Beer-soaked, bourbon-bruised and heavy-hearted, Lucero stumble beautifully across the boundaries of country, rock and punk. They sing about the girls they’ve loved and lost, and all the miles they’ve traveled and drinks they’ve downed trying to forget them.
On their recent release, Women and Work, the band continues to wear their hell-bent hearts on their tattooed sleeves. Though there seems to be a new glimmer of hope in their songs when it comes to the “women”, in reality it’s the “work” that defines Lucero as a band. Averaging more than 200 days a year on the road, the idea of holding down a relationship isn’t exactly all that easy.
Doubling in size from a four-piece to an eight-piece, Lucero recently enlisted Rick Steff (piano/organ/accordion), Todd Beene (pedal steel), and Jim Spake and Scott Thompson (horns) to create a more fleshed out, big band, honky-tonk, Memphis-soul kind of sound.
I recently spoke with guitarist Brian Venable over the phone and had a follow up interview with lead singer Ben Nichols via email. The following transpired.
NG: Do you know how many days you spent on the road last year?
BV: Probably a little over 200. We did ten weeks on the Warped Tour and seven weeks with Social D[istortion] alone.
NG: Has keeping that sort of touring schedule started to take a toll yet?
BV: I’m the only one with kids so it takes a toll on that. But this is what we do. Now we have 8 people on stage and 4 people on crew, so now we have a tour bus and everyone has their own bed. It’s not like we’re throwing everyone in a crowded van anymore.
NG: Do you want to talk about the theme of the new record and how that came about?
BV: I think it was unintentional. It all kinda came together after the fact. We knew we wanted the first song to be “Downtown” and we knew we wanted the last song to be “Go Easy”. Everything else just came together in the middle. “Downtown” was just sort of an optimistic, anything can happen, sort of a song, and “Go Easy” was such a ‘wow that was one hell of a weekend. I’m gonna go home and curl up in the bed’ song. Generally speaking you could imagine the record being one long weekend.
NG: How would you say this record differs from the last, or the entire catalogue for that matter?
BV: I think we are always just trying to make a better record than the previous record and work out the kinks. The previous record we had finished recording and brought the horns in to see what they could do on tour. This record was the first record we did with the horns.
NG: Have you noticed a difference in the way you play guitar with the addition of horns and keys?
BV: Yeah, I pick and choose a lot more. It’s more of a big band feel. In the old days it was just the four of us and a lot of interplay between me and Ben and it was a different dynamic. Now that we have horns, pedal steel and keys, I can hit single notes and come out and play a solo. In ways it’s a little bit more subtle.
NG: Do you enjoy one more than the other?
BV: Well, I switched back to the Telecaster because it’s better instrument for solos. There’s something exciting about having 8 people on stage and being able to make all those parts work together. It makes us smile. It makes me smile. Some nights I forget to play certain parts because I’m just watching other people do stuff.
NG: Is everyone on the record on tour?
BV: Except for the backup singers.
NG: Would you say there’s a maturity and acceptance of lifestyle on this record?
BV: Yeah, I think so. We turned 14 this April. I had made a comment that this is our mature record, and sometimes that’s a dirty word in rock and roll. But for us, we’re wearing our influences on our sleeve a little more. We’re more comfortable saying ‘hey this is what we like’. We’re not going to make Tennessee over and over again. I think we’ve kind of settled down, and trying to become part of the Memphis music scene– but everything could change on the next record.
NG: What’s the reasoning behind the intro? It seems to be part of the song that follows it.
BV: I think at some point it was going to be a different song, but it kinda sets up the next track. It definitely accents the main song. It provides a nice buildup and then it just kicks in.
NG: The line “On shot of women, one shot of work, one shot is sweeter”, which is it?
BV: What’s funny is Ben introduces the song every night and says, “This songs called ‘Women and Work’, it’s about whiskey. So I think it’s just a drinking song. In our minds, it’s nice to have a lady, but what we do for work is ridiculously amazing, so I’ll stick with whiskey.
NG: Your fans constantly bring you drinks while your playing. Is there any point where you have to resist and keep your wits.
BV: It depends. We got a couple of people in the band that don’t drink anymore. I didn’t drink for a while. A lot of times you can take them, or you can just set them on your amps and save them for later. In the old days there was one night I didn’t drink anything, I was just curious. And I had 7 to 10 shots on my amp. I thought, ‘man it’s no wonder. We are lucky to be alive.’ That’s just outlandish. It’s hard to say no sometimes.
NG: Have there been any especially outlandish onstage incidents lately?
BV: The other night we played Colorado Springs and we were feeling pretty good and got all liquored up. By the end of the night all 8 of us had our shirts off. And we’re not attractive. It was pretty chaotic and fun.
NG: How did getting chosen to play this Metallica festival come about?
BV: From what I understand they handpicked the bands they liked. We have a friend in Austin that’s a bartender and his friend works for Metallica, and James Hetfield said ‘oh I like that hat, I like that band’. I was worried that it was going to be a lot of Sevendust and stuff like that and we’d be the little thing that didn’t belong. But it’s a pretty interesting lineup.
The following questions were sent and answered by lead singer Ben Nichols via email…
NG: Did you begin this record with a theme in mind or would you say it came about later? Or is the idea of women and work being a theme just wrong on my part?
BN: I’m not sure if it was ever intended to be considered a theme album. But the song “Women & Work” ended up setting a tone of the whole record. It was one of the first songs written. I wrote “It May Be Too Late” as a follow up to “On My Way Downtown”, but that is really the only direct link between songs I consciously put in there. Everything else just seemed to be coming from the same place. So hell I guess it is not a concept record but it is kind of themed.
NG: Would you say there is an acceptance of a lifestyle on this record more so than previous records?
BN: I think there was a sheer enjoyment of and appreciation of having such great musicians in my band. I’m having more fun playing now than I ever have before. And that is mainly because of the guys I’m playing music with.
NG: One shot of women, one shot of work, one shot is sweeter”…. which one is it?
BN: For me… I’d have to say women are sweeter. But I’m sure some folks would argue that. I guess everybody can decide for themselves. Maybe it changes from day to day.
NG: How would you say this record relates to the “Memphis sound”?
BN: For me it was a conscious combination of the Sun Studios and Stax Studios sounds. The horns can be soulful, but they can also be the sound of early rock & roll. I wanted to incorporate my love of early R&B and early rock & roll in a more overt way– and that is Memphis. By taking what we have always done and integrating a great Memphis piano player and horns as well as pedal steel I think we were able to make a kind of country soul record that hopefully just sounds like rock & roll.