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DS Exclusive: Lucero’s Ben Nichols talks “Among The Ghosts” and the band’s twenty-year legacy

“My life would have been so much easier if I had just played punk rock songs at punk rock shows, or played country songs at country shows. But for some reason, there’s something in me that has got to play punk rock songs at country shows and country songs at punk rock shows.” – Ben Nichols (Lucero)

It’s an interesting phenomenon to have been a band long enough to have something resembling an arc or a trajectory to your career, thanks in no small part to the amount of “figuring you out” that fans and industry people and pretend music journalists like yours truly will try to do. If you’ve followed the path of Memphis’ Lucero, who’ve now crossed the twenty year mark as a band, you’ll know that it’s one marked by a series of genre-busting left-hand turns; depending where you jumped on the train as it careened down the track, you found yourself a fan of a band that was performing markedly different music – and was composed of markedly different members – than somebody who hopped aboard five years in either direction. 

The early part of 2018 brought with it the 20th anniversary of the band’s first show (celebrated in a barn-burner of a block party in their collective hometown back in April), and also found the band putting the finishing touches on its soon-to-be-released ninth studio album, Among The Ghosts. Due out August 3rd on a new label home (Thirty Tigers) the album finds the quintet taking a hard left once again. Gone is the quintessentially Memphis boogie-woogie sound that had been a focal point of the last three Ted Hutt-produced albums. Instead, Among The Ghosts finds the band producing some of the fullest sounds and most complex textures of the band’s two-decade-old catalog: Nichols’ lyrics and vocals are more earnest, the bass grooves are punchier, the time-keeping pocket is deeper, the guitar leads are soaring and more angular, the keys and strings and horns lead to a fuller and more cinematic quality than we’ve heard the band commit to record. In many ways, it’s years different from a lot of what we’ve heard from Lucero in recent memory; in other ways, it’s the most “Lucero” album yet.

We caught up with Lucero frontman Ben Nichols via telephone from his house, and it became instantly apparent that it’s not only the band’s musical direction that have changed since the release of their last album, 2015’s All A Man Should Do. An hour before our conversation, Lucero announced a slew of US tour dates that’ll keep them busy for the bulk of this coming fall. For a band that long-ago earned its Road Warrior badge of honor, that should not come as much of a surprise. However this Lucero circa 2018, not 2008. Nichols, who spent the formative years of his songwriting career penning some of the most soul-crushing songs of whiskey-soaked heartbreak and unrequited love of the last generation, has not only gotten married but has become a father for the first time (his not-quite-two year-old daughter Izzy is the whirling-dervish focal point to the band’s limited-release seven-inch that hit shelves a month ago).

If Nichols and company weren’t so immensely proud of the new record – and with good reason – the remainder of this calendar year might look radically different. “I’m really excited about the new record,” Nichols states rather emphatically. Now, it is obviously standard operating procedure for bands to publicly pronounce that their new music is more satisfying than anything they’ve produced to date, especially when it’s fresh. Nichols is nothing if not tangibly genuine in his appreciation for the new material, perhaps because it is, legitimately, so damn good. “I really love these new songs, and I love playing them every night…it hurts a little more to leave town, but I’m just so proud of the record, so it’s totally worth saying goodbye for a little bit and going out on the road.”

When it came time to write material for the first post-fatherhood album for two of the band’s members (drummer Roy Berry’s own daughter is just shy of two as well), the band opted not to team up with Ted Hutt again, as had been their recent pattern, and instead stuck with the theme of keeping things different this time out. Where the Hutt-era albums involved a lot of pre-production and a concentrated editing effort geared at cutting things up and making them fit in the best way possible, the Among The Ghosts sessions started the band back toward their earlier influences. “For the last three records,” Nichols states, “I wanted to go for that more Memphis sound, with the horn section and the boogie-woogie piano parts. It was fun to explore that. But with this record, I decided to go back to our roots.”

Those roots, as should be probably apparent given Nichols’ age and place in the music scene, involved traditional country music and late-80s alternative rock, run through a bit of a punk rock filter. Sort of. “When I started the band, it was kind of a rejection of the punk rock scene. I wanted to play sort of traditional country music, which we quickly found out we were unable to play,” explains Nichols. “I started off playing at 14, 15 years old, learning Cure covers and REM covers. That kind of ‘120 Minutes‘ era stuff. That’s what I grew up listening to in high school and those are the first songs that I learned how to play when I picked up a guitar. That stuff, whether I wanted it to be or not, was actually more of a presence in that early Lucero stuff than I thought it was.”

