From The Dying Scene Vault # 6: Phil Marcade (The Senders) on The Ramones, Nancy Spungen and the cast of characters on “Punk Avenue”

Thanks to everyone who has checked out all of the new content we’ve been cranking out since the relaunch of Dying Scene! We’re stoked to be back, and we’re even more stoked that you’ve been checking in! Because we have an awful lot of material from the old site in the Archive, we thought it […]

Thanks to everyone who has checked out all of the new content we’ve been cranking out since the relaunch of Dying Scene! We’re stoked to be back, and we’re even more stoked that you’ve been checking in! Because we have an awful lot of material from the old site in the Archive, we thought it would be cool to take a look back at some of the posts from our past.

It’s a bit of a bittersweet installment of From The DS Vault this time out. Word broke this afternoon that Philippe “Phil” Marcade passed away earlier this week after a relatively brief battle with pancreatic cancer. Here’s the news as relayed on his social media:

With great sadness we share the news that our friend Philippe Marcade has left us.

Phil, who thrilled audiences as the lead singer of The Senders and authored the memoir Punk Avenue, succumbed peacefully among loved ones in Paris on June 5, 2023, following a brief struggle with pancreatic cancer. He was 68 years old.

From 1976 through his final performances in 2017, Philippe remained true to the music and scene he loved, delivering a frenzied mix of rock and roll / R&B intensity and deft, inventive songwriting to audiences of both The Senders and The Backbones.

Those fortunate enough to see him perform know that Philippe Marcade was a rare individual who had true business being a LEAD SINGER. From the late- ‘70s NYC Punk scene onward, Phil would take the stage without the protection of a guitar, grab the microphone, and for an hour or so he’d croon, scream, dance, joke, blow harp and take audiences on a wild ride with easy assurance. No matter where or when, Phil always turned it on.

Phil and I chatted over the phone a few years ago when he was doing press for his dynamite book Punk Avenue: Inside The New York City Underground 1972 – 1982. He was living in Italy so it was very much a long-distance call (remember those!?!) and it was super fun. Phil was funny and engaging and still seemed to display a sense of awe and wonderment about some of the obviously chaotic but certainly legendary times that he was privy to in and around New York’s Lower East Side half a century ago. We stayed in contact via Facebook a few times, and he was always inspiring and interested in what was going on. When I was reading the book and doing research for our talk, I found out that a friend of mine ran in the same circle as Phil in NYC back in the 1970s, and they shared a bunch of mutual acquaintances. In a weird twist of fate, cancer has claimed both of them this calendar year. I miss them both. So without further ado, here’s my chat with Phil from May 2017.

If we were running down a list of the most famous, and infamous, figures from the epicenter of the fledgling punk rock scene in New York City’s Lower East Side in the mid-1970’s, we’d have to scroll pretty deep into the annals to find the name Phillipe Marcade. Marcade fronted the high-energy blues punk band The Senders that were staples at such legendary venues as CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City for the bulk of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and yet neither the man nor the band really got the credit that they deserved outside a twelve-block radius.

Yet Marcade was every bit as entrenched in the 1970s Lower East Side as any of the Ramones or Debbie Harry or Johnny Thunders or Legs McNeil or any of the others whose names come more easily to mind. In fact, to hear one-and-only McNeil tell it in the Foreward to Marcade’s brand-new book, Punk Avenue: Inside The New York City Underground 1972 – 1982, Marcade, “while not a household name, was friends with everyone at CBGB and Max’s Kansas City, and a bona fide member, in good-standing of the New York Punk Rock Scene.”

We caught up with Marcade over the phone from his home in Italy to discuss Punk Avenue and the early NYC punk scene in more detail. Still the purveyor of a heavy Parisian accent, Marcade is equal parts humble and engaging. That he ended up with this particular story to tell is the result of a series of profoundly fascinating circumstances. A native of France, Marcade took a trip to Amsterdam as a teenager that led to a chance encounter with a American traveler named Bruce, which, in turn, eventually resulted in Marcade spending several decades in the Lower East Side, but not before stopovers in Boston, a longer stay in Amsterdam, a hog farm in New Mexico, and…his eighteenth birthday “party” in a Federal Penitentiary in Florence, Arizona. It seems that even in the 1970s, the feds frowned on shipping large quantities of straight hash across state lines…

Marcade might have ended up in the gritty, tough-as-nails Lower East Side in the early 1970s by happy accident, and yet that’s not an entirely bad way to describe the foundation of the scene itself. Given the transient, underground nature of the close-knit, artistic community that found itself magnetically pulled to that neighborhood at that time, it’s not a stretch to say that punk music as we came to know and love it would not — could not — have started anywhere else and come out the same. The thing about living and thriving in the geographical center of a once-in-a-generation social and cultural and artistic movement is that you don’t realize you’re there until you’re gone and the moment has passed. That’s especially true when you’re viewing said geographic center from the wide eyes of an outsider. “I thought it was so magical and exciting,” says Marcade, quickly adding on that he “thought that was probably because I was new in New York, and to everybody else I thought it had always been like that. Only years later did I realize that no, that was a true revolution going on at the time!

