Toward the end of May, Dying Scene published a feature piece marking the fifteenth anniversary of Lucero‘s self-titled debut album. You can read it here if you haven’t done so already. In the course of digging around on the band’s history, however, it dawned on us pretty quickly that any sort of retrospective on Lucero was going to have to dive much deeper than just reexamining their first album. Because, to paraphrase the first couple of paragraphs of that last story, Lucero are, for a great number of people and due to an equally great number of reasons, one of those bands. A band that has a way of not only writing music and lyrics that strike you right in the emotional core, but fundamentally changing
When I started this project a few months ago, I had visions of turning it into a 5,000 word ode to Lucero in my own words. As you’ve probably established, they’re one of those bands for me. The mark of a good storyteller and songwriter is that you are able to paint a picture and strike a nerve that’s so poignant that you put the listener in your shoes, making them feel as though you’re not only singing to them but about them. For myself, like most Lucero fans, the list of songs penned in Ben Nichols’ trademark tone that were probably written precisely about me is at least a couple dozen deep, primarly because the band’s canon is part heartbreaking, part self-deprecating, part cathartic good-time anthem and filled with ever-evolving sonic differences. But let’s be honest; one part-time pseudo-music blogger’s opinion on what he thinks is one of the most important bands in the foundation of this scene isn’t, well…it isn’t that interesting. I mean who do I think I am, Dan Ozzi?
Anyway, with that latter sentiment in mind, we sent out feelers to a couple friends of the scene that we know share our admiration for the ever-changing band of misfits from Memphis, Tennessee. What follows below is, we think, a pretty compelling look at just what makes Lucero Lucero, and what it means to be a fan of the band and of Ben Nichols penchant for songwriting (never that good with words anyway my ass). There are stories of personal encounters (wrapping Christmas presents…drunken tour bus hijinks…etc), there are comparisons to bands like Slayer and NOFX…equal parts entertaining and enlightening and, thanks to the guys we talked to, incredibly thoughtful read. Many thanks to Frank Turner, Dave Hause, and Rebuilder‘s Sal Medrano for the assists! You can head here to scope out Lucero’s upcoming run of US tour dates, which kicks off next weekend (September 24th) in Boston.
Lucero Q & A with Dave Hause
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): For a band like Lucero to have a home on punk websites or alt-country websites or Americana websites, and for them to feel right at home on all of them, I don’t think would have happened fifteen years ago when that album first came out. And I think that they’re one of the reasons why that sort of happened. There’s no real genre there, but there are a lot of people who dig them and their changing sounds and Ben’s songwriting.
Dave Hause: They certainly, for whatever reason, were regarded as a punk rock band. They made a home in the punk rock scene. I think you can make a good case to say that without them, there isn’t really like a Revival Tour…
Or whatever that thing in our little world has become. At this point, it’s every swinging dick with a guitar. It’s like punk music thinks it can be Paul Simon… But anyway, I think that they did pave a lot of that road. And I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s the gravel in his tone and his sort of approach to songwriting. Maybe it’s the way they looked, so punk rockers could say “hey, this is our band.”
It’s interesting…Lucero is a band that I’ve played a bunch of one-offs with over the years. Like, many, many times. We’d play two shows in a row, or one here and one there. And I’ve been a fan. When the Loved Ones were out touring on the first record, for whatever reason, we ended up going out on a bunch of ska support tours. There were two or three in a row. We opened up for Catch-22 to get somewhere, like the routing was on the way somewhere. We did a run with The Mad Caddies, then we did a run with Less Than Jake. It really wasn’t a great fit, any of those tours. Maybe the Mad Caddies would be the closest thing, but even that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. But, typically ska people are open to all kinds of music and they liked our band, so we ended up on some of those tours. But it didn’t necessarily translate to any new fans.