When searching for musical inspiration, looking toward one’s roots can be a questionable decision if not handled appropriately. But with the right approach, and with twenty years more knowledge, skill and ability in the ol’ tool belt, it can bear productive fruit. Armed with little more than four or five basic guitar lines to work with, the band gathered in early 2017 at the legendary Sam Phillips Recording studio in Memphis with a new locally-based producer, Matt Ross-Spang, who has a few Grammys to his credit from work with the likes of Jason Isbell, combined his attitude with the studio knowledge they obtained through the Hutt years, and took their time crafting a new record. The band set up on the floor in the studio and experimented, capturing new sounds and directions in real time, and allowing the product to build slowly and organically toward its eventual direction in real time. The Civil War letter home-inspired cadence and march of “To My Dearest Wife” came together fairly quickly, as did the album’s title track, an intense, angular rock song that also ranks as probably the most on-the-nose personal song on the album if not in the entire Nichols catalog. “Family ended up being a much bigger influence on the record than I thought it was going to be at first,” Nichols explains. “With Izzy and being married and having a house and a family (editor’s note: Nichols’ wife has two daughters from a prior relationship), those themes are obviously at the front of my mind, and those are songs that I feel like singing because that’s kind of what I’m going through at the moment.”

The album contains its fair share of running themes, many of which revolve around the protagonist not only having a battle to fight, literally or metaphorically, but a reason – in the shape of another person – to keep fighting for. Title track aside, Nichols explains that he was “intentionally trying to write more in a storytelling way, where the narrator isn’t necessarily Ben Nichols, and trying to work on the craft of songwriting, although that sounds pretentious.” Filled with straight forward mid-tempo tracks like “Everything Has Changed” and “To My Dearest Wife,” frantic, jagged rockers like the title track and “Cover Me” and tender ballads like “Always Been You” and “Loving,” the latter of which was also used in the closing credits of Nichols’ brother, Jeff’s award-winning 2016 movie of the same title, many of the images captured on Among The Ghosts are certainly inspired by very real events and historical tales, but they’re written in a way that makes the message translatable to the modern listener. “I wanted (them) to be applicable to whatever battle anyone’s fighting in their life. Whatever goals you have and whatever you’re fighting for, I wanted it to be able to apply to that.”

At this point, the bulk of Among The Ghosts has been played live over the course of the last half-year, with Nichols playing some of the tracks solo and acoustic in a one-off New Jersey date earlier this year, and the band playing a handful of tracks at springtime tour dates. Then, of course, came arguable the most traditionally “punk rock” decision any band will make this year, which found Lucero taking their 45 minute direct support slot on Frank Turner’s recent full US tour, sandwiched in between The Menzingers and Turner himself, and to using it to play 90% of the new album, months before its release. “It was a Frank Turner show, so we only had 45 minutes,” explains Nichols somewhat sheepishly. “Really when it comes down to it, I had so much fun playing those songs, and I’m away from my family and a lot of these songs are about missing my family, so I really just did it for myself! I think it worked!

The one song that didn’t make it into that set, for reasons that’ll be obvious to the listener once they hear it, is “Back To The Night,” a track that’s jarring to listen to the first time out, as it contains a lengthy spoken-word element performed by Academy Award-nominated actor Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road, Nocturnal Animals, Take Shelter, Mud, etc, etc, etc), who’ll also star in the band’s upcoming video for “Long Way Back Home. The band found themselves with the bulk of the track’s dark, haunting music completed, and Nichols had a surplus of lines that had been cut out of other songs that he didn’t want to necessarily discard. Inspired by the early-90s trend in which bands would insert movie or television dialog into their songs, what Nicholas also had was an idea. He explains: “I pieced together lines that I’d written that didn’t get used. A lot of them were from “Everything Has Changed,” some of them were from “Back To The Night,” some of them were from other things..that weren’t being used and were on the cutting room floor, but that I didn’t really want to get rid of. So I sent it to my brother, Jeff, and said “man, if you can just have Mike (Shannon) call us and leave a voice memo…” He was nice enough, within twenty-four hours, to recite those lines in a voice memo, and it was the coolest thing ever to get that voice memo.”

