They’re a band that doesn’t have fans as much as they have diehards who come to every show and scream the words to every song from their “classic” albums like Tennessee and That Much Further West. They’re road warriors who live in their tour van and have had their touring experiences chronicled in the Dreaming In America DVD.
They’re a band that has been tagged as “alt-country” and “punk country.” They’re a band that has written plenty of songs about girls and guitars, and about life, love, drinking, and life, love, and drinking while on the road. They expanded their lyrical palette on 2005’s critically acclaimed Nobody’s Darlings and in 2006 they re-released the hard-to-find home-recorded gem, The Attic Tapes.
But on Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers, Lucero prove themselves to be something much more simple than that: a tried ‘n true American rock ‘n roll band.
To call Lucero ‘Memphis’s answer to Bruce Springsteen’ is not a stretch. It’s just how it is. On Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers, Lucero aren’t afraid to show how much The Boss has been an influence on them, all the while maintaining their patented sound and style.
On Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers, Lucero continue to tell vivid stories, peppering their lyrics with references to slice-of-life and small town Americana culture. They play with Southern rock, pop, and a heart-wrenching ballad on the new album. Twangy riffs complement Ben Nichols’ signature whiskey-soaked vocals. But Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers represents another chapter in the evolution of Lucero. Sure, they’re doing the things they’ve always done, the things that their fans love. But this time out, they’ve turned the corner a bit, thanks to the addition of keys. Here, Lucero fill out several songs with organs and pianos. As a result, Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers is full, memorable, and layered, complete with resonant songs that tug at your heartstrings, and that take up real estate in your brain for days at a time. Gorgeous, varied rock songs are the order of the day on Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers.
Ultimately, Lucero live to rock and rock to live. No more. No less. It’s really that simple. –Amy Sciarretto
A Question and Answer session with Lucero’s lead singer and songwriter, Ben Nichols:
What happened to you and Lucero since the release of Nobody's Darlings?
Since the release of our album Nobody’s Darlings in May 2005, we’ve had a busy year. Over 180 live performances, our first overseas shows (in Japan with Flogging Molly), we released a documentary DVD about our lives on the road called Dreaming in America by Aaron Goldman, we re-released our very first cassette 8-track recordings called The Attic Tapes, and we drank and fought and puked our way from state to state and stayed alive. Oh yeah… and we wrote and recorded a new album called Rebels, Rogues, & Sworn Brothers. It was recorded at David Lowery’s Sound of Music studio in Richmond Virginia over the last two weeks of May 2006. David was the producer and Alan Weatherhead was the engineer. Turned out pretty damn good.
What was your reaction to the Dreaming In America film? Even though Lucero was the subject of Aaron Goldman’s documentary Dreaming in America, it was not Lucero’s project. The filming and editing and production choices that were made on the film were entirely Aaron’s. And that was just fine with us. Before the release of the film, he’d asked us if there was anything in it we wanted to take out. Now, there are some rough moments in there… stuff that happens to everybody sometimes but usually doesn’t get filmed and distributed, but still we felt wrong about making any editing choices. It was his film. We just happened to be in it. And hell… we said all that stuff. We did all that stuff. Might as well be honest about it. I like to think our music is honest and straightforward and I think Aaron made his film the same way. No pulling of the punches.
What did you learn about your band from watching the film? It’s odd watching yourself on screen, seeing things you still remember from a new and completely different perspective. If I had to say what I learned about my own band from watching this film, I would have to say it simply reinforced my opinion of who and what we are. It’s obvious we like what we do. It’s obvious there’s some things we could do better. We don’t put up any false fronts and we are flying by the seats of our pants. Stuff I already reckoned… but it’s nice to see I got a good grip on reality by having it all confirmed in the film.
What has been the biggest change for you in the last year?
The live shows have been really growing over the last year. We’re just trying to keep it all together. We’ve got a very loyal fan base in a lot of these towns… whether it’s ten people or two hundred. Then on top of that you throw in some folks that have never seen us before but end up at the show anyways. Those folks can be tough to win over. We’re not a slick and easily digestible band. But we’re winning over some of them. So it’s been growing slowly, but growing all the same.
How did you decide to record with David Lowery in Richmond?
I met David Lowery one night as I got off stage at the Nanci Raygun in Richmond. He was real nice, said he and the folks he worked with were all fans, and he said we should keep his studio in mind if we wanted to record something new, he said he’d love to work with us. That was a really nice compliment. Then some friends of ours from Little Rock, The American Princes, recorded an album for Yep Roc at David’s studio and they said it was amazing. And on top of that, our tour manager Gary Crump ended up working for Camper Van Beethoven a little bit and got to know David pretty well. It all just kinda added up. It made sense to go to Richmond and record.
How did the experience differ from the Jim Dickinson sessions for Nobody’s Darlings?