But oddly enough, on a bunch of those tours, Lucero was always in town on the same night. Many, many times we would go see them across town. There was a run at some point where we were in the same town for three or four days. And I would go either get on the guest list or go across town and buy a ticket and see Lucero play. It was really inspiring, because the shows were really small…this was probably in 2006, maybe? And the coolest thing about them then, which is also the coolest thing about them now, is that they always do exactly what it is that they want. They played for as long as they wanted. There wasn’t a lot of…you didn’t get the impression that they were “going for it.” You got the impression that they were fine with it being whatever it is. There were no big banner drops or intros, or all of the rock-and-roll “go for it” posturing, you know. All of that stuff I love, by the way. I think that stuff’s great, and I’m more than happy to involve that in anything I do.
But them, it was really just guys that were legitimately there to play. It seemed like Ben just wanted to play as many of his songs as he could. There’s a culture that seemed to grow and grow and grow. And now, they seem to be like the Slayer of that genre. You don’t really want to open for Lucero! When I first started playing solo, I didn’t have any records out or anything, it was maybe within the first ten shows I ever played. I opened for them in Philly, and it was not fun. It was not easy. There was definitely people who only wanted to see Lucero. But I think a lot of that is because they’ve built their own culture without really looking over their shoulders or involving themselves in things like Twitter…all of the things that you’re “supposed to do” to be successful in this business. They seem to shrug it off and just worry about getting to the show, playing the show, and writing the songs. I think that’s a huge reason why they have such a large, lasting culture.
I’m pretty sure that they didn’t even bring an opener out on the last tour. I think it they just did two full sets, basically. A full acoustic show and a full electric show, if I’m not mistaken.
Yeah, I mean, they’ve got so much material. It’s “A Night With Lucero” now. Even if they brought an opener, who would it be that would compliment the show? It doesn’t even make a whole lot of sense, you know? There’s certainly bands they could open for, I think they went out with Social Distortion and…oh, who was it…The Drive-By Truckers. That all makes sense.
I think they were out with the Dropkick Murphys a year or two ago? Or maybe that was just a one-off in Boston, I forget…
Yeah, that makes sense. But by and large, it’s just “An Evening with Lucero.” It’s a place where you can nestle in and have your whiskey and have a few beers and listen to well-made songs. The record that I love is That Much Further West…which number is that?
Oh god…that’s number three I think.
Yeah, that’s the third one. That’s the one where I think it all kind of came together. And I think they’ve obviously made awesome records since then. … I’ve crossed paths with them many, many times and I know the guys. In fact, I had a really fun Christmas Eve with Brian a few years back. I was on tour with Cory Branan, and we were doing a co-bill solo tour. We ended up in Memphis on Christmas Eve, and we went over to Brian’s house. And he is the most Christmas guy ever.
Oh, he goes all out. Wrapping and buying tons and tons of gifts. He’s very into Christmas. That’s his thing. He makes no bones about it, he wants his kids to have the classic, movie-style Christmas. I actually helped him wrap presents with his lady and Cory and his fiance at the time, his wife now, on a Christmas Eve…
And I mean, my mom, when she was living, was the most Christmas person I’d ever met. She loved it. And he had her beat. He was like Santa himself. It was pretty awesome.
It’s funny to think of a couple hard-partying and hard-drinking rock-and-roll people…obviously Cory’s got his own history too…and the story that comes to mind is wrapping Christmas presents. I think that’s really, really awesome.
Yeah, it was really awesome, and that wasn’t lost on me. Cory, Brian from Lucero and I have all had that follow us; the bottle is certainly brought up pretty quickly in whatever press we’ve done. And maybe it was two days before Christmas, but here we were wrapping away, with bows and glitter, and they were doing Elf On A Shelf, which, I didn’t know what that even was…
Yeah, I’ve only learned about that recently myself.
They were all about it. It was pretty funny. But yeah, my experience with them has been in watching the culture grow and change, and how that whole thing works. I’ve opened for them at various festivals and one-offs over the years and not only watched it grow but gotten to know them and their crew and just watched it develop. It’s wild that it’s already been fifteen years. In some weird way, it doesn’t seem like it’s been fifteen years, but then in some other ways, it feels like they’ve been around for thirty years. I don’t remember them forming and roaring on to the scene ever, you know? They just were there, and everyone was aware of them and excited to go see them. But it wasn’t like “oh, there’s this new band called Lucero…” at any point.