After a period of three-or-so weeks in the studio, stretched out over the course of most of 2017, Lucero completed work on Among The Ghosts. Though each of the track’s ten tracks are different, sometimes radically, it still ranks as perhaps the most complete and cohesive collection of stories in the band’s lexicon. “I think I’m pretty good at taking a step back and evaluating where the band is, at least for the last three records and how this new record fits into that arc,” Nichols affirms matter-of-factly. “I think we’re right where we want to be… (Among The Ghosts) ended up sounding exactly like the kind of music I was in the mood to hear right now.”

Head below to check out our full, extensive chat with Nichols. It ranks as one of our favorite conversations to appear on the pages of Dying Scene to date. While you’re at it, you can still pre-order Among The Ghosts here before it’s too late.

 



Up-and-coming skate punk band Noogy hits the road, talks the biz

DFW skate-punk band Noogy is touring the East Coast on the heels of their second EP release this year, “Pessimistic”. If you get the chance, this is for-sure, for-sure a band you are going to want to check out live. These boys have been pretty busy tearing up the southwest, from Texas to Cali, hanging out with MDC and otherwise running amok. They’ve made a pretty noticeable impression on their worthy followers of youthful hoodrats and miscreants as well. Check em out!

I caught up with Andre at the kick-off party, and scheduled a time for him to give me a call… He hit me up, and we talked road life, Dead Kennedy’s, Steve-O and more. Check out their tour schedule and read that conversation below.



Bad Religion to hit the studio this fall or late summer

Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz recently offered LA Weekly an update on the band’s long-awaited new album, which is expected to be released soon. While talking about their recently-released new single “The Kids Are Alt-Right“, Brett stated:

“It’s a scathing indictment of the conservative youth movement, and we have a brilliant lyrics video done by a young Spanish artist named Antoni Sendra (aka Podenco) — he’s a phenomenal visual artist. We’re writing for a new album, recording this fall or late summer. No release date announced yet, but we should have an album’s worth of ‘Fuck Trump’ songs pretty soon. It’s exactly what we need.”

The follow-up to 2013’s True North will be Bad Religion’s first studio album with Mike Dimkich (replacing Greg Hetson) on guitar and Jamie Miller (replacing Brooks Wackerman) on drums.



DS Exclusive: Fighting The Good Fight with Kevin and Aimee of The Interrupters

Let’s say, hypothetically, that you were a band that had achieved some modicum of success in a relatively brief period of time. For argument’s sake, our definition of “success” here includes the following parameters: signed to one of the most successful independent labels in the music game; put out not one or two but three albums on that label, all of whom were produced by one of the bigger and most recognizable personalities in the the punk music scene; headlined a couple of your own successful cross-country club tours; played the main stage at a handful of wildly successful punk rock festivals; toured several continents with one of the last quarter-century’s largest rock bands on the planet; got added to regular rotation at your hometown (Los Angeles) rock radio station which, in spite of prevailing trends, remains a taste-making force in the game. Oh, and let’s also say that all of these accomplishments – and more – happened within your first half-dozen years as a band. It would be natural, maybe even expected, if some of that love and those accomplishments went to your head, and you maybe started to take some things for granted, right?

Not if you’re The Interrupters.

We caught up with Aimee and Kevin from the band over the phone the Friday before last, which happened to coincide with the release date for their third – and best – studio album, Fight The Good Fight (Hellcat/Epitaph). Amidst the hustle and bustle that an album release date can entail, and after exchanging our usual pleasantries, we got interrupted (pun largely intended) by the duo receiving an incoming call that they couldn’t ignore, as it was from none other than Tim Armstrong. Armstrong is not just one of the godfather’s of the last three decades of punk rock, he’s been a constant big brotherly presence in The Interrupters’ career, signing them to his Hellcat label imprint right out of the gate, producing and appearing on all three of their albums to date, imparting his unique wisdom on the quartet along the way. For more than just the obvious reasons, The Interrupters are a band that considers itself and its crew a family, and Armstrong is as big a part of that family as anybody. And so the sheepish excitement in Kevin Bivona’s voice when we returned to our call and explained why they had to break standard informal phone-interview protocol and put me on hold was not only palpable, it was downright refreshing.

