I caught up with Ben Nichols of Lucero last weekend during their two-night stand at the Mercy Lounge in Nashville. We shot the shit over things like the new record, the condition of his voice, the dream lineup at the Nashville shows (for which folks came from near and far to attend), and the possibility of touring with Frank Turner in the UK.
As fond as I already was of Ben Nichols The Songwriter and Musician, I came away with an equal fondness for Ben Nichols The Man. I could not help but be endeared by his humility, graciousness, and apparent deep love and respect for his family. I don’t think you’ll be able to help yourself either.
How did these Lucero/Glossary/Austin Lucas shows come to be? It’s kind of a dream lineup.
Well, Glossary’s on tour with Austin Lucas right now, which I haven’t seen yet. I haven’t seen Glossary backing up Austin yet, and I bet it’s amazing. I’m real curious to see how that goes. I’m sure it’ll be amazing. And, well, I did the first Revival Tour with Austin, and that’s where I met him, and we’ve run into him here and there, but we’ve never done a Lucero show with Austin before, that I can recall. We’ve kept in touch, though. We’ve always kind of run in the same circles, and so the fact that Glossary was out on tour with him, and Todd Beene plays with us and Glossary, it just kind of all fell together. So, of course, with Glossary being from Murfreesboro, having them as the opener is just ideal.
We’re all big fans of Glossary, and in fact, I’m just super-jealous of Joey Kneiser—well, actually the whole band. They really are possibly my favorite band right at the moment. The way I see it, I’m just trying to keep up with them, as far as songwriting and making music goes. I’m just trying to approach getting anywhere near that good, and ya know, I actually get to see them play. It’s nice playing shows with friends.
I read somewhere that Joey Kneiser’s solo album, The All-Night Bedroom Revival, is your favorite record right now.
Yeah. It’s gorgeous. It’s just heartbreaking and beautiful. It just makes me wanna write songs.
Let’s talk about the new album, Women and Work.
Yup, we’re calling it Women and Work, which is the title of one of the songs. We played “Women and Work” and “Like Lightning” pretty much every day on Warped Tour. Now we’ve recently started adding “On My Way Downtown” and “It May Be Too Late” to the sets. We may do a couple more tonight, we’ll see. We’re starting to play more of the new ones. We just got done recording in Memphis at Ardent Studios with Ted Hutt as the producer. Same studio and same producer as 1372 [Overton Park].
On 1372… I think we figured out that we could add the horns, and that we could write songs that are, I dunno, kind of pushing the boundaries for the Lucero style, I guess. Now they just sound like Lucero songs to me. Like, in my head, it’s all the same thing. It’s all coming from the same place, and just ‘cause one song might swing a little bit, and one song might have a different kind of beat or feel to it, it all sounds like Lucero to me now. We figured out that we could do that when we did 1372, so this time, we went in knowing we could do that. I think the songs sound, I dunno… I don’t want to say more mature, but…. I dunno. Maybe.
As far as the evolution of the band’s sound, I think any long-time fan could have seen it coming.
Yeah, definitely. I dunno. I think it was just more intentional. There was a little more craft involved in the process, and man, they’re really, really fun to play. We’re just now getting the mixes back, and I dunno, I’m really proud of it, and I hope folks will like it. We’ll see. There could be a backlash or an uproar, who knows. I mean, when it comes down to it, you’re never going to be able to please everybody, and so as long as we can keep ourselves happy and interested and having fun, then, of course, I think that’s the main thing. I’m looking forward to seeing the reaction, whatever it is.
And another thing about this record, I didn’t start out making it for my father, but he kinda crept in there over the course of the songwriting and recording. Like, there’s a lot of old-school rock ‘n roll influences in there.
Like the 45s I was kind of raised on, like your Buddy Holly and your Sam Cooke and your Chuck Berry and your Jim Croce. There’s really a lot of your old-school rock ‘n roll sounds. I wasn’t able to do any Beach Boys-type songs, but… [laughs]
Yeah, that would require some harmonizing, and I think that might be hard with your voice in particular.
It would be. I think my voice is pretty much harmony-proof. [laughs]
So yeah, that was some of the stuff I was listening to and aspiring to as we were writing the songs, and I kinda realized the other day that that all came from my father. Towards the end of the writing process, there ended up being one song that, while it’s not quite as specific as “Mom” is on the last record about my mother, it’s got a lot of my father in it.