I think it’s cool to talk to songwriters about other songwriters, and about songs in particular that they wish maybe that they had written, either something that sums up what you’ve gone through perfectly, or something that you hear once and it just makes you feel like you wish you could have said that that way. Are there songs from their catalog that are like that? Because I’ll tell you, there are songs of Ben’s that I wish I had written for god’s sake, because they’re pitch-perfect.
Oh yeah. I ended up covering “Joining The Army” for the seven-inch series I did after Resolutions came out. Most of that record, I wish I had written. The weird thing about it is that it’s so distinctly him that at this point, when one of those little jangly songs comes to me, you really have to watch out to make sure it doesn’t sound like Ben.
Oh really? That’s a conscious thing?
He’s kinda cornered that whole thing. Obviously it’s all in the words and the delivery, that’s the magic. He’s really done that thing so well for so long that you’ve got to be careful that you don’t write a Lucero song. You almost have to leave anything regarding whiskey and women to bed. He’s gonna beat you! (*both laugh*) And it’s funny because there are certain lyrics and certain things that you kind of avoid. You’re like “well, you can’t really say ‘love’ that much in a song, and if you do, it’s got to really count.” And you get into this these weird, nerdy songwriter rules…as if there were rules, there aren’t really but you can kinda delude yourself into saying that…but I think that the odd thing is that he’s kinda like Ryan Adams, in that he’ll go for a riff or a line that is so perfect, and has such common language…there’s no trickery to it.Whereas a guy like Cory (Branan) is well-versed and kind of a Paul Simon-y wordsmith. Or even someone like (Matt) Skiba. They’re obviously really well-read, and that comes out in the lyrics. Isbell is another one like that.
Whereas Ben, I think he can do all that, but he really just knows what his thing is. He knows what people that are involved in the culture want to hear next. And I’m not trying to say that gets caught in a loop at all. But there’s things that Ryan Adams will do, where you think “he said that, and he’s getting away with it, and it’s so perfect.” He’ll do something that will make you think “I can’t get away with that,” but he does. Like, you can’t say “stay with me” over and over and over again. But then Ryan Adams will do it, or Ben will do something like it, and you think “oh, well, of course you can.” You have to sell it in the delivery of the vocal and have the whole song support that idea, even if it’s very simple. And I think that’s part of the magic of what is going on with their whole culture. He’s keeping it intentionally simple, and that really sticks to people’s ribs.
It doesn’t seem … you mention guys like Isbell and Cory I think those guys sing from the heart of course, but I think that they sing from their brains too. They pay very close attention to the way words are structured. And it seems like Ben sings from his gut most of the time.
He is. He and Chuck (Ragan) have that cornered. I think they probably get songs done faster that way. I’ve seen Chuck write, and I’ve seen how quickly it comes out, and how little he allows that inner critic to get involved. Which is great. That’s what allows him to be prolific and allows so much magic to come out. Whereas I think, for me personally, and I know a guy like Cory or maybe Isbell…there is more of like that Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits or Paul Simon thing. I think maybe it all comes more from Dylan, I’m not really sure how it all organizes. But it certainly has more of an intellectual bent to it. Dan Andriano kinda writes more like that too; he wants it to be interesting. I think that’s the difference between a guy like Ryan Adams and a guy like Jason Isbell.
But Ben seems to be more of a writer who’s willing to wear it on his sleeve and get it out. I’m not sure what his process is, but it seems very, very natural. And I think people respond to that. I think, by and large, that I went with that approach more. I wish I was more apt to not sand the table; to just get the table done and get it out, and if you can see a few nicks and hatchet marks in the table, that’s cool! I think Ben does that and Chuck does that, and Tim Barry has that sort of approach. I really admire that about him, and I think that’s where a lot of the magic lies with that band.
