Home' Rhythms Magazine : January-February 2019 Contents 15
BEN NICHOLS TALKS ABOUT HIS
MEMPHIS BAND’S 20 YEAR HISTORY.
By Brian Wise
While Lucero has been going for more than
twenty years now the Memphis collective
has never been to Australia on a fully-
fledged tour. Apart from playing a festival
here and a number of acoustic shows,
singer Ben Nichols has never done a ‘proper’
Lucero show here.
“We’re very much looking forward to it,”
says Nichols, whose band recently released
their ninth album, Among The Ghosts, and
celebrated its twentieth anniversary.
The album was recorded and co-produced
with Grammy-winning engineer/producer
and Memphis native Matt Ross-Spang
(Jason Isbell, Margo Price, Drive by
Truckers) at Sam Phillips Recording Service
(built by the legendary producer after he
outgrew the famed Sun Studio building).
The powerful five-piece band also features
guitarist and co-founder Brian Venable,
bassist John C. Stubblefield, pianist Rick
Steff and drummer Roy Berry. Seeing
them last September in Nashville at The
Ryman Auditorium, I was reminded of
a Springsteen rock show crossed with
elements of The Band.
“It’s surreal,” continues Nichols. “We had
no idea that we’d make it this far. But we’re
very happy to still be here, and this new
record. I feel like it’s a great album to be
putting out at the 20-year mark. I honestly
think it’s some of the best work we’ve ever
done. So, having that come out at the 20
year anniversary, I’m proud of it. It feels
The sound of Lucero has changed over the
years in a sense that it is not a Memphis
band in the traditional sense and for the
latest album they’ve opted for a stripped
back sound with a live sound rather than opt
for a horn section.
“We’ve changed a lot over the years,”
agrees Nichols. “But at the same time, the
songs have always taken centre stage and
the lyrics have always been important.
We’ve explored different things, sonically,
and different sounds, musically, but the
heart is the same.
“We started off playing really quiet, kinda
countryish songs at punk rock shows, ‘cause
we were just going to punk rock shows, here
in town. We kept exploring the Americana
thing. My original idea for the band was
some kind of combination between Johnny
Cash and The Pogues and with some indie
rock thrown in there on top of it. Then,
we kind of slowly evolved into this more
straightforward rock and roll band.
“We came across an excellent piano player,
keyboard player named Rick Steff, who
joined the band about halfway through our
career. And we’d been running ourselves
into the ground pretty good at that point,
with just the whole rock and roll lifestyle.
And we’d messed everything up, pretty
much, as good as we could. But when he
came along, it brought a new musicality
to the band, and a new professionalism to
the band. And it allowed us to play songs
in a way that we’d never been able to really
play ‘em before. He was a really great
studio musician. He was playing on tons of
people’s records, and he was a great session
player. So, he was integrated into the band
and we started doing some different kinds
of stuff. I kept writing these epic Bruce
Springsteen type songs and his piano parts
would actually make them sound the way I
heard them in my head.
“Among the Ghosts kind of strips everything
away again. Our horn section decided they
wanted to stay home. I might say, indie rock
sound, as opposed to a traditional Memphis
sound. So, it’s a more stripped down,
straight ahead rock and roll record, which I
think, is really what’s in our bones originally.
So yes, we’ve been all over the map, as far
as the musical styles go.”
Nichols wrote the songs for Among The
Ghosts after his marriage and the birth of
his daughter and he approached them as
narrator rather than subject.
“In the past, the lyrics have been extremely
autobiographical,” he explains. “If it didn’t
actually happen to me, I didn’t sing about
it. That worked great for seven or eight
records. But my life’s changing a little bit.
I think it was more interesting for me to
look at trying to tell other people’s stories,
possibly - or at least tell my own stories
through someone else’s eyes. And the
record benefited from that. It doesn’t come
easy for me, and it’s kind of something new.
It’s something Steve Earle is really good at
but for me, it’s pushing myself. But I think
it was the right direction to push in for this
record. So, the music’s a little different from
the last record, the lyrics are a little different
from the last record - but it’s still Lucero.”
Lucero are on tour in January. Check the
Rhythms gig guide for dates.
SHINING A LIGHT ON
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