Lucero is wildly popular in our state. The rowdy Memphis rock band earned every bit of that popularity during their thirteen years of existence. In 1998, Little Rock’s Ben Nichols and Memphis’ Brian Venable decided to form a band. Eight albums and a guesstimated 2,000+ concerts later, Lucero has garnered critical success while nearly perfecting their live shows.
Lucero is no stranger to Fayetteville, they’ve made frequent stops to George’s and JR’s Light Bulb Club over the years and to Wakarusa in 2009. They will be playing Wakarusa for the fourth time on Friday, June 3 at 6:00 PM (and not at 12:00 PM as reported on Waka’s stage schedule). Get your tickets here. Check out Lucero’s massive tour schedule here.
Brian Venable, lead guitarist and all-around nice guy, talked with us about their affinity for Fayetteville, their NEW ALBUM, the lost Bob Seger, and countrified heavy metal. We’ll be using that format where we type what we asked, then type what he answered:
The Ozark Echo: You’ve got a huge following in Arkansas, especially in Fayetteville, and you guys are kind enough to make it into town a couple times a year it seems. What keeps bringing you back?
Brian: We’ve always had a good time, we’ve known people for years. A lot of Little Rock kids are up there, a lot of Memphis kids maybe. And then we had Wes [Howerton], who was a program director for the college station for a while and I think at one point someone jokingly said that you heard us more than Britney Spears on the radio in Arkansas. And all the people at the JR’s Lightbulb, George’s, everybody’s real nice. And I think it goes through cycles where we’ll do good for about three years, then a year turn-a-round where everybody graduates and then new kids start to discover us or something. We’ve always done real well there and we know a lot of people there.
Brian: It was pretty quick, we’d been on tour for three or four weeks, something crazy and then we went home and actually the next day got in the van and drove out there, it was completely different than when it was in Lawrence. I think it’s a little bit more, I don’t want to say hippie, but camp-out friendly I guess. It seemed a little bit more cohesive, we played it the very first year, you could tell they were still trying to figure it out a little bit, I think by the time they moved it [to Arkansas] they kind of had it figured out.
OE: Have you checked out the lineup this year? Any bands you’d be excited to see?
Brian: I saw a couple of bands, my little sister gets real excited, she’s a little bit more jam-band oriented than I am, I’m just an old hard core kid. She gets all like, ‘Can you get me in, can you get me in, so and so is playing,’ and I’m like ‘I’ve never even heard of so and so, I’m old.’ But yeah, it seems to be, I don’t know if anyone’s said it in all seriousness but at one point we heard they’re trying to be the Bonnaroo of the Midwest.
OE: We hope they’re as big as Bonnaroo eventually.
Brian: Well I think that’s the thing, it’s starting to be a stop for the fest circuit. I’ve noticed that for sure.
OE: We saw you at Austin City Limits last year, do you guys like playing the festival scene?
Brian: It’s new to us. When we use to do the early Wakarusas, that was us getting our feet wet. We were, “Ok, this is kind of weird, we can only play 40 minutes?” And then we’re done. But now it’s in the summer time, the late spring and you don’t have to tour as much, you hit six festivals, you see old friends you haven’t played with in a while, you see new bands you’ve been meaning to check out. I think every once in a while it rains like somebody’s trying to drown the world, then the rest of the time its real pretty. But festivals are real cool. Next year we’ll be real professionals at it I guess.
OE: You’ve been in the studio recently, Roy has been tweeting a few tidbits (@luceromusic); could you give us any details about what you guys have been working on?
Brian: We are taking the Spring off except for a couple of these weekend festivals before Warped Tour and we have a new practice space downtown [Memphis]. We spent about a week down there writing and recording stuff and then we get to go up the next week, we’re there one week and then we can go upstairs to the studio part of it and just immediately lay it out. We’ve never had that kind of ability before. So we really like that. This weekend we played one of the new songs. I think it also helps with us learning them, like when you actually have to record parts. It’s cool. We’ve completed one song so far and we have about six new songs, most of them have words, we’re gonna go to the studio for real to record the record after Warped Tour in the fall. But we’re hoping before that, in the next month or so, we’ll get seven or eight more songs, we’ll have fourteen news songs that we can try out on Warped Tour, to work on and then when we come home and record in the fall and maybe have a spring record release. But it’s a rock n’ roll record which is kind of exciting for us, it’s not necessarily the southern rock or soul record we’ve been doing, it kind of just has that “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” Bob Seger kind of feel to it, so far. It could go either way, but we were trying to make a quiet record and we ended up making another rock record.
OE: So no horns this year?
I think we’ll have horns for Wakarusa, yeah. I think it’ll be kind of like the piano was for a while, it starts off where you put it on a record, and then all of a sudden, you know. I don’t think it will be as horn-centric as the last one was, but it’s just opening a box, kinda, you’re like, ‘Oh let’s try this song with horns, it might sound cool…Uh, maybe not.” It’s just another facet.
OE: Are you with a new label now that you’re not with Universal?