Do you think that’s something that they learn, or do you think that’s something that they just have and it is what it is? Like, do you think that guys like Ben or Chuck purposely spend time not trying to overthink things, or do you think it just works that way.
I don’t know. I think my armchair quarterbacking of it is that these guys started doing it really young, when nobody was paying attention. The industry, so to speak, had to come around to what they were doing later as they had developed a pretty sizeable fanbase. And so, by that point, your confidence is pretty high because you know that people are listening and excited about your approach. So you’re not trying to kick the door down, the door’s already kicked down and at that point you’ve already built a culture.
The Bouncing Souls are like that in another way. By the time they were drawing a thousand people, they weren’t a buzz band. They were a band that had been around for a while. And Lucero’s got that going. So I think that getting in his own way was not very natural ever, because by the time people had figured out what they were up to, they had already been doing it for many years. I don’t think one way is right or wrong, I just think that’s what really special about their thing. I certainly don’t want to give people the impression that I think one is better. I think it’s really cool and admirable for somebody to be like “here’s what it is, the song’s done.” Rather than sanding and polishing. You can still get amazing stuff both ways.
It seems like that would be a tough switch to make mid-stream? Like, for somebody like you or Isbell or Cory to put out an album where you almost don’t give a fuck (about the rough edges), that the songs you came up with are what they are with little polish. It seems like that would be a weird thing to do a few albums in.
Yeah, because I think…for me, it’s interesting because when I do tap into the energy where here’s what’s in my heart and it comes out…that’s what people respond to the most. So the cleverness is not necessarily all that celebrated, you know? I think with a guy like Isbell it is because he’s so solid all the way through. But it would be strange to just have a Stones-style record come out for some of those guys. Whereas, with Lucero, you can do that. I’m hoping to do that, actually (*both laugh*). I’ve got so many songs now that I’m less pressured, and I think that once I cultivate whatever this next thing is, there will be a lot more of that coming out. You kinda have to relearn that there is an element where you just get it done and get it out. It’s never going to be perfect. That’s what Noel Gallagher has always said about “Wonderwall”…that he woke up with a hangover and wrote that in like fifteen minutes. If he had known it would be sung in football stadiums for twenty or thirty years, he never would have finished the song.
And the band has really changed so much over the years that there’s almost like three different incarnations of the band, including the horn section more recently. The core four guys have been the same, but they’ve had as many different sounds and styles as anybody over the years. And I think in part it’s because Ben just doesn’t care. He’s going to put out whatever he wants, whether it’s a soul record or whatever.
Yeah, and there’s really not a whole lot of pomp and circumstance about it. They don’t go about getting press that way, like “oh, here’s the big change.” They haven’t done that weird Flaming Lips or Radiohead thing where it’s like “we have our thing, and now we’re shifting it.” Which isn’t to say they haven’t changed; like you said, they’ve added new elements. They’re legit, man. It’s hard to find a better band at that thing in America, or anywhere for that matter. They’re inherently a very American-type of band. That’s why they’re the Slayer. They’re in their own league and there’s really no comparison. They keep doing their own thing, and I don’t think they’ll stop. I can’t really see them going on a planned hiatus, you know? Somewhere in a bar…and at this point it’s much bigger than bars…but somewhere in America tonight, Lucero is playing a show, and that’s a nice thing to know in these ever changing times.
Lucero Q & A with Frank Turner
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): …Your name has come up in a couple of interviews recently surrounding this project, and somebody even called you like the President of the Lucero Fan Club. (*both laugh*) So whether you know that’s the reputation that you have… How far back do you go with them, really? Do you remember a specific time?
