An Interview with Ben Nichols of Lucero

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Do you like Memphis Soul? Classic Country? Old school Punk? Contemporary Alt-Rock? What if I told you a band could incorporate all those elements into one comprehensive sound?

Ben Nichols and Lucero have been making their unique blend of Rock for over two decades. Being a big fan of the band, I couldn’t have been more excited to sit down with Ben. We discuss Ben’s new solo project, the approach to the latest Lucero album, and Ben’s Winnie the Pooh record player, amongst other things. Please sit down and stay awhile with Ben and me. Don’t forget to learn and listen about Lucero here.

Joe:
What have you been up to this past year-plus, considering the current state of the world?

Ben:
I’ve spent less time on the road than I usually would, which has been a blessing. I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my family. I have a four-year-old daughter, and I’m happy I was around this year. She grew so much. Glad I did not miss that. Beyond that, we were able to record a new full-length album called When You Found Me. We also released a song as a single called “Time to Go Home.” I learned how to use a drawing app on the iPad and animate videos for some of the new songs. That experience led me into working on an old graphic novel that I abandoned twenty years ago. I was also inspired to buy a little synthesizer such as the one Rick used on the new album. It was so much fun that I wrote and recorded 12 songs for a solo project. The music is finished, but all the songs still need lyrics and vocals. We kept the bills paid by playing a few Livestream shows with the whole band. We are fortunate to have such great fans who were willing to tune in and watch us online. I’m not sure how we would have kept afloat monetarily this year without those shows. I’ve kept busy, I guess.

Joe:
Lucero released the album When You Found Me recently. Tell us a little about that album? How does it compare with your previous work?

Ben:
At its heart, the new album is very much in line with what Lucero has been doing for the last twenty-some-odd years. The songs all come from a very personal place. This one is different because the stories told in the songs go beyond my personal life and perspective. I tried to write songs with various characters and their stories. The songs are still very personal, but they are written in new ways. The record also features some new sounds. It’S sounds we haven’t used in the past, such as the synthesizers I mentioned earlier. The songwriting and the synthesizers combine to give the record a darker atmosphere; A kind of haunted mood that I really enjoyed. But at its heart, it’s a Lucero record. 

Joe:
Lucero has now, I believe, released 13 studio albums over 21 years. How has your approach with the band changed/evolved both as a songwriter and a musician over the years?

Ben:
We operate pretty much the same way as when we started in the late ’90s. I work on the music first with song structure and melody. Then I take that stuff to the guys, and we flesh it out. The lyrics come last. We’ve experimented with different instruments and sounds on each new record along the way. However, our process has never changed. Recently, I have been expanding the horizons of the lyrics a bit. But keeping that same heart in the words is essential to me. The songs might be about different characters, but there must always be a little of me in there too. 

Joe:
How did the experience and approach with your solo album, The Last Pale Light in the West, differ from when you are doing a Lucero album?

Ben:
The approach did not differ at all, although the experience was different. All the songs were based on the novel Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. It was kind of like writing a research paper or a giant book report. I had my copy of the book with lines and passages highlighted. There were piles of notes I continually referenced. Using the source material and specific quotes to build songs was a fun way to make an album. I felt the subject matter required a more stripped down and timeless sound. It made sense as a self-contained solo project. 

Joe:
Do you collect and listen to CDs, records, cassettes, etc., or do you mostly enjoy music digitally these days?

Ben:
I still have all my old records, CDs and even cassettes but I don’t listen to them daily like I used to. I’ve become dependent on the convenience of having everything right there on my phone. Even demos that I’m currently working on. I love having it all on the phone to listen to it on the car speakers or a Bluetooth speaker or through my stereo speakers at home. It helps to know if the mixing is going in the right direction. 

Joe:
Any albums or artists that are especially important to you? For personal reasons or that were particularly influential on you musically, for example.

Ben:
Too many to count. I grew up on old school 50’s Rock that my dad liked. As a kid, I was surrounded by the radio and MTV Rock of the ’80s. I got into Punk Rock and alternative music as a teenager. In the ’90s, I moved to Memphis, which led to me rediscovering classic Country and Soul music. It’s all so important to me. Lucero wouldn’t be what it is if one of those elements was missing. But to answer your question, right now, I’m listening to a lot of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Their film scores and soundtracks are beautiful. The direction they’ve gone with the last few Bad Seeds albums is very inspiring. Those are just a few recent and important influences out of thousands. 

Joe:
What was your segue into music? How did it lead to you making the music you make today?

Ben:
My dad’s old 45s. I’d play them on my Winnie-the-Pooh record player when I was four years old. I knew that whatever these sounds were, I wanted to make them one day.

Joe:
What do you miss most about touring? What do you not miss?

Ben:
I miss seeing my friends. I miss drinking in bars that feel like home, even though they are 2000 miles from Memphis. I miss eating at all the good restaurants across the country. I don’t miss missing my daughter. 

Joe:
What does the future hold for Ben Nichols? Is there any new music we should look forward to from Lucero or any other musical projects?

Ben:
Complete that graphic novel. Complete that solo synth album. Complete the next Lucero album. Release some 20-year anniversary editions of the first two Lucero albums. Work on more film scores and soundtracks for my brother Jeff. That would be a great 2021 and 2022. 

Interested in learning more about the artistry of Lucero? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Records, Roots & Ramblings, by Joe O’Brien, here: https://vinylwritermusic.com/records-roots-ramblings-archives/

Published by Joe O'Brien

Joe has always been a huge music fan. Growing up on Long Island, NY, USA, Joe did chores and dumpster dove for bottles with his best friend Andrew to trade bottles for money to buy vinyl. Joe is a Registered Nurse in the ER by day, and a life-long music lover by night. Having been an avid consumer of all things music since he was a child, Joe’s diverse collection of over 3,000 vinyl albums, plus several hundred tapes and CDs, tells the story of a man who simply loves music. Joe’s goal is to write about what he is most passionate about and share new and exciting music. Joe lives on Long Island, NY with his beloved dog Scarlett.

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