It would certainly not be the last time that our conversation would trend into events that were notably surreal. Any fan of the Interrupters knows that they spent a great deal of time touring Australia, Europe and South America as direct support for Green Day over the last year. It found the band not only getting to play their upbeat blend of punk and third-wave ska to a large number of new ears, it also created a situation where a different high-profile Armstrong, Green Day’s inimitable Billie Joe, ended up with writing credits on a song (“Broken World”) on the newest Interrupters album. Here’s how Kevin Bivona explains it: “We were in Santiago, Chile, and we played a show, and there were a couple of hours before we had to go to the airport, so we were hanging out with Green Day and their families. It was an amazing experience. And (Billie Joe) goes “hey, I have an idea for a song that I think could be a really cool Interrupters song.” And he grabbed a guitar, and he kinda pulled Aimee and I aside and he played it for us, and he said “I don’t know, I think this would just be a kind of cool thing for you.” And he played it for us and we said “Yes! We love it!” Upon returning to the States, the band got to work on filling out the remainder of the song, and doing so in a manner that would do right by the Green Day frontman.  “I wanted him to be proud, because he thought enough of us to give us this riff that he could have obviously turned into an amazing song for any one of his bands. We sent the song back to him right when we were done with it, and he texted us back that night and he was so excited about it and happy to be a part of it. It’s so surreal, too, to have a song with a riff written by Billie Joe Armstrong and produced by Tim Armstrong…”

If you’ve had a chance to dig in to Fight The Good Fight yet, you’re probably aware that Billie Joe’s involvement wasn’t the only surreal part of the album-making process. While Tim Armstrong has lent his iconic vocal stylings to a track on each of the first two Interrupters albums, FTGF’s “Got Each Other” finds each of Rancid’s members chipping in, an idea that came from Armstrong himself. “Matt and Lars are in the Bay Area, and Branden lives in Utah,” explains Bivona. “When it came time to get the actual recording done, we were kind of down to the wire, so we actually had Jesse and Justin get in our tour van, drive up to San Francisco, and set up a mobile studio to record Matt and Lars’ verses and run them back down. Simultaneously, I’m on the phone with Branden in Utah, and he has a studio in his house…He sang on the choruses with us, and he sent it to us to mix that night. It was really down to the wire.”

The result of the last-minute collaboration is textbook Interrupters: an infectiously danceable, high energy rallying cry preaching the timeless notions of friendship and unity. “I cried my eyes out when I heard all of Rancid singing with us on that song,” says Aimee. “The first time I ever heard Rancid in my life, when I was in high school, I cried when I heard “…And Out Come The Wolves.” I felt like I wasn’t alone in the world, and that other people understood me. We brought that message on “Got Each Other,” and to hear all of Rancid sing that message not just to me but through my speakers with me…”We don’t have much, but we’ve got each other”…I was so happy and so grateful, and I can’t really describe how full circle and surreal that moment was.

While many of the tracks on Fight The Good Fight deal with themes that we’ve come to know and love from The Interrupters circa 2018, we also find the band digging a little deeper, turning their mirror inward in ways that were missing on the first two albums. Tracks like “Gave You Everything,” “Room With A View,” and “So Wrong” resonate as the band’s most personal – and arguably most compelling – tracks to date. Says Aimee: “I feel like when you write a song that moves you and touches you, and you’re going through an authentic experience and writing your truth, a lot of times for me that’s therapy. I’m writing to get things out and I need to process this stuff and this anxiety that’s happening in my heart and my mind. When I process that and put that into lyrics, if that helps me and gets me through it, then hopefully that can help somebody else. That’s what this is all about…loving people and helping people and connecting with people through your music.”

The band’s quest to bring their music and their positive energy to as many people as possible has generated numerous unforgettable experiences. As they get set to head out on the last leg of the final installment of the Warped Tour this coming weekend, they’re sure to add a few more to the list. “Just when we think we’ve checked everything off the bucket list, some new opportunity presents itself and we are blown away with gratitude,” says Bivona, the sincerity palpable in his voice. “Even doing the Amoeba Records in-store performance a couple nights ago was surreal. Getting added to our local radio station, KROQ, which is what we all grew up listening to, is surreal. There’s never going to be a time where there isn’t an amazing opportunity that we will be thrilled with.