Frank Turner: I go back with them to the Revival Tour in 2008. I first got exposed to them when Chuck Ragan asked me to do four shows on the Revival Tour in 2008. It was the first kind of decent American shows that I really did. They were … before that I’d done (audio cut out) shows, which were fun and great, but there weren’t really as many people there. So Chuck asked me to do these shows, and it’s Chuck, and it’s Tim Barry from Avail who obviously I knew…not personally, but by reputation, and then Ben Nichols from Lucero. I wasn’t really familiar with who Lucero was before that tour, so I showed up and he was kind of the wild card on the tour.
And there’s kind of a story which has become the stuff of legend, which is on that first night of the tour, Ben had broken his leg a couple of days beforehand. And when I’d arrived, Jimmy, the tour manager, had taken me on the bus and shown me where I’d be staying, and it was one of the bottom bunks. He’d forgotten that because Ben had broken his leg, he’d moved from top bunk to bottom bunk and that it was actually Ben’s bunk. So I got super shit-faced that night, and I got into Ben’s bunk before he did. And when Ben came to get into bed, I was in his bed and he was like “goddamn it, there’s a motherfucking Englishman in my bed!” And that was kind of the first bonding moment for me and Ben! (*both laugh*). So that was my introduction to the band. It’s interesting to me to be referred to as the president of the fan club. I can certainly think of people who are more into them than I am. And that’s not to say that I’m not into them. I adore them to death, they’re fucking great.
Have you…a lot of what’s come up is that Lucero obviously aren’t, by any stretch of the imagination, what you’d consider a traditional punk band. And yet, they obviously have just as big a following probably of anybody within the punk circuit. They’re a tough band to classify anyway. What do you accredit that to; their ability to fit in in the punk world or the rock world or the Americana world or the folk world…
Well I think that, with all due respect, the whole thing of genre classification is very much more kind of word games for music journalists than actual musicians. And I think that often in life, for some of my favorite bands, that kind of stuff is completely irrelevant. Like, Lucero is just a band making music they want to make. Personally, I would probably describe them as a country punk band, but there’s more to it than that. There’s more earnestness to them than that, but I don’t think anybody in the band could give a fuck. And that’s part of why it’s effortless and why it sounds good. They’re not sitting there trying to triangulate things like a recipe…it’s gotta be two parts this and one part that…they’re just making music that they want to make and it sounds good.
As you listen to their music, do you have specific songs or specific albums that you look to as your favorite? One thing that I always like to songwriters about is other songwriters…are there songs in Ben’s catalog that make you say “fuck, I wish I had written that?”
Oh yeah, very much so. There are tons of Ben’s songs which I slabber over jealously. To sort of continue the story if you like, my next big exposure to Lucero was when we did a long tour in the States in 2010 where The Sleeping Souls and I were first on, Lucero was the main support and Social D were the headliners. That was when I really got to know them collectively as people and as a band. Having already gotten to know Ben and see Ben play every day, that was when I really kind of immersed myself in their work and their oeuvre. My favorite record of theirs, by some distance actually, is 1372 Overton Park, which, coincidentally, was the record they were touring on at that time. Although I sort of have to qualify that.
One of the things about Lucero is there a band whose sound has evolved over time but more to the point, their musicianship has evolved over time. There are songs that I got into hearing them in a live context from touring with them that I adore that I don’t enjoy the recorded versions of as much because they’re from back in the day. For example, “Tears Don’t Matter Much” is one of my favorite songs of theirs but the recorded version of it is nothing next to the live version that they were doing when we were touring with them. They had the horn section and they had Todd on pedal steel and everything. That’s the thing about making the distinction between arrangement and production and songwriting, which are all very different things. Certainly the album Tennessee, which everyone loses their minds over, I think is a good record, but I think Ben’s voice is so much stronger and they’re so much more together as a band now than they were when they made that record.
That’s one of the things that even inspired me to look back at the first album at all. I sort of missed it at the time, I think I knew somebody that had it, and I kinda thought that Ben, at the time, sounded too much like Cobain for my liking, particularly because there were a lot of people that sounded like Cobain at the time. So I just kinda looked past them. They certainly grew on me over time, but then you look at the live album they put out a couple of years ago, where they play a bunch of songs from the first album and they’re almost unidentifiable. They’re all the same songs, “My Best Girl” and “It Gets The Worst At Night” are on there and they’re obviously the same songs, but because of the way that the band has shifted, they’re almost unrecognizable from the original versions.