Recording Rebels, Rogues, & Sworn Brothers was a completely different experience compared to the making of Nobody’s Darlings. David Lowery and Jim Dickinson are both fairly hands-off types of producers, at least with us they were, but the process was different at each studio. With Jim, we tracked and overdubbed in a few days and then we went home. He and the engineer Kevin Houston then mixed it. We came back and had a day to change some stuff we didn’t like… and that was about it. The whole process was extremely raw and boiled down to only the necessities. At Sound of Music, we were there for two weeks and I didn’t leave the building for more than five hours during the entire time. We slept upstairs in bunks and recorded downstairs in the studio and drank all night in the kitchen. Very focused. And my drummer Roy Berry and I were there for every step of the process. Every bit of tracking and overdubbing and editing and mixing… Alan Weatherhead and Roy and myself were almost always there together in the control room. And that chemistry worked out real well. It was the easiest recording session I think I’ve done. At least it was the recording session that was easiest to make exactly how Roy and I wanted it.
It seems like the band is playing better than ever these days.
We’re all in pretty good spirits nowadays. Trying to drink slightly less… or at least less right before we get on stage. That doesn’t always work though, and everybody has bad days on the job sometimes. We want to be good, but we are who we are, you know? I think we all like the new songs and we all feel excited about the new album. We’ve been lucky to be able to actually see the growth of the band. Like I said before, the growth of the band has been slow, but it’s been just enough to keep us going, just enough to get us through to the next step, and right now I think we’re all really looking forward to the next step.
Tell us a little about some of the songs on this album. Rebels, Rogues, & Sworn Brothers sounds like a Lucero record to me. A little bit of this and a little bit of that. Some songs go one direction and others are exactly their opposite. I’ve said before that Lucero is influenced by a wide variety of musicians and songs. I’ve always wanted to take everything I love and respect and put it all together and hopefully make it my own. I think each Lucero record is a step closer to doing just that. I think the new record might let some of our influences shine through even more clearly than they did in the past. There are Springsteen-inspired rock & roll songs like What Else Would You Have Me Be? And I Can Get Us Outta Here. There are southern rock songs like The Mountain and Sing me no Hymns. There are darker songs like The Weight of Guilt and pop songs like She’s just that kinda girl. She Wakes When She Dreams is basically a heart wrenching lullaby. And some of my favorites like Nineteen Seventy Nine, Cass, and San Francisco are all harder to label, and all sound completely different. But at the same time, it is the same five guys playing each song. Each song has the same voice, just presented in different ways. Hopefully folks will appreciate that. I think this record came out being as close to what we wanted as was possible.
How did you decide to use Rick Steff to play on the record?
Rick Steff is a Memphis keyboard player who’s done it all and seen it all, playing with everyone from Hank Jr. (for eight years!) to Cat Power. We were lucky enough to have him with us the entire time we were tracking the new record. I think he gave us a big gift by playing these songs with us. He really put them over the top. Rebels, Rogues, & Sworn Brothers would not be the same record without Rick Steff’s piano and B3 organ parts. My bass player John Stubblefield met Rick through other Memphis musicians. Rick had recently recorded with and been on the road with Cat Power when we met him. He came to a practice or two and played a few live shows with us and we had such a damn good time and he fit in so well that we took him to make the record in Richmond. Not only are his parts amazing and extremely important to the songs… but I think all the nights we stayed up until nine am drinking whiskey and telling stories might’ve shaped the record in a good way as well. His parts complete the songs in a way Lucero has never been able to do before.
It really changes the sound of the band. Is this a permanent thing?
Hopefully we’ll be able to take Rick Steff and his keyboards out with us some in the fall when Rebels, Rogues, & Sworn Brothers is released. He is a busy man and is working a lot with Chan Marshal. Hopefully we can steal him away whenever he’s not too busy. I think he enjoys playing with us… he says it’s like the old days… hard drinking, little pay, loud rock & roll, late nights, long drives and only the slightest hint of professionalism.
Does Lucero still share a living loft in Memphis? Our loft is a shit hole. It’s getting worse and worse. I can’t put into words how nasty that place has become. I gotta move out soon. But yes… we all share a loft in Memphis where Elvis took Karate. All sorts of artists and bands have lived and worked there since. The landlord has always been a friend of the artist-kind-of-a-guy. I’ve been there since ’99. You can have it.
Do you feel like the band has become a family? Lucero is just like a family. Except we talk a lot more about sex and drinking… well I don’t know how it is in your family. Yeah, you know how it goes. We can be ripping each other’s heads off one minute and laughing and drinking together the next. I got handprints from Brian throwing me around in Tampa. He thought I was being egotistical. Roy’s snapped and come after me a couple times too. Apparently I can be an asshole sometimes. So can they. Gary Crump keeps us all glued together nowadays. Tour Manager extraordinaire. And Bill Krejci makes sure we’ve got merchandise to sell and a website that’s updated. Thaddeus Rudd is our manager in New York and Cory Christopher is our booking agent in California. The family is growing. It’s actually becoming a pretty damn good little team. I’m sure I’ll get in a fistfight with the rest of them one day.
Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers is due out October 2006 on Liberty & Lament/East West.