While perhaps unaware of the importance of the movement that he was a direct witness to at the time, Marcade did, at least, recognize sheer talent when he saw it. “I think that the first very important band of the movement, without being in the movement really, was Dr. Feelgood in England. They really changed things around.” Once the music moved toward this side of the pond, the cream quickly rose to the top. Says Marcade: “The Ramones and the Heartbreakers and The Cramps were just amazing groups. I’m so glad I got to see them.” And see them, he did. Especially The Ramones, whom he estimates he saw roughly “a hundred times.” When asked of his insider’s perspective on whether or not Ramones were, indeed, worthy of what’s become iconic, almost mythological status, Marcade answers an emphatic yes. “They were just amazing! They were so good. I never went to a Ramones show and left thinking “eh, that wasn’t that great.” They never ceased to amaze me!”

On the other hand, perhaps not as worthy of her iconic, mythologized status was Nancy Spungen. Marcade knew knew Spungen prior to, and in fact had a hand in encouraging, her fateful 1976 move to London. “I always thought Nancy was kind of a sad soul, a lonely girl,” says Marcade with a hint of sadness present in his voice for the first time in our conversation. “Everybody was so fucking mean to her,” a fact that led to her leaving her heroin-addicted cat (“Oh, that fucking cat!”) with Marcade and heading to London, where she’d eventually, infamously, cross stars with the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious. “I think a lot of people misjudged her because of the way she carried herself, and because of the whole heroin thing. But knowing her before, she was a sweet girl. She was as much a victim as Sid. She was not that “evil woman” that turned poor Sid Vicious on to drugs… I don’t subscribe to that theory!”

There are no shortage of memorable characters and stories and moments peppered throughout Punk Avenue. Truth be told, the four-page glossary of supporting characters is almost overwhelming (and would probably better serve the reader if it appeared as a reference index to refer back to). That Marcade can recall such a large volume of names and faces and coincidences is no small feat in and of itself. “It’s funny,” says Marcade, “because I seem to have a very, very good visual memory, and when I think back to an anecdote like that, I can really remember it well.” As the project neared completion, he fact-checked and cross-referenced some of the stories and their corresponding dates with some of his surviving companions, though most stories required only little tweaks.

Yet the real noteworthy feat is not simply remembering stories, but weaving them together in a way that is fun and funny and sad and personal and gripping, whether you’re a fan of early the early NYC punk scene or not. Marcade not only does exactly that in expert fashion with Punk Avenue, but he does it in a language that’s not his first. It is perhaps that wide-eyed outsider’s perspective that keeps everything fresh and exciting and new and real to the reader, especially when the stories involve such Herculean figures. Aside, maybe, from Please Kill Me, it’s hands-down the best read about the Who, What, When, Where, Why and, especially, the How of the origins of the punk rock scene as we know it. Punk Avenue is out now, and you can pick it up at Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Target but hopefully at an independent bookseller near you!

Head below to read the text of our full half-hour conversation with Marcade. Aside from what’s touched on above, we cover a lot of ground, including the changes (read as: gentrification) in the Lower East Side in the forty years since the dawn of punk civilization, which bands from the scene got unfortunately overlooked, and which more recent bands have carried the torch most surprisingly. The results may surprise you!

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): Thank you very much for this – I consider it an honor to be able to talk to you. And congratulations on the book. I’ve read it cover-to-cover twice now and I’m now on my third time through because…

Phil Marcade (author, Punk Avenue): You’re joking!

No, I’m not joking at all. I got it in the mail shortly after the holidays and read through it pretty quickly, and then I wanted to read it again to get a little deeper knowing that we might be talking one day. I find it to be raw and uncomfortable sometimes, but you’ve got such a positive and humorous way of writing and talking about things that I find it to be a very fun and compelling read.

Well thank you very much. I’m very touched by that. Thank you!

You’ve obviously had these stories kicking around for a long time…what was the impetus for compiling everything and writing the book in 2017?

