Ben Nichols (Lucero) Talks to Twangville

Twangville sat down with Ben Nichols back in early November as he and the boys were tearing up the East Coast with Social Distortion and Frank Turner. The fruits of said interview are displayed below. Enjoy and catch Lucero on tour, out West right now and touring with the Vans Warped tour this summer.

So this is a little break from the tour with Social Distortion?

Yeah, they’ve got a day off to day in New York City today. We aren’t getting paid a whole lot by them- they treat us well- but to make ends meet we book shows on the days off.

It sounds like the tour has been going well, are you guys big fans of them?

Yea, I think everybody in the band has been long time fans of Social D. I’ve been listening to them since I was 13 or 14. One of those bands that when you start to discover real music, outside of what your parents listen to, they were one of those first bands. It’s funny what you listen to; for me, the Violent Femmes were a big one, then it was the Dead Kennedys and Social Distortion….those were all big when you’re 11, 12, 13 years old, they’ve always been a part of my musical, whatever, make-up.

It’s a pretty cool tour, I know a number of people going to different dates.

I think the bands are complimentary. We aren’t exactly like them at all.

You guys aren’t exactly like anyone you tour with.

It’s true, it’s true. Which I think it’s a good thing, that’s one of the things I like about Lucero. Yeah, we can go do some dates with the Drive-By Truckers or we can do dates with Social Distortion and we can kind of get away with both of them.

[sidebar about the last show interviewer saw Lucero—when they were touring with DBT]

Are y’all touring with the horns on this tour?

We are, we are…

Is that more or less a permanent thing now?

It is. Whenever we can afford to take them and whenever– logistically it’s possible and whenever they are not working other jobs. We have them out with us as much as we can. It’s just kind of a case by case scenario right at the moment.

I actually don’t know the individuals that are actually….is it actually Jim Spake?

Yea it is, he was actually just loading in with us.

That’s pretty badass. (see Jim Spake’s ridiculous discography here).

He’s played with a bunch of people and to have a guy of that caliber to say “hey, I’ll go on tour with y’all for six weeks”. It’s a big compliment. It’s a big deal. And Shawn Benningford is the trumpet player. With the two of them, they pack a punch.

I’m obviously a big fan of the horns. Is there any plan to record a live record with the horns….a kind of Rock of Ages thing?

I would love too and we’ve been talking about it forever. We’ve been playing pretty well and with the horns and with Rick Steff on the keys and the pedal steel, it’s a big sound and a big band, so now would a good moment to capture it.

So, we just changed management and we are in between labels…..

Universal fizzled out?

Yeah (laughs). It wasn’t a perfect match.

The way you were talking about it when 1372 came out made it sound like it might have been a planned fizzled out.

Yeah kinda (laughs again). I think I might be notorious for dating women that I KNOW it’s not going to work out. Just so that it’s not scary and I think it was one of those kind of relationships that was destined to fail. But it wasn’t that bad, but I think there is a more appropriate label for us somewhere. But we are kind of in this transitional spot, so maybe once we get our heads straight and get organized a live record would be at the top of the list of stuff to do.

Yea, I was thinking especially some of the older songs with the horns on them.

Yea, I think it would be wise of us to do that. So no plans as of yet, but its def. on the list of stuff to do.

On that same note…when 1372 Overton Park came out with the horns on everything, it was kind of more obvious to me that soul music was an influence. Has that always been there?

In a way, yes. Like on the self titled record, there are songs like “Wasted” that always had that kind of soulful quality to them. And even older stuff like stuff on the Attic Tapes like “In Lonesome Times” and “Hello Sadness”, like I never thought of it and it was never a conscious influence. I was never like “I’m gonna write a soul song”, but I was kind of accidently writing soul songs and I didn’t even realize where that was coming from. And then you put some horn parts on there and then you are like this is totally what that is. So I guess, 1372 was the first record where we were conscious of that, but I think it’s always been there from the earliest Lucero songs, but accentuated in this way it’s more obvious.

You have any favorite soul music, artists, songs?

Just the classics you know. Sam Cooke was great and all the Stax stuff including the Otis Redding stuff. There are DJs in Memphis and I guess all over the place that get really territorial and protective over their 45 collections of classic R&B and soul and who gets the most obscure stuff. They are always finding the kind of guys that were never famous, but are so much better that Otis Redding dude. But, just the classics, Ike & Tina and all that stuff.

I feel similarly about soul music. I’m more likely to go find an obscure folk artist and say this is the best ever, than I am with soul music. I don’t know why, but the classics seem to resonate.

The standards are just fine. The ones everyone knows, there is a reason for it.

