We Sell Soul

May 15, 2012
by
3 mins read

Modern Memphis musicians may never live up to their most famous progenitors — Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Johnny Cash and the entire Stax Records stratosphere among them. But for young Memphibians possessed with a penchant for sneering, countrified rock ‘n’ roll, homegrown six-piece Lucero is the current bee’s knees. Yes, the band has caught flak for moving away from its rowdy punk-rock roots over the last 14 years; frontman Ben Nichols is an especially easy whipping boy, thanks to his slick good looks and sway with the ladies. But you can’t fault an outfit that puts on 200 sweaty, rockin’ live performances a year — or one that’s finally embraced its horn-laden, soul-drenched Memphis surroundings.

Folio Weekly caught up with Lucero guitarist Brian Venable to talk about the band’s hard-partying ways, its love of the road and growing up punk in the South.

Folio Weekly: Lucero’s newest album, “Women & Work,” upped the horns and production techniques that first appeared on 2009’s “1372 Overton Park.” Is that just a continuation of the band’s growth?

Brian Venable: [On] “1372 Overton Park,” we wrote first and then put the horns in. It was big — like playing with a new toy. But this time, we wrote the record with the horns inside the whole time. It’s still big, but it’s got a laid-back, country-soul thing, too.

F.W.: The album is also your first for ATO Records. Do you think that’s a good fit?

B.V.: Definitely. ATO knows what to do with us, since they have bands that tour for a living like My Morning Jacket and Drive-By Truckers. And the Alabama Shakes have had so much success right out of the gate.

F.W.: After releasing six albums in the first seven years of the band’s existence, you spaced the last two three years apart. Are you happy taking things slower these days?

B.V.: We used to feel like if you didn’t put out a record every year, people would forget about you. But that got kind of exhausting. I think the records have been better now that we’re taking our time.

F.W.: Touring is still the most important aspect of the band, right?

B.V.: It’s what we do for a living. I have kids and a wife at home that I miss, but if I weren’t doing this, I’d be washing dishes somewhere, so I got very lucky. And now you got the horns, you got Todd [Beene] on pedal steel, Rick [Steff] on the keys … you almost can’t wait to get on stage, because you know it’s going to be a good time. I could watch the horns every night for the rest of my life.

F.W.: So Lucero as a six-piece is stronger than its early four-man incarnation?

B.V.: Definitely. Especially for Ben — he’s able to confidently say, “I can write this kind of song,” and between Rick and Todd and everybody else, we can successfully do it and not sound half-assed. We’ve got the muscle band-wise to back it up.

F.W.: Growing up as punks in Memphis probably wasn’t the easiest existence in the world, huh?

B.V.: We just wanted to be rebels. You learn that you can do anything. You’re not supposed to be 26 years old, not knowing how to play guitar, and deciding that you’re going to make a living playing music. But that didn’t stop me from trying. New York and L.A. are big cities where you can dye your hair and do something different and that’s OK, because you’re in the capital of the world. But here [in Memphis], people would throw sh*t at you and try to beat you up. I think you have to work harder if you want to do something different in the South.

F.W.: Speaking of the South, do you guys have a lot of experience touring in Florida?

B.V.: Orlando’s always fun for us because we end up getting hammered drunk. And we have all kinds of friends in Gainesville. Florida almost hurts us. We get down there and get to drinking and next thing you know, you’ve gone wild four out of five shows. What’s funny is after that Florida run, I get home and pack up the family and drive right back to St. Augustine for a week of vacation. Hopefully I’ll figure out all the good spots to hang out.

F.W.: So Lucero still lives up to its hard-partying reputation?

B.V.: It’s still there to some degree. We party more than your average person our age, but sometimes it’s nice to say, “I’m taking a night off — I don’t have to go drink myself to death.” With age comes wisdom.

Nick McG

themail@folioweekly.c

Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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