Head below to check out our full Q&A with Kevin and Aimee, and stay tuned for upcoming tour announcements in the very near future!



Exclusive: Long lost PEARS Interview with Brian Pretus from early post-“Green Star” golden days

Oh my God. Did I really get wasted while running the merch booth for Pears?

What was I thinking? Those guys are the most amazing people ever. They paid me seventy bucks to spill beer all over their merchandise. I was supposed to be slangin’ the goods!

In my defence, it was somewhat overwhelming. Pears is loaded! I hope I didn’t accidentally embezzle too many funds. I vaguely remember commenting on Zach Quinn’s Ugg Boots.

I am such an asshole.

I’m also irresponsible. Dude, Pears is fucking loaded!

…a few months before all that (over a year or so, now, and long before I was a writer at DyingScene) I had a very pleasant chat with Brian Pretus, Pears’ guitar player at Three Links over a couple large glasses of Horchata. Read through that conversation below.



40 Years of Mania with The Vibrators: Past, Present, and into the Future

Wow! Here’s a straight-up EXCLUSIVE… and only a couple years late, but hey, we’re all on punk rock time anyway.

We caught up with Eddie from The Vibrators at Three Links on their 40 year anniversary tour. We talked music, tacos, debauchery and bamboozling David Bowie fans back in the day after the shows. Great stuff! Read more on the past, present and future of the band below.



Social Distortion to begin pre-production of new album around January

In a recent interview with Edmonton Journal, Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness offered an update on the band’s long-awaited new album. When the interviewer assumed that touring through the summer and into the fall means that new music isn’t expected too soon, Mike said:

“Yeah, it’s tough. I’ve put a few new songs in the set just to let people know that we’re not sitting on our asses at home. It gets people talking, which is nice. But yeah, once we stop touring in November, we’ll be ready. I’m thinking that by January we’ll be pre-production, but I don’t want to rush something out just to get it out.”

Ness also stated, “I don’t want to rush something just to get it out for a Thanksgiving release. It’s not like Epitaph is on me to get a new record out, though I imagine they’d be happy with a new Social D album.”

We’ll keep you posted once we get more details on the new Social D record, which will be the band’s one since 2011’s Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes.



Interview: This Obsession talks band history, new album, and everything in between

If you’re not already aware, This Obsession is a quickly rising star in the Chicago pop-punk scene. They recently put out an amazing full-length, A Confrontational Effort, via Wiretap Records and I was lucky enough to corner Mark and Jess from the band to chat about it.

We talk band history, Wiretap, influences and everything between. Read the interview below.



Agnostic Front in pre-production with new album

Agnostic Front frontman Roger Miret was asked in a recent interview with Heavy New York if the band has started work on the follow-up to 2015’s The American Dream Died. Transcribed by Blabbermouth.net, this is what he said:

“Absolutely. We started pre-production on a couple of new songs. They’re coming out pretty badass; I’m happy with them because a lot of stuff is happening in the Agnostic Front camp. I just released my book, ‘My Riot’, that’s been a big thing and I did a tour around it, which is awesome. Now we have that film, ‘The Godfathers Of Hardcore’, which is going to be another level. There’s a lot of positive, good stuff coming out, but not just Agnostic Front, but New York hardcore, but hardcore worldwide. All this stuff is positive for our message, people that follow us, it’s good for hardcore, period.”

Check out the interview below.



Interview: Rob Castellon of Wiretap Records talks inspiration, artist signings, the state of the music industry and more

In a time where record labels are slowly on the brink of extinction, there are still smaller, independent labels out there putting out great bands and working to ensure the survival of independent music. One such record label is Wiretap Records. Based out of Los Angeles, this label is releasing some of the best new music in the scene today. Bands like Harker, Wolves&Wolves&Wolves&Wolves, and This Obsession, among many others are keeping the spirit of independent music alive with the help of Wiretap Records.  The driving force behind this is owner Rob Castellon, whose “treat the bands like a family” mentality is something that is sorely lacking within the music community today.  We got a chance to talk with Rob about how he started the label, his inspirations, his own musical ability (or lack thereof), and the process he uses to run his business.

