all the classic stuff for inspiration,” Nichols says. Lucero plays w/ the Killigans and Brad Hoshaw Sunday, Oct. 17, at the Bourbon Theatre, 1415 O St. in Lincoln at 9 p.m. The 18+ show is $15 ADV/$17 DOS. Visit onepercentproductions.com.

posted at 12:15 pm
on Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

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