On the heels of his song "The Last Pale Light in the West" appearing on the Nov. 17 episode of The Walking Dead, Nichols checked in with Creative Loafing to discuss the band's upcoming three-night run at Terminal West (Nov. 22-24), where the band will record its first-ever live album.
Why did you choose Atlanta as the location for your first live album, instead of Memphis?
We've been a band for 15 years and we've never released a live album. We had some live tracks from random different shows included with a DVD we did way back in 2006, but there's no proper live record; there's no Lucero at Budokan or anything. We're kind of in-between records right at the moment, so we decided to get serious about putting together a live record with this tour. And with Atlanta being one of the last stops on the tour, it seemed like the logical spot. The band's also kind of in the right spot; we've been playing with a horn section for a while now. We're firing on all cylinders. Memphis obviously is home, but we don't play Memphis very much nowadays. We kind of hit most places in the United States once or twice a year, and that's kind of how we do Memphis. And Atlanta's only six hours away from us and we've been playing there forever. Out of all the cities on this run, it made the most sense to do it in Atlanta.
Does the band have a strong fan base here, and did that play into the decision at all?
Oh, man. We've been playing Atlanta for so many years. The first time we played there I believe was with the North Mississippi Allstars; that had to be 13 years ago or something like that. And then we've just played numerous bars since then. I think our first show of our own there was at Smith's Olde Bar, possibly. Then we moved to the Earl, and that's where we kind of really started to grow in Atlanta and folks started to come out to the shows. That was kind of the foundation of our relationship with Atlanta. And then we've moved on and played other places, bigger places. The Atlanta crowd, it's been like a hometown crowd for a long time. We've been lucky, there's a few cities across the U.S. that have just always been really friendly to us. Atlanta's one of those. It's always felt like playing a hometown show.
A lot of folks talk about the two sides of Lucero - the older, rougher, more poignant side of your earlier albums, and then the newer, more upbeat side of 1372 Overton Park and Women & Work. Your 2013 EP, Texas & Tennessee, seems to split the difference between those eras in terms of approach. Was that a conscious decision?
It was a conscious decision to primarily use acoustic guitars, which is actually something we've never done before. It did give it a kind of more old-school Lucero sound. But yeah, musically and lyrically, 1372 Overton Park was a rock and roll record, and that had been a conscious decision to take a step away from the kind of [laughs] heart-wrenching, "poor me"-type lyrics. It had been a conscious effort to write a wider range of songs, or to include a wider range in Lucero's catalog. And so yeah, you've still got the keys, you've still got the horns, but the foundation of the songs is acoustic guitars, and then there's definitely some heartbreak lyrics on that EP. "Texas & Tennessee" itself is definitely a heartbreak song. I think lyrically, it's just how it happened. It's just that the songs had to be written that way. ... We thought we were going to do maybe some acoustic versions of old songs, maybe a couple of cover songs, maybe one song that had gotten lost and never got released. But at the time, with my own personal circumstances, there were a few songs that just had to be written.
Is Texas & Tennessee a taste of what people might expect from your next full-length album? I was wondering if perhaps you'd started working on that already and these songs were kind of a sampler platter.
I love playing all of my old songs, but I've been having such a good time letting the band go where it wants to go [with this new direction] and getting to work with this horn section that's really talented. I've been enjoying seeing where that takes us. The next Lucero record could definitely go in the direction of Texas & Tennessee. I think it would be nice to get this live record recorded and sum up what we've been doing the last few years, what the old songs sound like with the new members, and what the new songs sound like live - document all of that and then see where the band goes. Maybe we'll continue down that road that we kind of started with Texas & Tennessee. ... I wish I had an entire album's worth of material that was that good, sitting and waiting to be released but unfortunately that's not the case.
You were signed to Universal Records a few years back, but that relationship didn't last long. Now you're on ATO Records, which features some acts that similarly sport a grounding in in country/Americana territory but also sprout out into different directions [Drive-By Truckers, My Morning Jacket]. Is that proving to be a better fit?
We've tried our hand at all sorts of things in the past, and by far ATO seems to be the best fit. It's a very easy working relationship. With the other bands on the label, it's good company to be in. They [the record company] know what they're doing, what kind of band we are, what kind of shows we play, and what kind of records we make. Nobody's getting surprised. ATO's been great to work with. And now, after we do this live record and buy ourselves a little time with its release, hopefully between all the touring we'll have time to go home and record some new songs.
What can fans expect over these three nights?
I wish I could say there was going to be popcorn and elephants and all kinds of fancy things, but we really just want to try our best to capture what Lucero's been doing live the last few years with some well-recorded versions of some songs we've been playing, some for 15 years, some since Women & Work. I wish I could say it's gonna be a special experience for the audience, but in a way, we're doing this for us. The main focus is to try and get a good recording.
Lucero plays Terminal West Nov. 22-24, with Titus Andronicus (Fri., Nov. 22), American Aquarium (Sat., Nov. 23), and Radiolucent (Sun., Nov. 24). $22-$25, $35 (for two shows), $50 (for all three shows). Showtimes are 9 p.m. Nov. 22-23, and 8 p.m. Nov. 24. 887 West Marietta, Studio C. 404-876-5566.
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