He seems like a character, from what I’ve heard.
Yeah, he’s great. He’s having a really good time with us doing what we do. He likes to google us and read about us and stuff. It might seem silly, but I dunno, I’m really glad that the stuff that we’re doing, my folks kinda “get” it, and they’re always really excited to hear new songs. They’ve loved the stuff I’ve played for them so far. If I can keep my parents happy, I think that’s a good sign.
I want to talk to you about your voice. When I first heard 1372 Overton Park, the first thing I thought was how you’ve grown into it, and I was just wondering if that was intentional.
More recently, I’ve been trying to be more conscious of it. In the old days, I was just used to singing as loudly as possible, and just kind of screaming my brains out to get over the really loud music. So then Lucero started soft, but I continued singing with the same voice. Then a lot of years passed, and a lot of time passed, so my voice changed naturally over the course of twelve years. I also wasn’t treatin’ it too well. Smoking too much and drinking too much, and never doing voice exercises or anything like that. [laughs] I mean, god no.
C’mon now, you were punk rock.
[laughs] That would’ve been just silly.
Just asinine. [laughs]
So, yeah, my voice just kind of deteriorated, really, and I just kept pushing it, but that wasn’t necessarily good for it. After 1372 I actually quit smoking for quite a long time, and then it came back, and I realized I didn’t have to push it quite as hard, and I could actually sing instead of screaming everything. I’m learning to ease back a little bit, and on this new record, you’ll definitely be able to hear it. On 1372, I got some good takes, but I would really love to go back and re-sing parts on that record, because parts of it were just really rough. I mean, nobody wants me to, and I’m not going to—I won’t ever do that—but I would love to. So the main thing is now, I really have to quit smoking for good again.
Well, there was a fullness and depth to your voice on that record that was never there before, and that’s why I liked it so much.
Part of that, I think, was working with Ted Hutt. We were pushing ourselves in different directions musically, and once you do that, it’s kind of natural to take your voice in different directions as well, just to kind of suit the songs. I think with the new record, we’re capitalizing on that.
I interviewed Frank Turner in Baltimore not too long ago, and he said he wants to bring you guys over to the UK to tour with him.
That would be amazing, and we all, of course, got along with Frank famously when we were on tour with Social Distortion. And he is such a great performer. I can’t do what he does. I’m just not that kind of guy, so I respect the hell out of it, and I’m jealous of it in a way, but yeah, I love what he does. The fact that he thinks about us at all is really cool. It would be extremely gracious of him if he wants to bring us over. Hopefully, it’ll come true soon.
Lucero was in Australia recently, too. Let’s talk about Jen Buxton. I’ve heard tell that Lucero wants to bring her to the States.
Hell yeah, I’d love to do that. I don’t know how we’ll make it work or when exactly it’ll be, but hell yeah. It’s something I wanna make happen, for sure. That was one of the really cool parts of the Revival Tour, was getting to meet her when we went to Australia. Chuck Ragan was like, “You’re gonna love this girl. She’s a beautiful songwriter,” and yeah, that is definitely the case. Plus we got along real well, so hopefully, one day, she’ll come over here.
So any new solo projects in the works?
Well, the plan is to write a graphic novel. That’s still on my list of things to do. It’s definitely a real goal, especially with my brother Jeff making these movies now. I can’t let him get that far ahead of me [laughs], so I’ve got to put out some sort of narrative. I went and saw the premier of Take Shelter in Little Rock, and it’s great, and it’s getting wonderful reviews. I’m super-proud of him. He did an excellent job.
He’s got a new movie called Mud that’s filming in Arkansas right now with Reese Witherspoon and Matthew McConaughey, and you automatically think romantic comedy, but it’s not at all. It’s much more like a modern day Huckleberry Finn. It’s gonna be excellent. Sam Shepard is in it too. He’s kind of a bad-ass. I was supposed to be in a scene with Reese Witherspoon, but I was in Texas, so they had to have someone else do it. I was really pissed off about that, because I wanted to do a scene with Reese Witherspoon.
I’d like to touch on your solo album, The Last Pale Light in the West. I read the book it’s based on [Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy] twice.
It is. It was gut-wrenching both times. I told someone who had tried reading it three or four times but who eventually had to put it down, that I had read it twice. He then said how he admired how I, and anyone else, could read that book and go into dark places and come out unscathed.
I dunno… I dunno if we did come out unscathed.
I don’t know if we did either, honestly.