So, speaking of influences, I saw on Youtube a video of you doing “Colorado Girl.”

Townes Van Zandt.

And with the references in “Hey Darling”, I was wondering if that was a more recent influence? I think some of your other songs have almost Townes Van Zandt-like lyrics.

I was kind of late on that boat too. My brother moved to Austin and his first job in films was working on that Be Here to Love Me documentary. And so that’s when I first became really aware of Townes. I’d heard bits and pieces and I’d always heard people talk about him, but I didn’t really become a real fan until my brother started showing clips of these interviews and clips of these performances and then I got very into it.

I remember listening to a CD of radio interviews with him where the DJ would ask him questions and then he would play a song…I think they used some of that in the documentary, but that’s how I got into him.

Hell yea. And that’s kind of the way that started. And “Hey Darling Do You Gamble” is actually….they are interviewing I think his third wife and she was talking about how they met and she was just sitting at the bar and then this guy walks up to her and says “hey darling do you gamble.” She knew immediately that he was the one and it was Townes.

Now I can’t think of that as anything other than a Ben Nichols line, because it sounds like you.

Man I appreciate it. And thank you, but I’m stealing that. I’m totally taking that and I’m running with it. It worked out good though.

You play any of his other songs, acoustically or anything?

Some, but not very often. I learned one just the other today, “Ain’t Gonna Sing a Lonesome Tune.” When you get nostalgic and feel like you want to settle down, that’s the one you want to play. He hits the nail on the head.

Having discussed Social Distortion, soul music and Townes Van Zandt, who is an unlikely influence on your shelf that you would shock me?

I don’t know, let me think. I don’t know, probably more than you would think. Brian’s gonna hate me for this, but maybe not. Brian has some interesting peccadilloes too as far as his collection goes. But one of my favorite records ever was INXS- Kick and I love Sinead O’Conner’s first record- what was it The Lion and the Cobra? Shit, I’m probably getting that wrong. “Jackie” the first song on that was really good. So yea, you go….and I’m sure there’s weirder shit, but those are just things that I am hesitant to admit to sometimes.

[Laughter]. We all have those.

Yea, but INXS- Kick was a big one for me.

INXS-Kick, we’ll you surprised me, so that works.

There you go. There is some really poppy stuff, “New Sensation” and “Never Tear Us Apart” with the violin. That stuff is awesome [laughs in a mischievous-maniacal manner].

So Lucero has been together for 12 years, how do you feel now about where you are as a band?

It still surprises me every day that we are still pulling this off. We never thought of ourselves as a real band or at least I didn’t, I thought we’ll do this for a little while and then I’ll go do something real with my life. And before you know it 12 years has gone by and we are still lucky enough to be able to do it. I think if we had had larger goals in the beginning we would have quit. Certain goals take longer to reach than you might imagine.

Like if you had sat down and said ‘where do you want to be in 10 years.’

Exactly. It’s a little daunting, but I like the level we are at. I don’t wanna be Coldplay, you know? I don’t wanna be playing stadiums. It’s just not part of my agenda.

I don’t think I can imagine seeing y’all in a stadium.

It’s just not, I don’t wanna a wireless microphone and choreography, that’s just not my thing.

Maybe for a music video?

Maybe one day (laughs), but yeah, we are a small business and everything’s kind of running like a small business. My dad sells furniture in Little Rock and it’s the same as it is with him. He’s just like “if I can get a few more people through the door, sell a few more things, then we’ll be okay.” And I see it the same way, if we can get a few more people through the door and just make a little more money and everybody could be a little more comfortable. Because now there are kids being born and families kind of coming together. So now my main concern is how do I keep this going– to make sure that everybody in the band is taken care of, what do we have to do take care of everybody. But I think we are still growing and we are still on the right path.

Do you feel like it’s gotten bigger recently?

Yea, the last few years have been real important.

It feels like you’ve been playing bigger venues. I mean I saw you for the first few times in Columbia, SC and you play the New Brookland Tavern there, a smaller venue—

Yea (laughs) and we still play the New Brookland Tavern (laughs)….

But then I saw you in NYC playing Webster Hall—

And that was awesome, that was a good show

–and that’s a huge venue. You almost got beaned in the head with a bottle of Jameson’s….

Almost, almost and that guy got up and hopped up on stage and bottle was sitting there and he grabbed it and he picked it up and was like “woo hoo” and I was like ‘hell no’!


I think it was actually John Gerhart who was like our tech-roadie at the time, who went out there and chunked the guy straight back into the crowd.

I haven’t been to a show in NYC since, I’m just gonna assume they’re all that crazy.

