Ben Nichols of Lucero

by Dan MacIntosh

Blue-eyed soul man Ben Nichols leads the Memphis band Lucero through a broad range of musical styles that are loosely affiliated with what some like to call Americana. However, when the guitars churn and the horns honk soulfully, the way they so beautifully do on their 2011 song "On My Way Downtown," it's hard not to think of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Granted, Springsteen came along long before the whole alt.country/Americana movement got started, but his New Jersey brand of soul/rock is about as American as music comes, and the same can be said of Lucero. Although still a new name for many, this band has been kicking around together since 1998, recording albums for a long string of different labels.

Nichols' sandpaper vocals sound just as great on a country weeper, as they do on a soul stomper. Usually performing wearing just a simple T-shirt and jeans, Nichols comes off as a modern day working class hero, with a slew of songs drawn straight from the heart. Yep, much like a young Springsteen.

Lucero began experimenting with horns while touring just prior to releasing the album Women & Work, and the band naturally segued into more horn-saturated sounds when it came time to track the new record.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): You've gone sort of the odd way around to try to make it as a country artist. Do you think of yourself as a country artist?

Ben Nichols: No. Not really. I think we're more of a rock and roll band that has Americana influences, roots influences. So I like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. But then again, I also like the Clash and the Replacements just as much. And then, yeah, I like classic rock. I love Tom Petty, Lynyrd Skynyrd and all that stuff. So yeah, you take it all, and with the new records, you know, we've added the horn section, so like Stax stuff.

Songfacts: Yeah, that's very different for you.

Ben: And the Sun Studios type of stuff, the Jerry Lee Lewis piano. Just put it all in a big bag and mix it up and it comes out like Lucero.

Songfacts: How has the songwriting changed by adding a horn section? Has it changed the way you write songs?

Ben: Not really. They're so talented in there. Our keyboard player and the horn player, they're so professional. Really anything I bring to them, they can figure out what's appropriate and what fits and what doesn't. So it's a pleasure working with them.
Lucero is a Spanish word that means 'star.' It's also used for "morning star" or "light."


Songfacts: Do you write all the lyrics?

Ben: Yeah. That's the tough part. We could write songs all day long musically, but it takes weeks and months to find the right lyrics. Lyrics that you either haven't written before or that somebody else hasn't written before, and are worth singing. It's tough to find stuff to sing about.

Songfacts: Knowing that you've had a horn section, did that change the way you write lyrics?

Ben: No, not really. The lyrics are their own separate world. I think there's always been a soulful quality to the lyrics, even in the really old early stuff. And so the horns just kind of accentuate that now.

Songfacts: Let me ask you one last question. What is your favorite song on the new album?

Ben: Ooo, man. I've got a couple of them. We didn't have time to do it tonight, because we only had a limited amount of time. But we've been closing the set with a song called "Go Easy," which is a totally separate direction from what we've done before. It's got this real slow kind of a gospel feel to it, which that's territory we haven't experimented with. But it's fun to play, and we usually play it every night. So "Go Easy" is a good one.

October 2, 2012. Get more at luceromusic.com.
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