Read the interview below.



NOFX working on new music?

In a recent interview with Pittsburgh City PaperFat Mike of NOFX hinted that new material from the band is in the works and will be played on their ongoing Punk in Drublic Festival dates:

“People want to hear new songs. Our newest record has gotten better reviews than we’ve gotten in over 10 years.”

Of course the “newest record” Mike is referring to is their most recent studio album First Ditch Effort, which was released in October 2016 via Fat Wreck Chords. We’ll keep you posted as more details on new music from NOFX come to light. They released one new song last March “There’s No ‘Too Soon’ If Time Is Relative“.



The Offspring’s Noodles talks new album, reveals they’re working on music video

The Offspring guitarist Noodles was recently interviewed by Rock Titan, where he offered an update on their long-awaited new album, which will be their first since 2012’s Days Go By. He stated:

“We don’t have [a name for the album] yet. [But] we’ve got a out 10 to 12 songs done, and we’re gonna, you know, take stock and see…we don’t, we’re also just kinda free agents right now, we don’t know what we’re doing. So we’re…we don’t know how we’re gonna put out, that’s the other thing.”

Noodles also revealed that The Offspring have been working on music video for at least one song from the new record, “We’ve actually got one in the can, kinda ready to go, for one of the songs on the new record. It’s slowly coming out this fall.”

You can now watch interview below.



Interview: Gillian McGhee of Turnspit talks influences, new album, the Chicago music scene and more

Formed in 2014, Turnspit is a Chicago-based pop-punk outfit that recently released their LP Desire Paths on February 16 via Dodgeball Records.

I recently had a chance to speak with Gillian McGhee (singer/guitarist) from the band. We discussed the band in general, their influences, the meaning behind some of the songs on the album and what drives her personally.

Read the interview below.



DS Interview: Skottie Lobotomy (The Creeps) talks new album, songwriting, and confrontational escapism

In a matter of weeks, after lamenting a drought of new music, I received three albums that I couldn’t stop spinning. There was The Penske File’s Salvation, Spanish Love Songs’ Schmaltz, and The Creeps’ Beneath the Pines. I’ve purged my thoughts in reviews, countless listens, and dozens of personal recommendations, but still, these are the records I can’t shake—three distinct visions of what modern punk rock can be, built on the foundation of expert songwriting.

Beneath the Pines isn’t out yet, but it has a special place among the three. It shares members with Crusades, a fantastic band that shocked the punk community by announcing their departure earlier this month; and comes as the follow-up to Eulogies, an album that allowed the Creeps to stretch their chops and become known as one of pop punk’s foremost songsmiths. While the connection is inevitable, to say that The Creeps is Crusades’ little brother—a near consolation prize to fans—is to ignore the band’s twenty years playing, releasing, and evolving. Beneath the Pines is a great album, no matter its relation—a singular vision, powered by introspection, killer melodies, and the sort of songwriting that marks you for life. It’s at once melancholy and hopeful, and with a few deft lyrics, will endear the hardest hearts into a singalong.

I was lucky enough to exchange emails with vocalist/guitarist Skottie Lobotomy on the new album, his songwriting process, and what it means to be punk through introspection. Check out the interview below.



The Offspring almost finished recording new album, to debut new song on tour

The Offspring guitarist Noodles revealed in a recent interview with Q103’s Candace that the band is not only in the process of finishing their long-awaited new album, but will likely debut a new song when they go on tour this summer with 311. Here’s what he had to say:

“The record is almost done — legitimately almost done. I think we have 10 songs done and a couple of more we’re working… just writing lyrics for. And then we might do one or two more on top of that.”

As for when fans can expect to see the release of the record, Noodles said: “It looks like it’s gonna be fall. We were hoping to have it out this summer. I was recently informed it looks more like fall now.”

And lastly, he said that fans may get a chance to hear a new Offspring track during the band’s live shows this summer, “We’ve got one of the new songs already ready to go. It’s one of the upbeat ones. The working title is ‘Ripping’. So it kind of gives you an idea of what the song is about. And I think that we’ll be playing that over the summer.”

You can listen to the interview below.

The new record will be The Offspring’s first one since 2012’s Days Go By.