I think a lot them are. Nah, its good, but different towns are different—


Yea (laughs), but we have definitely grown a lot in the last two years and hopefully we can continue that. The longer you are on the road you get to meet all these other bands, and becoming friends with Social Distortion that’s really cool. And getting to know guys like Chuck Ragan and Tim Barry, who I did the Revival Tour with—

That was a really cool tour.

Through them I briefly met Brian Fallon from Gaslight Anthem, and so there might be some more opportunities out there.

[check out Brian Fallon covering Lucero with the help of Tim Barry]

That was a great tour. I think there was a lot of overlap in the fan bases, but I also remember going to that show and there was also like a set audience for each guy, but everyone liked everybody and it introduced me to some of those guys I hadn’t heard of.

And that was kind of Chuck’s whole plan from the beginning, to have everybody kind of start the show together and play on each other’s songs a little bit here and there and have a real communal show. It worked out real well and we will do more of it—he actually just emailed me today about doing a European Revival Tour.

Speaking of knowing other bands on tour with other bands, how does it feel knowing that there is this whole other wave of bands citing Lucero as an influence?

And they are usually bigger than us (laughs).

Well like- The Hold Steady, Two Cow Garage more recently. And a couple Carolina bands- American Gun, American Aquarium. They seem to—Lucero is like a big influence on what they wanted to do. Is that crazy for you or….?

Yea, for sure it is. It’s a huge compliment. I think that’s kind of…….we’ve always liked playing the underdog role. In my head I see us as being one of those bands that a lot of other bands appreciate and like and then they take that and run with it….and become famous.

The Hold Steady have gotten kind of ridiculous.

Man, they are huge and I love them. And actually they now have a Memphis guy playing guitar with them now- Steve Selvidge.

Yea, he’s played with y’all and Amy LaVere, right?


So they not only steal your sound, but they steal your musicians?

(laughs) Yea it’s going that far, but nah, yea it’s cool. There is kind of a family of bands on various levels, but we all know each other. It’s a really cool thing to have met these guys and for them to say we’ve been an influence. It blows my mind.

So you released the solo record, two years ago now, but I thought it was really cool because it wasn’t like “I wanna play these songs that don’t fit well with the band.” It had a message—

It had a theme. It was the first time I’d ever really worked on anything that was that thematic. It was kind of an experiment to see if I could do it.

Are you thinking about doing more solo stuff or more stuff like that?

I have no idea. I would love to.— if I could find the time to write it. Right now, we’ve just been so busy on the road that finding time to write songs is tricky. I’ve pretty much gotta be off by myself to really be able to concentrate and you are never by yourself on the road.

I can’t imagine you sitting over there right now writing a song.

Yea, it wouldn’t work. But yea, I would love to do more solo stuff, but right now everything I’m writing is going into the band, which is still, of course, my number one priority. So it’s kind of like if we could find the time or if I could find the time. Whether or not I would go back and do another themed record based on a novel or whatever—I don’t know. I don’t have any ideas right at the moment.

How did that one strike you, to do the Cormac McCarthy thing?

Man, I was re-reading the book– I had read it a long time ago and then I was re-reading it. There were just so many good lines in it that I just wanted to steal basically.

So you thought at least I’ll give him some credit?

At least, right. So, I’ll just outright do it. There was just a lot of really good imagery and good words. I figured I’d do one or two songs and maybe put out a seven inch or something. I ended up writing seven songs and would like to have done more, but I was trying to get it out in time for the Revival Tour actually. Time was limited yet again and so ended up being a little 7 song EP or whatever.

It’s really a good listen though—

I think so too, I was really proud of it.

Other records that are kind of themed like that- like Jay Farrar did that Big Sur record- it’s almost too much to listen to in one sitting.

Yea, the short record is fine with me actually. I think it turned out just fine.

Last question. So when does Lucero go back into the studio?

Hopefully next spring. We are doing more Social Distortion dates on the west coast in January and February. So then maybe, we’ve got a few months- March-April-May, that will be the time to go the studio. So hopefully over the Christmas time I can actually sit down and write some stuff and be prepared to go into the studio in April or something. And if we do that, we should be able to release something by next Fall. So that’s the tentative plan.

Whenever I’m talking to an artist/musician I mentally add three months to whatever date they are tentatively talking about for their next release.

Right, right. So hopefully next fall, but it might get pushed to 2012. Oh my god, that just sounds so far away. We’ll get something out next year.

About the author:  Specializes in Dead, Drunk, and Nakedness..... Former College Radio DJ and Current Craft Beer Nerd

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