September 25, 2006
Lucero's latest record, Rebels, Rogues, & Sworn Brothers is easily this Memphis band's strongest recording to date. After years of making sweaty, gritty, no-frills country-rock--and then touring the hell out of it--the band turned its focus inward, and in so doing, produced a record that's as much a progression forward from its well-developed sound, yet it cements everything that makes the band great. You'll read comparisons to Bruce Springsteen, but I don't think such descriptions are apt: lead singer and songwriter Ben Nichols has the ability to tell a story that moves your soul and gets you rowdy; whether he's singing about a girl that tore the hell out of his heart or simply telling a story about having a good time on a Saturday afternoon with his friends, he sings with such conviction that it's hard not to find some sort of common ground with what he sings. The band's fifth album is full of songs like that; lead single "I Can Get Us Out of Here" is a song many of you might have heard already, but it's merely one song out of a dozen excellent others. I'm personally fond of "She's Just That Kind of Girl," but I'm also totally into the classic-rock powerhouse of "The Mountain"—and yes, comparisons to Lynard Skynard aren't too far off the mark. Rebels, Rogues, & Sworn Brothers is a simply excellent record, and for those who say it's one of the best records of 2006, I have to say: I agree! The formula is simple, the songwriting is excellent, and though I know some might say if you've heard one Lucero record, you've pretty much heard 'em all, all I can say is: if the formula's this good, why change it?
We were fortunate to catch up with affable guitarist Brian Venable, shortly before they took off on their most recent tour. A confession, though; in the process of talking with this really nice fellow, our tape machine messed up, so what you're getting is a condensed version of the conversation. Still, it was a nice chat, even if every awesome thing wasn't fully captured…
It's the calm before the storm, isn't it?
(Laughs) You know, with every Lucero record, from the very first record, someone's said, "this is going to be a big record for you!" It hasn't happened yet, even though people have said that it would. So…we'll see. With each record, we seem to double our audience and hopefully, with the new one, we'll finally reach that goal of being able to liff off of our music.
A scene in your documentary Dreaming In America showed Ben being amazed at writing a non-personal song. Would you say there's more of that here?
Oh, definitely. Like, the first three songs on the album…Ben's an amazing songwriter; he's turned into this amazing writer, and the record reflects that. But you know, that's a natural process, growth as an artist. Our first eighty songs, all of those records, were all about personal stuff, like Ben wanting to get to know his grandfathers, getting heartbroken by women, having a good time with our friends. It's cool to hear him now, because he's an amazing writer.
Tell me a little bit about the recording process for the album.
It worked out really well. This is the first time we've ever made a record that felt like "work," in the sense that we simply focused all of our time on just recording. We'd work in the studio, which was in the basement, then we'd hang out in the kitchen, get drunk, whatever, record, sleep until noon, wake up, play all night. It was really, really fun.
How was it working with David Lowery?
Oh man, Lowery is amazing. His knowledge is just so…vast. Like, we'd be doing something, and he'd be sitting there, playing on the computer, and we'd think he wasn't really paying attention to us. He'd say, "Sounds great, I love that," and we'd think, "yeah, right." Then he'd start singing the song, or he would give us really intricate ideas and details, and we didn't think he was really paying attention! We were lucky, working in the studio we did, and the weather in Richmond wasn't too hot, so it really worked for us on a lot of levels.
Tell me a little bit about the business aspect of Liberty & Lament. It seems that, in terms of labels, this is the first record Lucero's made where things are calm in that regard.
It's great, man. We're able to make our music and release it and not have to worry about several aspects. Like, we made Nobody's Darlings without a label. With this one, we recorded the album earlier this year, finished it in June, and released it in September, and we didn't have to do anything with it after we finished it. Normally, when you make a record, you record it, finish it, and then have to wait six to eight months or more to release it. With this one, we could do it quickly, and get it out quickly. Sure there are other aspects about it that are more work, but it's cool when you're working at something you love to do.
I was amazed at how lush the new record is...
Yeah, that's definitely what we were trying to do. Like, with Nobody's Darlings, we made the raw rock record we'd always wanted to make. With this one, though, we kinda wanted to blend up the best elements of all of our four previous albums, take those things we liked best, and I think that's what we did, and I think it came out well.
So, what's next?
Oh, the usual—touring. That's what Lucero does. We're doing the US, and we're going to Europe, and, hopefully, back to Japan. Our two-record deal with East/West is coming to an end, and we're waiting to see what goes on with that. We've talked about maybe doing a live record, and we're trying to get our first three records back, and treat those records right. Other than that, we're just playing out.
Will the split with Against Me! ever come out?
Man! (Laughs) I don't know about that…here's the story on that. We were on tour together, and one of us probably said that'd we'd like to do a split, and then somehow, that gets reported as real news, and then it started coming up on news sites. Then the Jade Tree guys said, "we'll put it out!" and we were like, "uhhh…." Then it just kind of became our next record, even though we'd never really said anything about actually doing it.
Drunken in-joke gone way too far?
Exactly. Don't get me wrong; we really love those guys, but it was never seriously planned out, as we've both been busy and haven't had time to seriously consider it. It's our great, long-lost Lucero record that never actually existed. Maybe if one of us did three songs, the other would be prompted to say, "uh, okay, we better do those songs!" And maybe ten years from now, we'll have the time to do it! (Laughs)