Well, what happened is that the idea was kind of turning around in my head for a few years that I wanted to do it. I started by taking a little notebook in my pocket everywhere I went, and I made little notes whenever a funny anecdote would come to mind so I could remember it. I wanted to see if I would have enough to fill up a book, so I just made a whole list of anecdotes, and then I just let time pass by. I wasn’t sure when to start (writing the book). And then, actually, I got motivated by my nephew. His name is Pierre, and he lives in France, and he was asking me questions over email about Max’s and CBGB’s and was very interested by that whole scene. So I started to write a few chapters and sent them to him. He loved them! So having an audience really helped me with getting the work done. I would write about thirty pages and send it to him, and the whole book went like this. It kept me going for about four months.

I was wondering how you were able to — I don’t even want to say recall all of those stories, but there is so much detail and there are so many people involved. The copy that I received has the glossary of who’s who, but I almost wish it had a proper index so I could go back and figure out where everybody overlapped. But I’m glad that you brought up that you started with the notebook, because I was curious how you could possibly recall all of those stories and the people that you came across. It was not just impressive but really staggering.

Thank you! It’s funny, because I seem to have a very, very good visual memory, and when I think back to an anecdote like that, I can really remember it well. The part that I find the most difficult is to put it in the exact time. It was a good job for me to verify all that on the internet afterward. For example, I say at one point that we stopped at the inauguration of Richard Nixon, so I’m checking the dates and yup! I was right. Sometimes I questioned my memory, but it seems that everything that I remembered was right. Little by little I made corrections, or I remembered something slightly wrong. It was really fun to do.

Did you reach out to any of the other people that were involved to verify some of your dates or some of your memories, or see if you got things correct?

Yes, as a matter of fact, there’s a funny incident that happened. One of the main characters is Bruce, my friend that I met in Amsterdam. I wrote the whole thing without talking to him, and since he’s in the book so much and we talk about some stuff that’s…illegal…I wanted his permission. So I called him up on the phone and I told him I wrote this book and he said “that’s fabulous! Read me a little of it!” I didn’t know where to begin, so I just started with the very first page. I read to him that it was my eighteenth birthday and I was transferred from the jail to this other penitentiary in Tempe, Arizona. And he cut me off and said “is this going to be published?” So I thought “uh oh…” I said “yes, why?” And he said “are you out of your mind?” I said “oh, you don’t want me to talk about that we were busted?” And he said “oh no, that’s fine, but the jail was in the town of Florence!” (*both laugh*) I was very relieved that he was fine with the book, and very happy that he had corrected a terrible mistake I made in the third line of the book! (*both laugh*) I talked also to my ex-wife about it and I talked to a few other people who were in the book about it and they were all very happy. I was glad they could confirm some of my stories, so that was cool.

The ‘70s in Manhattan, specifically the Lower East Side, was obviously the epicenter of such a large social and cultural movement, and we really haven’t had a movement like that since then except for maybe Seattle. I’m always curious to hear people that were there, and when they exactly realized that they were in the middle of something that was really interesting and compelling and not like something going on anywhere else. Is that a thing that you were conscious of at the time, or was it not until months or years later…

Not at all! Not at all, and I’ll tell you why. I was not conscious of it because I had just arrived in the States, especially in New York. I thought it was so magical and exciting, but I thought that was probably because I was new in New York, and to everybody else I thought it had always been like that. Only years later did I realize that no, that was a true revolution going on at the time! But since I was brand new to the scene, I was brand new and I didn’t really realize it. But indeed, it was quite incredible, and thinking back on it, what made it so special is that it was such a small scene. Everybody knew each other’s name. There might have been two hundred people, at most, at Max’s and CB’s. It was a small scene of locals. So no, I didn’t realize there was anything revolutionary going on while it was going on…I thought it was just (revolutionary) for me!

One of the things that really comes across in the book is how small but I guess how diverse the scene was. I wasn’t born until the very end of the 1970s so I obviously wasn’t around, but I think we have this romanticized view of that scene and how it revolved around bands that sound like Ramones or like The Dead Boys, but it was really more diverse than just those “punk” punk bands.

Yes absolutely! I totally agree with you!

That is something that really comes across that I think gets overlooked otherwise. The Senders, for example, are not a traditional “punk rock band” by any stretch of the imagination, but you were right there in the middle of the whole scene.

