Lucero Pays Homage to its Home with Latest Album “Women & Work”

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:: Boulder Theater :: July 3 ::
:: Mishawaka Amphitheatre :: July 4 :: (Cancelled)
:: Aggie Theatre :: July 4 ::

By Hap Fry

Somewhere between punk and orchestra, Ben Nichols’ and John C. Stubblefield’s musical palettes converged and Lucero emerged. Fourteen years and thousands of gigs later, the Southern rock, alternative-country band has, like metal on an anvil, been forged and beaten into an amalgamation that, while containing many of its original parts, is different, better and stronger.

Lucero released its eighth album Women & Work in March and is in the midst of a 23 show tour that includes scheduled stops throughout Colorado.

At the backbone of Lucero’s stability has been the band’s hometown – Memphis. Nichols, one of the more soulful and explosive frontmen going today, said it’s impossible not to dwell on the culture and history of a city that serves as the unofficial capital of west Tennessee, north Mississippi and eastern Arkansas.

“It’s just amazing when you think about what came from this area and what came from Memphis,” Nichols said during a recent phone interview with The Marquee from his Memphis home. “I’ve always had a very romantic appreciation for the culture here. For some reason, this is where the best American music started.

“It’s a little intimidating, but it’s really fun – you know, trying to act like that and trying to be a modern link to the musical heritage and musical legacy. You’re never going to top Booker T. & the M.G.’s or Otis Redding. You can’t beat that stuff.  All you can hope for is to do it justice and just add your own bit of whatever you can do to that history,” Nichols continued.

As Lucero’s bass player Stubblefield explained, in a separate interview with The Marquee, the Memphis sound is special because it incorporates so many different genres.

“West Tennessee, north Mississippi and eastern Arkansas are all three pretty distinct places, but they all get mixed up right here,” Stubblefield said via phone from one his favorite Memphis eateries Broadway Pizza. “It’s one of the reasons rock and roll came together with the mixing of gospel, blues and hillbilly. It was just like all three regions mashing up together.”

Lucero’s sound also comes from a lot of “mashing.” Stubblefield admitted to being a bit of an “orchestra nerd” during his teenage years while playing with the Memphis Youth Symphony. He then graduated into playing bass with Memphis local rock/funk/hip-hop band Big Ass Truck for a few years before ultimately helping establish Lucero in 1998.

Nichols’ road to Memphis and Lucero came via Arkansas – specifically the then bustling punk rock scene coming out of Little Rock in the mid-1990s. For three years Nichols (guitar and vocals) played in Red 40, a three-piece punk rock group that helped shape his identity. “It was a really cool environment to grow up in, and it’s where I learned my musical work ethic,” Nichols said. “With Lucero, I wanted to go a different direction. I sort of rebelled against punk rock by sort of playing wanna-be Johnny Cash country songs. As the band’s grown, we’ve kind of broadened our palette.”

Nowhere is that more evident than on Women & Work which, in addition to the work of founding members Roy Berry (drums), Brian Venable (guitar), Nichols and Stubblefield, also features Rick Steff (piano, organ and accordion), Todd Beene (pedal steel) and a horn section comprised of Jim Spake and Scott Thompson (Al Green, Cat Power).

The 11 track album has been described as a “love letter” to the band’s hometown, but it symbolizes even more than that. “I don’t want to use the word maturity because we’re definitely not mature,” Stubblefield said. “But going from a four piece to now being an eight-piece band at this point gives us ways to play more dynamically and add more inflections and more of a regional palette, if you will.

“I think the biggest difference between Women and Work and some of our other albums is we’ve used this album as sort of a realization – you know, where we are and where we’re from. We’re just sort of making a statement about all that.”

But with change can come trepidation, and Nichols wasn’t sure at first about the additions. Any doubts he may initially have had about the added horn section taking away from his volcanic stage presence almost immediately subsided, though. “I was kind of worried at first, but really, it’s been a kind of natural growth,” Nichols said. “I do what I do, and then everything else just kind of falls into place. It gives you more flexibility. You can go from a real quiet, delicate song to a really big sound. I like having that flexibility. I like playing loud rock and roll songs, and I like playing soft heart-breaking songs. Our shows are not tied to one or the other. We can do both. I like that.”

To Nichols’ credit, he also has made some lifestyle changes that have allowed the group and him to sound even tighter and more explosive than perhaps ever before. “I’m not getting wasted before the shows now,” Nichols said. “After the shows, I like to get a little sauced, but I don’t get on stage drunk anymore. I’m having too much fun playing the music. I’m really enjoying it. I feel like we’re really lucky to still be able to do this, and we’ll do this for as long as we possibly can.”

Under normal circumstances, one might have reason to question Lucero’s shelf life. The group has been playing an average of 200 gigs per year for the past 14 years. Stubblefield’s take on the band’s lifestyle is unique and also makes a lot of sense.

“It’s funny, because so many people ask, ‘Well, how do you deal with being on the road?’” Stubblefield said. “But after 14 years of it – spending about 200 days per year [on the road]– it’s almost kind of flip-flopped for some of us. It’s more like how do we deal with being home? The road is our home to a certain degree. You’ve kind of got to be careful and make sure you don’t lose your shit when you come home.”

Nichols added, “None of us expect to be on MTV any time soon. We’re not going to be The Beatles, and that’s fine. I really don’t want to be. We just really like being a working band.”


:: Lucero ::

:: Boulder Theater :: July 3 ::

:: Mishawaka Amphitheatre :: July 4 :: (Cancelled)

:: Aggie Theatre :: July 4 ::

 

Recommended if you Like:

• Drive-By Truckers

• Drag The River

• Johnny Cash

 

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