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As mouthpiece and musical architect for Memphis-based, countrified-rock combo Lucero, Ben Nichols will spend a healthy portion of this summer standing alongside his mates like senior citizens perusing the shelves of Hot Topic. Joining him onstage at this year's Warped Tour will be bands playing mostly pop-punk-inspired music with hints of emo (does that genre still exist?) and hip-hop. And that anomaly suits Nichols and his band mates just fine. Over the years, Lucero have been the sore thumb on most of their bills, sharing stages with everyone from blues-jam masters North Mississippi All-Stars to heart-and-soul rockers Hot Water Music.
"One thing I can say about this summer and the Warped Tour is that the kids watching us may or may not have a good time, but we most definitely will," Nichols says. "It's definitely going to be a new crowd for us, but that's what touring is all about."
As they have morphed from twentysomethings with limited responsibilities to thirtysomethings dealing with real-world family-type issues, it'd be understandable if they'd want to limit their time on the road, following one of two well-trodden roads all aging bands must travel. If they're big enough—Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Bad Religion—they can pick and choose tour dates, often making enough money in short periods of time to stay off the road most of the year. Or, like most bands, they can call it quits and get 9-to-5s.
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Lucero would more than likely fall into the second category, if they weren't so damn obstinate. "If you would have told me back in 1998 that I'd be 37 years old and still out on the road for more than half of the year, playing music, I would have told you that things unfolded exactly the way I wanted them to," Nichols says. "I never saw any option for me in my life other than this. I'm a musician, and that's what I've always wanted to be."
Still, the grind has to catch up with you eventually, right? Don't you start to miss the comforts and the people that make home so easy?
"Sure I miss home sometimes, but for me, the road is home," he says. "Touring is home. Getting out there on the bus or in the van and seeing all the people that we see in each city is home. We've been doing this so long that all of the bartenders and different people we've met in each stop have become a second family."
But the River City is important, too: the mix of country heroes, indie upstarts, blues stalwarts and Beale Street legends that dances in Memphis' air creates soulful lyrics that borrow equally from each—and is why Lucero will record their ninth album there. The studio building also houses the practice space for hip-hopper Capone and Cody Dickinson, son of legendary producer Jim Dickinson (Big Star, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, the Replacements) and drummer for the North Mississippi All-Stars, who pops by from time to time. Toiling daily in the studio, bashing out one demo after another, the group haven't yet decided on a producer, but the feel of the songs is definitely emboldened by their ever-present hometown roots.
"We thought about maybe going somewhere else to record, but the feeling here is really special, and it just made sense for us to stay here for a while," Nichols says. "People come to places like this to get some kind of musical inspiration, and we have it around us all the time."
Well, except for the half of the year when they are on the road, but who's counting?
This article appeared in print as "Home Is Where the Band Are: Lucero light the midnight lantern for the latest incongruous bill of their career: the Warped Tour."