It’s true. I think that at the time when I first heard the term “punk” was through Punk Magazine, so to me, it kinda meant underground, New York, maybe if there was a style it was short hair and not very professional, not very polished, not very skilled musicians. That’s all it meant. Nobody was in the same style as another band. Nobody really knew who was “punk.” I think that all became clearer after the punk wave in England. Then, it was like “yeah, that’s punk.” But the Ramones had Beatles haircuts. Nobody thought of them as being “punk”…or at least I didn’t.  And then you had stuff like Talking Heads, or Blondie…that wasn’t “punk” at all. So it was very mixed indeed. A lot of different styles at the same time. But now, when I hear the term punk, I think 70s or early 80s New York or London, but it took a lot of years to define that image. It didn’t feel like that back then to me at all. It’s funny, because when punk became more popular, in the ‘80s, I hated the term. It had become so overly commercial. Everybody had safety pins on! (*laughs*) As time has passed, I love the term again, but for a while it was just kinda lame! (*both laugh*)

Were there other bands at CB’s or at Max’s that, for whatever reason, never took off the way that Ramones or Talking Heads or Blondie did that you were always sort of curious about why they never got bigger than they were? I think that The Senders would certainly qualify as one of those bands, but are there others that while you were watching them, you were confused about why they never got big?

Oh yes, so many. There were so many bands that I admired so much that never got anywhere. The first thing that came to mind was Buzz And The Flyers. They were tremendous! They were an incredibly good rockabilly band and I thought they would be huge. Also, a lot of bands like The Victims. In the late 70s, there were so many that were great but that never got mentioned or that have been forgotten but were truly great.

Have you been back to the Lower East Side much in recent years? I know that obviously CB’s shut down and Max’s shut down, but what are your thoughts on the gentrification of that area? Even Alphabet City is not what Alphabet City used to be!

Yeah, to say the least! (*laughs*) It’s amazing. I never go to that neighborhood much anymore. Before I left, a friend from Europe came to visit me, and I took them to Avenue B and I couldn’t believe it! It was all yuppie restaurants and stuff. The last time I had been down there, it was very dangerous! There was nothing to do there but cop heroin. It was not a place to put a restaurant! (*laughs*) It’s amazing how much it’s changed, and I find it a bit sad. It seems to me that so many cool people got pushed out of the Lower East Side and moved to Brooklyn or Queens. Like myself, I lived in Queens for fifteen years because my rent became too much. I was living between Avenue A and Avenue B for twenty years or so, and I had to move out. All my friends too. It improved, maybe, the quality of life, but it lost a lot of the artistic life. All of the musicians and artists moved out, which is a shame, because there was such a cool community there before. Everybody was within three or four blocks of each other and that really made a cool scene, but I guess they all went to Brooklyn now! (*both laugh*) You’ve got to be very rich now to live in Manhattan. It’s crazy.

Right. And I’m calling from just outside Boston, and we’ve gone through the same thing. The Rat, which you reference early on in the book, got turned into a luxury hotel years ago…


Yeah. And whatever was left of that part of the Boston scene has long since gone away.

Oh man. I didn’t know that The Rat was gone.

Yeah, that building got sold to Boston University and they basically leveled the whole block and turned it into a luxury hotel.

I haven’t thought about that place in a while. I’m really sad to hear that. And you know, it’s the exact same thing on the Lower East Side. NYU bought most of the buildings and turned them into expensive rent for students that have rich parents! (*both laugh*) That’s nice for them, but not for us!

Yeah, and I honestly have mixed feelings about it. Like you said, the art and the community and the grit are gone, and yet, the city (Boston) itself is much safer. You can walk around at all hours of the day and night and not take your life into your hands in some of those old neighborhoods, so it’s a double-edged sword.

Exactly! It’s good and bad. It’s too bad it wasn’t safe like that when we were living there. But now, all my friends moved to Brooklyn — to Williamsburg — and that’s alright. It’s less dangerous than it was in 1980. But it’s a shame. It’s beautiful! It’s very nice, but it’s impossible to afford! Not when you’re a chick playing in a band or a painter or something!

One of the characters that I find most compelling in the book — well, she’s not a character, she’s a real person — was Nancy Spungen. She and her relationship with Sid have obviously been mythologized over the last forty years, but you knew her at a very different time. I was really fascinated by the way that she wove in and out of the early third of the book. You knew her differently than the public does now, and you even took over her heroin-addicted cat! That’s fascinating!

(*laughs*) That fucking cat! (*both laugh*) It’s funny, because I always thought Nancy was kind of a sad soul, a lonely girl. She wasn’t that pretty. Everybody was so fucking mean to her. And then, I read an interview with Johnny Rotten saying “ah, she worked as a prostitute and she was ugly.” And I thought, ‘what’s the matter with him? He’s supposed to be the king of punk rockers and he’s putting her down for not being pretty?’ I mean, come on! (*laughs*) What, you have to be a top model to be a punk rocker? But yes, I think a lot of people misjudged her because of the way she carried herself, and because of the whole heroin thing. But knowing her before, she was a sweet girl. She was as much a victim. She was not that “evil woman” that turned poor Sid Vicious on to drugs… I don’t subscribe to that theory! (*laughs*) She was really, very nice.