That’s the thing. This is a weird comparison to make, but they remind me in that sense of NOFX, who are a band who are very much more together musically now, and who have learned to play in the public eye. If you listen to Liberal Animation and S&M Airlines, those records kind of suck to be honest, but they’ve gone on to become one of the best punk bands in the whole world. I’m not sure that Lucero’s aptitude of their improvement is quite so extreme, but it’s definitely the case that they’ve grown up as a band and as musicians in the public eye.
That’s the second time that I’ve had NOFX come up as a comparison for Lucero, and Dave (Hause) called them the Slayer of the whatever their genre is, because they’re a band that you don’t want to have to open for, because of their crowd and that they’re going to blow you off the stage (*both laugh*).
Also, the other thing I would say about that is that Mike from NOFX, who’s a good friend of mine, has actually quite specifically said to me that I’m not going to ask you guys to open for us, because our fans wouldn’t take particularly kindly to you! (*both laugh*)
As you look at Lucero as a band, they’ve never really made major headlines, at least the way that I sort of interpret things. They’ve never really been a major buzz band, but they’ve continued to be one of the more consistently popular touring bands with a consistently growing fan population. Do you attribute that to anything in particular? Whether it’s Ben’s songwriting or their live show or the fact that they don’t really give a fuck about people’s opinions in a lot of ways?
Yeah, there’s also a weird logarithm in the music industry where you are a band who start making waves. And if you don’t if you don’t, then, kind of continue and break through into new areas, in the short term that’s kind of a bad thing because there’s very much a premium on constantly building things and constantly expanding. But in the long run, that kind of trajectory can engender respect and longevity, because you were never a hype band. You were a band who just did what they did, and if people were into it, they were into it, and if they weren’t, they weren’t, and that’s just kind of the end of it. I think that retrospectively, that kind of career trajectory can build respect, which is really kind of cool.
I think that they’ve also been the intro for a lot of people into different styles of music, if that makes sense. I know that coming at it from the punk and rock prisms, they’ve opened a lot of people’s minds to the folk world, to the Americana world, to the country world, and now on the last couple albums to the Memphis soul world.
Yeah, definitely. I feel quite strongly that they, as a band, the whole thing were the punk scene started opening up to country music and folk music, they’re ground zero for that in a way. They were the band that sort of opened an awful lot of people’s minds to that. To a degree, I would include myself into that. Certainly my interest in not so much folk but country…proper country…was piqued by them. They’re a gateway band like that for a lot of people. Having said that, one of the things that I’ll add to that is that one of the things I like about them as a band is that the country thing that they do is not…I think there are a lot of people in the punk scene for whom the country thing has been a bit of an affectation, you know what I mean? You wear a trucker hat and a Merle Haggard t-shirt and you become an alternative within the punk scene. I think that for those guys, especially with Ben, that’s not that at all. That’s genuinely the scene that they’re from that they give a fuck about, and I think that comes across.
I was looking back retrospectively into even the country scene or world or whatever you want to call it, particularly in this country back when Lucero came out and the country world back then was Shania Twain and Garth Brooks and early Dixie Chicks and Faith Hill…that was “country music,” like they say “all hat, no cattle.” That’s exactly what it was…pop music, but maybe with a steel guitar in the back and they wore boots and a big hat, so people called it country.
I think they definitely fit into the tradition of outlaw country in a way that not many people in the modern country world do, you know what I mean? That whole sort of Willie Nelson or even Townes Van Zandt kind of vibe, being outside of whatever Nashville has okayed. I think that that’s a very big part of their self-identity as a band.
Do you think that’s why they’ve carried over as well as they have into the punk world? Because of the outlaw, whiskey-drinking, hard-partying thing that comes along with their music, but that’s genuinely whiskey-drinking and hard-partying, not just written by a Nashville studio, you know what I mean?
