If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’re probably already aware that Memphis band Lucero are one of my all-time favourites – so the news that this year’s Women and Work would be the first of the band’s eight southern-flavoured country-punk-soul style albums to get a proper European release was something I really wanted to support. Even with, in keeping with the rest of the faithful, I’d imported the US edition nine months before its November release.
The band brought their live show – sadly without the horn section that has added more of a soul flavour to their most recent releases – over to the UK for a selection of dates last month. Unfortunately Edinburgh was their nearest destination to us, and in the middle of a house move a coast-to-coast jaunt was the last thing on my mind. I was lucky enough to get twenty minutes on the phone with singer-songwriter, and all-round folk-punk heart throb, Ben Nichols at the band headed to Scotland for the show.
A late highlight of 2012? Almost certainly.
Women & Work is the first Lucero album to get an ‘official’ UK release. What took you so long?
That’s a good question, and I’m not entirely sure. Lucero’s got eight records and yeah, this is the first to be released in the UK and Europe. I think it was a deal made between Loose Records and our management. We’ve been on a number of different labels in the States, but this is our first record with ATO. I think it was through them – they just had the right connections, I guess. And so finally we have an official European release – it’s about time.
The album’s been out in the US since February and it’s your second with the fuller sound of the horn section and Ted Hutt’s production. What has the reception been like?
It’s actually been pretty good. There are always a few people that want you to just make your first record over and over again, but for the most part our fans have come along with us. Live, at the shows, the reception has been very good. I wish we had our horn section with us over here, but we had to leave them behind on this trip. Playing rock and roll with a horn section is fun as hell. It’s still Lucero, the songwriting is still coming from the same place – there are just more elements to work with on the record.
The album has been described as being like a “love letter” to your home town of Memphis. How important an influence is home, with its rich musical heritage, in your songwriting?
It’s become more and more important as we’ve grown as a band. When we started out, which was 14 years ago, we just wanted to play kinda soft, country songs. But I think we’ve become more and more comfortable letting those Memphis influences show through a little bit more over the years. With Women & Work, I think those influences are plainly visible.
We added the horn section for the first time on the last record, 1372 Overton Park, and we were listening to a lot of Stax Records stuff, with the Memphis horns, Otis Redding, that kind of soul stuff; and we continued in that direction with the newest record. But also, I was more comfortable adding some Sun Studios stuff – that Jerry Lee Lewis-style piano, I don’t know, simple old school rock ‘n’ roll stuff. We combined that with the sound of the horns and we ended up with Women & Work. It was a really fun record to make.
You’ve got a new 7” coming out that was recorded at Sun Studios, haven’t you?
Yeah, that just came out for Record Store Day. We did a couple of songs – I think we recorded maybe seven or eight that day – and they picked two of them and put them out on the 7”. It’s very cool being able to just walk into Sun Studios and record some songs there. That was one of my favourite things I’ve done this year, actually.
I never had the chance to visit on my Tennessee road trip. It must have been an amazing experience though.
Yeah, it was super cool. A long time ago, I did the tour – it’s a pretty short tour, because it’s only one room, but being able to go in there and actually play is an amazing experience.
Lucero has always seemed to place a priority on releasing music in a high quality, physical format – would you say that’s important to you?
It definitely is. We’ve been working with a company called Sabot in the States, working on re-releasing our back catalogue on vinyl. They do really nice, 180gm good quality-sounding vinyl. I think everything on Lucero’s catalogue is available on vinyl now except the first two records, and those will be released soon. Some of the guys in the band are record collectors, and vinyl appreciators, so it’s definitely important to us that we have the entire catalogue on vinyl. I’d say it would be a necessity for everything we release in the future. The 7” is another little piece of that.
The band seems to be on tour, well, pretty much constantly. What’s your favourite thing about being on the road?
To tell you the truth, I’m having a blast playing in this band. It’s a big band: we’ve got the keyboards, piano, pedal steel and usually we’ve got the horn section as well. It’s a treat getting to play with such good musicians and as part of a big band. We were a four-piece forever, and for a long time on the road it was just the original four members. Right now, I’m really enjoying the capability of taking the music one step further, and adding all these extra elements to it. I’ve used the word ‘fun’ a lot in this interview, but it makes it super fun.
With the line-up steadily expanding – bringing in the keyboard, accordion, pedal steel and the horns – do you think you’ve now found the sound that you want? Or are there any elements missing that we might see on a future record?
There’s no telling. Right now, I’ve got about as much as I can handle, but you never know what’s coming up in the future. For right now, I think it’s really cool having a band that can pretty much play any type of song from the slow, sad stuff to the rock ‘n’ roll and soul stuff. Having a band that versatile is really cool. We’ll see. There might be other stuff added in the future, but for right now we’re set.
So no Lucero concert hall orchestra tour any time soon then…
Actually, we did play with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra not too long ago. It was really cool – they did complete orchestral arrangements for five or six songs. And they filmed it! Hopefully it will see the light of day some time in the future. We performed live with them, and I have to admit it was pretty fun- so who knows?
Drinking seems like a constant presence on your records. What would make the perfect Lucero cocktail?
[laughs] Jamesons is kinda the go-to drink, most of the time, for us. Straight Jamesons would work just fine, but if it had to be a cocktail then a little Jamesons and ginger ale would be about perfect.
Stringer would like to know who your favourite character from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is? [Nichols released a seven-song EP, , based on the book in 2009]
Toadvine had all the best lines. There’s not a whole lot of funny bits in that book, but if there’s anything halfway humorous in there Toadvine’s probably saying it. I like that character quite a bit.
Glasgow recently had the Revival Tour, Chuck Ragan’s collaborative acoustic tour, pass through again. You played one year, didn’t you?
Yeah, I did the first one, in the States in 2008, with Tim Barry and Chuck Ragan. That was the first time I’d done anything like that; it was a super cool experience and I’m glad that Chuck’s still doing it. It’s a really unique tour. I would love to do a European Revival Tour with him in the future. That was definitely quite an experience for me: it was the first tour I’d ever done on a tour bus, and I don’t play a lot of acoustic shows anyways, so it was something different. I have nothing but massive respect for those fellows.
You’re in the middle of your UK tour just now, and then you have your New Year shows with the Hold Steady – which I am incredibly jealous of, by the way – but what’s next for the band?
That’s going to be fun as hell. Beyond that? I guess it’s about time to get back into the practice space and start working on new songs. I’m not sure exactly when the record will be released, because we’ve been so busy touring and supporting Women & Work that we don’t actually have anything written right now. Hopefully in January, we’ll start working on some new stuff – but we can’t pay the bills if we don’t go out on the road, so we’ll do a big tour in the States this Spring. We’ve got some festival shows in Australia in February, so we’ll stay busy.
Lastly, what’s your tourbus listening?
There’s a band that’s doing a good portion of the Spring dates with us called Shovels and Rope, and I’m really looking forward to going on tour with them. I’ve actually been listening to quite a bit of their stuff. I saw them a few weeks back: they’re a two-piece band from North Carolina, a girl and a guy, one plays the guitar and one plays the drums and they trade. They’re both really good songwriters and really good singers.