And I think the thing that we lose sight of is that she was twenty years old when she died. So it’s not like she had this whole long history and legend…she was still in many ways a child.

Exactly. It all just went so quick.

The whole mythological thing that a lot of them — the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, bands like that — developed over the years, does some of that seem a little bizarre to you? Or were bands like that mythologized for good reason? Were they really just THAT compelling?

The Sex Pistols I couldn’t tell you so much because I never saw them. I did meet Sid, but the most I actually saw of the Sex Pistols was on TV. The Ramones however I saw a hundred times. With the years that have passed, I think that their notoriety is totally deserved. They were just amazing! They were so good! The only thing I thing that I think people kind of reproached the Ramones about in America after a while was that it was a bit too much repetition. It was always a bit the same. But what a trip! I never went to a Ramones show and left thinking “eh, that wasn’t that great.” They never ceased to amaze me. And so indeed, they deserve that notoriety. Joey Ramone deserves a street named after him, totally! And I saw things change. I think that the first very important band of the movement, without being in the movement really, was Dr. Feelgood in England. They really changed things around. Then the Ramones and the Heartbreakers and The Cramps were just amazing groups. I’m so glad I got to see them.

Are there bands or scenes that you’ve come across over the last, let’s say twenty years, that remind you of the old days? A new scene that you’ve noticed burgeoning somewhere else or bands that carried on the legacy of the Lower East Side in the 70s, or is that gone?

Well that depends. In a way, I feel that I’m a bit out of touch, but hey…I’m 62! I think it’s god that I’m out of touch! (*both laugh*) I’m sure that there are some kids, some teenagers now some place doing something that’s completely unknown that will be known and great. But in more recent years, bands that I’ve seen more recently, I really love Daddy Long Legs. They’re a great band. I also really liked about ten years ago — shit, I forgot their name — that band from Sweden. Shit…they really, really followed the spirit…they had that hit “Don’t Say I Told You So” or something like that?

Oh…damnit…is it The Hives?

Yes! Of course! The Hives! I thought they were fabulous, and I thought they were very much in the spirit of the old scene. They totally got it.

Wow…that was a great song and a great album and I think I forgot about them for about half a decade until right now.

Thanks for remembering! That would have driven me crazy all night!

They had a sort of mod, British look to them, so I think I forgot they were Swedish, but you’re exactly right. I don’t want to take up too much of your evening — my afternoon — but thank you so much for talking. I could probably pick your brain for hours. Have you gotten a lot of positive feedback about the book yet? I know it’s not out yet, and there are the obvious quotes on the back of the book, but have you heard other cool feedback from people about it yet?

Yes, so far it’s been all good. Which is good, because it’s pretty terrifying. You don’t know if you’re going to put something out and have people hate it and think it’s crap. It’s very encouraging, what I’ve heard from friends to far. But again, they’re friends, so you never know if they’re just saying it to be nice. But people that I don’t know have given it positive reviews as well, so I’m very enthusiastic about that. I hope it stays like that for a while! Probably not, but… (*laughs*)

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From The Dying Scene Vault #3: Lucero – Raising Hell for 25 years!

Thanks to everyone who has checked out all of the new content we’ve been cranking out since the relaunch of Dying Scene! We’re stoked to be back, and we’re even more stoked that you’ve been checking in! Because we have an awful lot of material from the old site in the Archive, we thought it […]

Thanks to everyone who has checked out all of the new content we’ve been cranking out since the relaunch of Dying Scene! We’re stoked to be back, and we’re even more stoked that you’ve been checking in! Because we have an awful lot of material from the old site in the Archive, we thought it would be cool to take a look back at some of the posts from our past.

The third installment dates back to 2016. It was initially written as the second-half of an article that was published a few months earlier in which we revisited Lucero’s self-titled debut album which was, at the time, turning 15 years old. Maybe we’ll dust that first half off when the time comes. But so this second half contained a few chats with some others of our favorites in the scene, namely Dave Hause and Frank Turner and Rebuilder’s Sal Medrano. They were all gracious enough to chat with us for a few minutes about Lucero and their legacy, and I think they offered three different and interesting perspectives on what that band has meant to people over the years. Fast forward to present day, and April 13th marks the 25th anniversary of Lucero’s first-ever live performance! We feel extremely lucky to have gotten to cover and more importantly know this crew over the years. Keep scrolling to check out the latest installment of From The DS Vault!

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, primarily 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, an 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 really?

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…

That’s awesome.

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 onto 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 Montreal, 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.


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