Lucero marked their 20th year as a band in 2018 with a block party in their native Memphis as well as a satisfying new album, Among the Ghosts. Before the year’s up, the band’s schedule is carrying them to the United Kingdom for six shows. (Also, Australia beckons in 2019.) International touring has sometimes proven tricky to pull off, says the band’s frontman Ben Nichols.
“We feel bad actually about not giving enough of our attention to Europe. We’ve been so busy in the States I’m afraid we’ve been a bit neglectful of Europe in the past,” he admits. “The U.K. has always been nice to us but we just haven’t been able to get over there as much as we would like. And we’ve played shows on the continent even less. Part of that has been simple logistics, time, and money; but also maybe a little naiveté on our part… we never thought anyone over there would be interested in our little band from Memphis. Hopefully all that is changing.”
Just before heading overseas, Nichols answered a few questions by email.
As you prepare to begin an overseas tour, do you change anything from your U.S dates, such as your set list, your merch, or the gear that you bring?
We used a set list for the first time on the recent Among the Ghosts U.S. tour. In the past we tended to make it up as we went along. On this tour though I wanted to be sure I could fit all the new songs in every night and I wanted to pick old songs that complemented them, so we made a set list and it worked out well. We will probably play something very similar on the U.K. run. As far as gear goes we will be renting a backline of drums and amps so that we don’t have to fly with the heavy stuff. But of course we will bring our own guitars. As far as merchandise goes I’m not sure what we’ve got going on. Mainly I just want folks to buy that new album.
As you tour, in the U.S. or abroad, have you ever encountered any cool guitars or gear that you just couldn’t pass up?
I tend to find a guitar and an amp I like and just beat the hell out of them until they won’t play anymore and then I get another one when they finally give out and can’t be repaired anymore. So as long as what I’ve got is holding up, I’m not really in the market for anything new. I know that’s a boring answer but it is the truth. My old Epiphone Sheraton and my Blues Jr are all I need right at the moment.
You recorded this album in your hometown of Memphis at Sam Phillips Recording Service. How would you describe the room, and what was the vibe in the studio when you were recording the album?
It has a very strong 1959 aesthetic! Not much has changed about the building itself since it was opened in 1960. Sam’s office upstairs is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. The place isn’t open to tourists. It was built to be a recording studio. And working there with a producer and engineer like Matt Ross-Spang, you can’t beat it. He is the kind of guy who knows exactly how Sam Phillips intended that place to be used, from the main studio to the reverb chambers to the hallway and the bathroom. Every bit of the place was made with sound in mind. And Matt gets the most out of that. I can hear it on our record.
With its ominous imagery and some excellent guitar licks, the song “Among the Ghosts” is one of the album’s finest moments. What were you hoping to capture in this song?
It was one of the first pieces of music I’d written for the album, but it was the last one to get lyrics. The music really took shape as we cut it on the floor. I didn’t know exactly what we had until Matt played it back to us the next day. It was exactly what I wanted to hear at the moment and it needed the exact right lyrics. At the last minute it fell together. My wife and daughters have made a big impact on me since getting married almost three years ago, and writing about being away from them fit the song perfectly. All of the lyrics on this new record are exactly what I want to be singing every night while I’m on tour.
The end of a year can be a time for reflection. What have been some of the highlights of 2018 for you?
For me it’s been all about watching my two-year-old growing up. She knows what I do and loves to come to shows. Those are special ones when she can be there. Coming back to the U.K. with this record is actually a very big deal for us and I’m very much looking forward to that. We paid for this record ourselves and released it on our own label with distribution help from Thirty Tigers and I take great pride in that. We were on national television in the U.S. for the first time recently and that was a milestone as well. So it’s been a productive year.
What can your fans expect from Lucero in 2019?
We get to go back to Australia early next year and that is exciting. The plan is to play just enough to pay our bills and make plenty of time to spend with our families. And also get back into Sam Phillips and work with Matt some more. I’m so proud of Among the Ghosts I want to keep writing and recording as much as we can.
Photo credit: Dan Ball