Ben recently caught up with BrooklynVegan writer Andrew Sacher for a interview that covers a ton of ground; including some details about the new album set to release Sept 18th. Check it out here or below.
Lucero will release their new album All A Man Should Do on September 18 via ATO. After two of the band’s biggest-sounding horn-filled records, much of the new one sees them returning to a softer sound. It’s actually the first album in their 15+ year career where frontman Ben Nichols played acoustic guitar. We already posted first single “Went Looking For Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles,” which is a great example of that softer/acoustic sound, though new single “Can’t You Hear Them Howl” brings the horns back and more closely recalls the last two records. Listen to that one below.
I recently spoke with Ben about the new record, their upcoming Sailor Jerry-presented tour, looking back on lyrics he wrote 15 years ago, True Detective, the unlikely Lucero sample A$AP Rocky used on his new album, and more. You can read that interview below.
The band’s tour hits NYC on October 8 at Webster Hall. Tickets for that show are still available.
BV: Your last two full lengths were these big-sounding records with a lot of horns, a lot of rowdy songs. Not that the horns are gone on the new one, but it feels more focused on returning to more somber songs, more acoustic guitars — something you hinted at on the Texas & Tennessee EP. What pushed the songwriting in that direction?
Ben Nichols: Bad relationships. Unhealthy Lifestyles. Ha. But also a desire to do something different than the last two albums. We covered that ground pretty thoroughly and I think we did a fine job of it and now it is time to push ourselves in another direction. A direction that combines what we learned on the last two records with a type of songwriting that is maybe more like some of our earlier stuff.
Including that EP, it’s your third studio release in a row with ATO Records, which if I’m not mistaken, is the longest run of releases you’ve had on a label outside of your own Liberty & Lament. I take it Lucero and ATO continue to work well together?
We actually recorded and released the Texas & Tennessee EP ourselves on Liberty & Lament, outside of the deal with ATO. They’ve been super cool about letting us do projects that aren’t necessarily part of our deal with them. And yes, I think Lucero and ATO do work well together. It’s nice to finally feel like we have a home label-wise. I’m really looking forward to this new release with them.
It seems like the new record’s softer sound was a long time coming. Lucero’s last time in New York was three nights that each had an acoustic set and an electric set, and after that you came back with Rick Steff for a stripped-down duo set. What do you have in the works for your upcoming headlining tour?
We are using that same show-model for the entire Fall Tour. We will be doing two sets each night, one acoustic and stripped down and one electric and rowdy. No opening act. We decided that with so many softer songs to incorporate into the set we wanted to be able to set the pace of the whole night. With no opener we can start as delicately and intimately as we want to. We still have to figure out which songs from All A Man Should Dogo in the first set and which ones go in the second set, but I’m very much looking forward to playing them.
That tour is being presented by Sailor Jerry. A liquor and tattoo company sounds like a pretty perfect match for Lucero, especially more than like, an energy drink sponsor or something. Has there been any kind of creative collaboration between the band and Sailor Jerry for the tour?
We spent a day recently recording at Royal Studios in Memphis (of Willie Mitchell and Al Green fame) and maybe we can use what we did there for a little something special with Sailor Jerry but I can’t give any specifics at the moment. I’m always getting in trouble one way or another saying shit at the wrong times. And I’m not sure what I can and can’t say. But I know we are very happy to be working with Sailor Jerry. Our buddy Oliver Peck has worked with them a lot in the past and they all seem like good folks to be involved with. You’re right… booze and tattoos… good match for Lucero.
So that place you and Rick played, The Shop, is actually a new venue with the unique goal of bringing together a BBQ restuarant and an active motorcycle garage. I know Lucero does their own big family picnic show with a BBQ, and you’ve also done solo tours on a motorcycle, so that seemed like yet another perfect match. What did you think of the place?
I loved The Shop. Excellent people and excellent food. I have a feeling I’ll be in there again eventually. That was a fun show. Don’t know if I’ll ever get up there on a motorcycle tour though. New York City traffic scares the hell out of me. If I’m on the bike I think I’ll stick to the wide open spaces out west and down south.
Do you have a favorite place to play in NYC?
The Bowery Ballroom is a special place. Lucero has had some of our best shows and some of our… more turbulent shows there. They still welcome us back. Ha. It’s the perfect size and the sound is great and I like the bar downstairs. We always have a blast at Brooklyn Bowl though too…
Something that’s always interested me about Lucero is that no matter what your current album sounds like, you manage to keep a foot in the punk scene. This summer you’re playing Social Distortion’s big Philly show to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their self-titled album. I know you’ve toured with and actually collaborated with those guys before. Any wild stories from being on the road with them?