Yeah, yeah, sure. And again, I don’t think they’ve done this in a calculated way, but they’re a very real and very accessible band. There’s not many people who are big Lucero fans who haven’t at some point shared a whiskey with Ben Nichols. They’re not “rock stars,’ and I think that reality in what they do certainly comes across.
Lucero Q & A with Sal Medrano (Rebuilder, ex-Dead Ellington)
Editor’s note: Caught up with Sal on fairly short notice after his band, Rebuilder, had played shows in Montrel, Quebec, and Burlington, Vermont, then drove all the way back to Boston in the same day. For time purposes, we just sorta dove right in to Sal’s stories. Enjoy.
Sal Medrano: Steve Theo was doing First Contact on (legendary, now-defunct Boston radio station) WFNX, and he asked me if I wanted to come in and like co-produce or whatever. He had Ben (Nichols) come in and play a few songs when Nobody’s Darlings came out, and they were cool, but I didn’t really know the band before that. But more than the songs, I remember thinking just how genuinely nice he was as a person. Fast-forward two years later, when Virgin (Megastore in Boston) was going out of business, and they had a huge CD sale….it might have been Tower Records, I don’t remember, but I think it was Virgin. Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers had come out, and it was on sale for like five bucks because they were just trying to get rid of everything. And I was like ‘I remember people talking about this band.’ So I bought it and listened to it and immediately gravitated towards it. I’m not really a country fan, but that’s not really country. There’s something else going on there. There’s so many bands that whine about dumb problems or dumb girls and stuff like that. But with Lucero, I believed it more, you know? There’s a genuine feeling of heartbrokenness and loss.
And it wasn’t until I was listening to it and looking through it that I was like “oh, this is that dude Ben that came and played!” And I remember how genuine he was, and I remember thinking “this is real shit, here…this is awesome!” I remember looking at their tour dates, and every time they came to Boston, I was on tour. I could have gotten into the band so long ago, and by then I had fallen in love with that band. I got the back catalog, and every record was that same feeling of, like, this is real. And I remember being on tour with Big D (& The Kids Table), and their tour was around the same time, and every single city we were in, Lucero were there either a day before or a day after. I kept looking to see if I could catch them on tour at all. And I remember listening to the CD in the van all the time, and the other guys weren’t really into it because they hadn’t really heard about them. And I was just like “fuck you guys, this is awesome.”
I remember us being in Texas, like deep in Texas, and we stopped at a restaurant and there was a Taco Bell, and we walked in and it was all cowboy boots and big hats, so we stuck out real bad, you know? So we were sitting there, and I see a bunch of other dudes with tattoos walk in, and they look equally as out of place. And I saw Ben, and I was like ‘that’s Lucero!’ So I walked over, and Ben looked at me really weird, and he was like ‘hey, aren’t you from Boston?’ And I was like, ‘yeah, dude, you guys played my radio show, like, years ago.’ He said ‘yeah, I knew I recognized you!’ So I met the guys, and I told them that I’d literally been listening to the new record every fucking day on tour. That I was on tour selling merch and trying to come out to a show if one would correspond in the same city. And Ben was, like, ‘let me know if you’re gonna come out at some point!’ We just kept missing each other for years, until I finally got to see Lucero play, I think at Middle East (in Cambridge, MA).
And every time I saw Ben, he always remembered me. He’ll say, like, ‘yeah, we ran into each other at the Taco Bell randomly on tour.’ Everyone in that band are just the nicest dudes. They’re just genuine guys. When you see them, they’re just a group of friends making music together. It’s evolved more…their merch girl Mary has become a good friend of mine, I help her with merch and stuff. They’ve met my brother before. It’s one of those things where I run into Ben or Mary, it’s like no time has passed since the last time we saw each other. We just pick up where we left off and stay friends forever. It’s one of those bands that, every record they put out, they’ve stayed in this pocket of not making the same record they’ve always done. A lot of bands, particularly alt-country bands, can kinda do that for a while. But they’ve evolved to where they can almost become a sort of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band kind of thing, and still stay with the fact that what he’s singing is genuine and at the core of it is very believable and it’s not a bunch of bullshit. So that’s pretty much my history with Lucero!
