Lucero are hardly new kids on the roots-rock block. The band goes back over a decade, something frontman Ben Nichols and guitarist Brian Venable demonstrate with a handshake. “One night in Cleveland, after a show and a night of drinking, we went into a shop at about 5 a.m.,” Ben recalls. “The guy let us loose with a gun. I put an 8 on my hand, and Brian got a 9 on his thumb. When we shake hands, it forms a ’98, the year we started the band.”
At the moment, the band is happy to be back home in Memphis, recording their eighth alt-country album. Whoa, back that up. “When we first came out, we were lumped in with that ‘alt-country’ style,” says Nichols. “But I didn’t know anything about it. I’d never heard of Uncle Tupelo.” If inaccurate, the comparison is forgivable; from the start, Lucero has played a punky brand of roots-rock. “My idea was always to be The Pogues of the South,” Nichols says. “We loved The Replacements, and we loved Tom Waits. But now we’ve expanded to be a rock ‘n’ roll band. We’re influenced by Tom
Petty, Bruce Springsteen, and classic rock.”
While Nichols, who released a solo album earlier this year, promises plenty of “drunken, loud rock ‘n’ roll” on this new album (due in the fall), he acknowledges a welcome Memphis vibe. “We’re adding soul to our sound,” he says, citing Al Green, Willie Mitchell, and the Stax label as influences this time around. Long-term Lucero fans should brace themselves for backup singers and a horn section.
When it comes to ink, Nichols collects tattoos like souvenirs. “I’ve always been about small tattoos,” he says. “For me, it’s about where you were and who you were with when you got them.” His very first tattoo, however, was an exception. “I was 18,” he recalls. “I walked into a seedy biker tattoo place in Little Rock, AR, and picked one off the wall. It’s a Celtic armband—the kind of thing you get when you’re 18.” Contrast that with the Polynesian girl on his left forearm, which he took in trade for playing a show in Wichita, KS. “It’s one of my favorites,” he says. “I saw it hanging on the wall and was like, ‘Anyone ever get that one?’ The guy said no, so I said, ‘Well, I’ll get that, then.’ It’s kind of an honor to be the first person to get it.” There is also a tattoo of the band’s logo, which all four band members have: a Laverne & Shirley L inside a star. “And now the pedal steel player has it,” he adds. “Actually, a bunch of random people have it. Now folks show up at a show—people I’ve never met before—and they show us their Lucero tattoo.” Where do we sign up?