Hmmm. Wild stories? Not so much. But I can tell you that it is a pretty fucking surreal thing to have MIKE NESS ask if he can interview YOU. We sat down with him backstage at Roseland Ballroom and we talked for a while until we had to go soundcheck. It was a really nice compliment, him asking us to do that. That tour was huge for us. And it was really cool looking over and seeing the Social Distortion guys watching our set from the wings almost every night.
You’ve always been more punk by association than by adhering to its traditional sounds (which one might argue is actually a pretty punk thing to do). Are punk’s ethics something you still think about as a veteran musician in 2015?
Definitely. Although you have a point in that our version of punk might be our own. We are still doing things the exact same way we’ve done them since the beginning. We can play as slow or as fast as we want. We get to play to a bazillion different types of people. We can play shows with almost any style of other bands. There aren’t any rules. We do it on our own terms. For better or for worse (often worse) but hell… it’s the same four original members. That alone makes me pretty proud.
One part of the new album that stands out to me is the song “The Man I Was.” I could be reading into it entirely wrong, but it feels like you’re telling us the listeners not to expect the same person who started this band over 15 years ago. I recently watched a live video of you playing “My Best Girl” where you interrupted yourself during the line “The only girl a boy can trust is his guitar” to say “I was 22 when I wrote that, it’s a little bit stupid, I didn’t really mean that.” How often do you find yourself playing old songs and thinking about how you currently translate them with the perspective you’ve gained over the years?
Oh all the time. Luckily everything I sing every night is still important to me. I get the same knots in my stomach and the same anger and the same pain and the same rock and roll fuck yeah. That “My Best Girl” line is a little cheesy… but I remember exactly where I was when I wrote it and I have no choice but to stand by that kid. Luckily I’m not stuck having to write that same song over and over. Now I get to write new ones. But the old ones are still what they are. And I still love getting to sing them. It’s like tattoos. Some of the old ones might not be exactly what you might choose to get today… but covering them up would seem like cheating. And “The Man I Was” might be ending up as my personal favorite on the new record. We will have to see how it goes live.
You’ve also got a cover of Big Star’s “I’m In Love With A Girl” on the album, with an appearance from Big Star member Jody Stephens, and the album title comes from that song too. How did their influence play into the writing for this record?
With the last two albums we had gone deeper and deeper into our Memphis roots and influences. We had the Sun Studios boogie piano and the Stax Records B-3 organ and the horns. We had a blast. With the new record it was time to focus on other influences. This is the only album I’ve played only acoustic guitar on. So right from the start it was going to have a more subdued sound and a lighter touch. That happened to fit the mood of the songs I was writing. And the Big Star cover fit in there perfectly. I’ve said in other interviews that this was the record the 15 year old Ben would’ve loved to have recorded in 1989. A lot of what I was listening to way back then influenced this record. And “I’m in Love With a Girl” has that same innocence and that same feel. AND there was no way we were going to pass up the opportunity of having Jody [Stephens] and Ken [Stringfellow] and Jon [Auer] do harmony parts. They were all in town and we made it work somehow and the result is unlike anything on any other Lucero record.
Even though the new album is a clear progression, it’s still very much a Lucero album. I think that’s great, especially for longtime fans, but as a songwriter do you ever get the urge to do something wildly different? Like make an electronic record or a heavy metal record or something?
Oh yeah. It’s all in the works. Might not come out anytime soon but there’s a lot I want to do. Solo acoustic/electronic record, side project garage rock band, screenplay for my little brother, self published graphic novel… Man I’d be a bad ass if i didn’t have all these True Detective episodes to catch up on. (I think I’m one of the few people that actually LIKES Season 2)
Speaking of much different genres, something I did not expect to happen at all this year was when A$AP Rocky sampled Lucero’s “Noon As Dark As Midnight” on “Holy Ghost” off his new album… but it works! What can you tell me about that?
I never saw that coming. But that has to be one of the coolest things to happen to Lucero ever. It’s just fucking sweet. It’s a great guitar line and it fits perfectly in that song. The story I heard was that Danger Mouse heard the song in a bar and Soundhounded it or whatever and tracked it down. That is just a rumor I heard. Have no idea how it actually came about. But it’s still a huge compliment for us. I’d love it if more things like that came up in the future. I figure we need to work “Noon As Dark As Midnight” back into the set for the Fall Tour.