Brian: I don’t know if I’m technically allowed to talk about that, I know we are going to be on a new label. We have a letter of intent of sorts and it’s a newer, bigger indie label and I think it will fit with us and they seem to be real nice.
OE: You just got done playing a lot of shows with Social Distortion, how was that?
Brian: It was exciting, we didn’t know what to expect, I think we just assumed the crowds were always gonna hate us. It’s tough to open up for somebody, I mean it’s our thirteenth year, but they’ve been doing it for 30 years, they got their crowds pretty much, you know, they don’t care about opening acts a lot of times, but I think we won a few people over. And Mike [Ness] and the guys were really, really nice. If was fun, it was nine weeks, we took Christmas, New Years and some stuff off and another six or seven with them so it was really long.
OE: Thirteen years is a long time in band-years. What keeps you guys going?
Brian: I think we’re just too young to quit or we just don’t have anything more pressing to do. I got family which it’s harder to keep me out, I have stuff to go home to. But I think for the most part I enjoy what I do for a living, I love playing music with those guys, I think we’re deep into it together. So we’ve gotten to that point where not only love each other but we have comfortable silences and we’d all take a bullet for each other, I figure.
I think that’s the trick, people still come see us play, number one, and we enjoy playing together. And as long as you don’t quit you’d be surprised; you look up from your show one day and it’s been eleven years. Maybe in 20 more years I can fill out my retirement or something. That’s the other thing, we can age gracefully, I think a lot of the bands that start off real punk-rock or are real loud or whatever have a hard time transitioning to being an older group. I think our music is always open to so many different people that you can actually discover us as a fourteen year old Against Me! fan, that turns into a twenty-five year old Wilco fan, that turns into a forty-five year old Kris Kristofferson fan, Townes Van Zandt. We have an arc, we can all be sixty-seven years old somewhere sitting down playing half acoustic and people will still enjoy it, it’ll still work.
OE: You’re not that old yet.
Brian: Yeah, you know what I mean, that’s the thing, some stuff you listen to when you’re fourteen and its all loud. It’s kind of The Who joke “You wanna die before you get old.” I think we’ve been real lucky especially with our subject matter being less political or less hot-button and more about coming or going or girls and family.
OE: How many kids do you have?
Brian: I have a son that is two and two step daughters, about to be fourteen and nine next month.
OE: What do you have playing on the radio when you drive them to school?
Brian: I play whatever I want, then they like the modern country, I suffer through a lot of stuff. Being from a musical household, they like a little bit more diverse stuff than maybe your usual kids. I think that’s a lesson, though, you can’t really force certain kinds of music on them, they’ve got to figure it out.
OE: So you’re not going to buy them any records when they get older?
Brian: I don’t know, maybe, who knows, they’ll still be records to buy I’m sure. They still have a few CDs but I think CDs are like the final word for someone that is 25 or so. I think for them it’s mainly the iPods and mp3s and downloading. I’m curious. I have a record collection, but I’m about to be 40 next month. I grew up punk-rock, you have records, I grew up on records. So I’ll be curious to see what format they’re collecting. That’s the thing, I’m assuming as long as there’s audio files they’ll always use some sort of vinyl. I’ve got 250 GB of music on my hard drive; I can’t bring my record collection in the truck or on the bus.
OE: Are you listening to anything new now, do you have the time to listen to anything new?
Brian: We listen to all kinds of stuff, I think some of that stuff is old stuff that I never heard off that’s still new. I mainly listen to metal and country now. You’re talking to a guy that loves Coliseum, Kylesa, Brad Paisley, and Eric Church. And everything in between. I went on this mission trying to find Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” song to listen to, you can’t find it on iTunes, I went online to find it, get it somewhere. That led down a whole road. Before the Nine Tonight live and Silver Bullet Band era Bob Seger, there was a Bob Seger System, there was Bob Seger solo records, and Last Heard. He was like a garage-rock, heavy-rock, he played the same stages as the Stooges and MC5 for a while in the late ‘60s. As a band we’re all like “whew, let’s listen to this!”
We listen to a lot of our friends’ bands and contemporaries. I worked at a record store for ten years and was able to keep up. Now its like, “I’ve never heard of that band.” It just happens to be 30 years old. But I’m just an old hardcore kid that pretty much listens to weird Southern metal. Skeletonwitch, Kylesa, Saviours, Lords (Louisville, KY).
OE: Can you think of any band that is country-metal, does that exist yet?
Brian: I don’t know, I mean Hank III tries to do it, but he has a country set and his metal set. Mastadon off of Leviathan, they have that one song with a huge country lick in it, kind of a chicken-pickin’ lick in it, and that was pretty cool. But you put country and metal together and you get bluegrass. Real fast solos, acoustic I guess, or I don’t know, it might work once but I can’t imagine…
That’s the thing, most of these guys in metal bands I know, metal guys, they listen to Johnny Cash, Hank, and us, but they get on stage and play some crazy metal. I think the grass is always greener. I end up playing this kind of Southern rock and quiet songs and I’m like “I wish I was in your band.” I think it’s a mutual appreciation society.