That’s pretty awesome, particularly because you wouldn’t assume that he’d remember a chance encounter like that years later…to meet him at a radio station in Boston and then meet him at a Taco Bell in Texas…those two things, you wouldn’t think, would register to most people, let alone somebody who makes his living out on the road and meeting people.
Totally. And I’ve never seen Ben not meet people and hang out after a show. Like Frank Turner, they don’t consider themselves rock stars, you know? And they will get flocked by people and people will annoy the fuck out of them. It’s one of those things that’s good and bad. He’s so personable and their music is so relatable that people feel like the boundaries they have with normal people, people don’t pay attention to. And that sucks. People completely feel like they can just do whatever they want because they feel like they’re just your drinking buddies, because of how relatable Ben is and his music is and the other guys are. That’s the good and the bad. But you know, I’ve never seen them flip out on a fan. I’ve seen them get, like ‘alright dude, you gotta kinda calm down a bit,’ you know? But they’re just legitimate, genuine people. I think that’s what keeps that band around for a very long time, you know?
Yeah, you talk about them being relatable and that being at the core of why they’ve been around for a long time, at some level, fifteen years is kind of a weird time. At some level, it seems like they’ve been around forever, but it also feels like they never really arrived. Like Dave Hause said for this story the other day, there’s something comforting about knowing that somewhere in America on any given night over the last fifteen years, Lucero is probably playing a show. But they never really burst on the scene, they were never really a buzz band. They were never the next big thing, they just always feel like they’ve been around forever.
And I think it’s one of those things where Ben doesn’t write songs to try to be the buzz band or the next best thing. They want their music to be enjoyed by their fans…this is even why they do the Family Picnic all the time, it’s a gathering of friends. When Ben writes songs, it’s never, ever for “let’s write the biggest song ever.” It’s really more like he writes about his experiences, and unfortunately every guy and girl in the world can probably relate to heartbreak like that.
And yet, it doesn’t seem like he’s gone back to the well too many times, you know? Their on 8 or nine albums or whatever it is now, but it doesn’t seem like he’s gone back to the well of women and whiskey too many times, you know? He can still write songs about the same subject matter but still make it sound new. And maybe that’s the changing sound, but lyrically it still sounds new.
The way I look at it, Lucero’s never going to stop playing their old catalog. It’s just that these new songs are going to be sprinkled in throughout the set, so it’ll make the set change up a little bit from being the same thing over and over again.
Were they a gateway band for you, because I know they have been for me, for the alt-country thing or the folk-punk thing or whatever the hell we call it…even Frank Turner said as much the other day, that they were a gateway band for him in terms of the outlaw country thing until he heard them do it. And for a lot of people, that opened a lot of doors to everything else.
It’s one of those things where they really weren’t a gateway band for me to really dive into alt-country. It’s still not one of my favorite things. But, it was like…after that, it did get me into Drag The River. But more than anything what it did was, being in Dead Ellington and writing songs and not really feeling like a competent guitar player and feeling I should just sing…seeing people like Ben and Frank, they’re not the greatest guitar players in the world, but they’re easily able to lead a band. It really kinda made it easy for me to say “fuck it, I’m just going to pick up a guitar and if I’m not awesome at it, I’ll just keep learning, I don’t need to be the greatest guitar player.” Listening to Lucero and Ben and Frank Turner made me think that maybe I can do it.
Because you don’t have to be Jimi Hendrix or, in our world, Brian Baker or somebody. Ben’s been playing the same half-dozen chords (a specific reference to how Ben physically plays; check the tabs) the same way for fifteen years and it always sounds different and it always sounds awesome.