Lucero's Ben Nichols Answers Important Questions About Women and Work

Among a pack of Southern bands leading the resurgence of gritty, grown-man music, Ben Nichols, front man for Tennessee-based Lucero, stands out as a smoke-throated vocalist preaching rock-n-roll redemption to the lonely and broken-hearted.

The Weekly caught up with Nichols by phone, as the band was in Ft. Collins, Colo. days before coming to Orange County for the 18th Annual Hootenanny at Oak Canyon Ranch.


OC Weekly (Josh Dulaney): First, the most important question: Who has the hottest women–Southern California or the South?
[Laughs.] Ah man. That is a tough one, and I'm gonna get in trouble no matter which way I go, and I think the folks back home would understand. I gotta say Southern California, per capita, has the upper-hand.
The new album “Women & Work” continues that old-school rock-n-roll sound, with the R&B vibe. How are audiences receiving it?
For the most part, really well. There are definitely hardline Lucero fans that just want to hear the first two Lucero records over and over again, but for the most part, folks who have been with us a long time have been really supportive. Playing with guys like (Rick Steff, Todd Beene, Jim Spake and Scott Thompson) that are that good professionally and got their shit together, there's no reason not to have fun. I'm having more fun now than ever in Lucero.
Are there particular songs you like most on “Women & Work”?
“On My Way Downtown” because it's not fast, it's not slow, it's just got a nice feel to it. It's not that deep of a song. It's pretty much a song about heading downtown for a good night of drinking, and if you want, calling a girl and seeing if she wants to come with you.
I hope you take this as a compliment, but “When I Was Young” has a Bob Seger/”Against the Wind” feel to it.
[Laughs.] It's definitely got that nostalgic thing going for it, like a Bob Seger-type song. “Sometimes” was the last song that I finished for the record. I wasn't sure what the lyrics were going to be for that song. It was a pleasant surprise once it all came together. “When I Was Young” was similar too. 
Are you already looking ahead to the next record, and will it keep with the current sound, or be stripped back? 
I'm not exactly sure. I haven't exactly started writing that next batch of songs. I let the songs dictate the direction the band goes in. Lucero's not tied down to one sound. It would be logical to have guitars and bagpipes (laughs), or the Memphis sound and horns.
Over eight albums, you make a few references to California and the West. Do you have an affinity for California and the West Coast?
Ah man, yeah. Coming up in Arkansas, I kinda wanted to be anywhere but Arkansas, and the West–California–kinda represented everything Arkansas and the South wasn't. All the cool skateboarders and all the cool musicians were there, at least the way I saw it. California was the promised land. California was the shit. I always wanted to go out there. At about 19, I ended up in Northern CaliforniaSan Francisco–and eventually we started touring and made it down to Southern California, and you really can't go wrong with Southern California. I dated a couple girls from Southern California, so it's always had a romantic quality to me personally.
I'm very proud to be from Arkansas and the Memphis region. It's the birthplace of rock-n-roll. There's so much good music. With that being said, Southern California is this mystical, magical place, and the girls are smokin' hot. It's always a good feeling to drive West. It's just one of those things that feels right.

What are you guys going to pack into a 30-minute set at Hootenanny?
Thirty minutes is definitely a short set for us. (We'll play stuff) from the new record and some of the most-requested old songs.  Since it's the Hootenanny, it may be more upbeat with songs like “Bikeriders” and “Chain Link Fence.” We might play some slower ones just to piss off the punk rockers. 
Is there anything different you guys do on the road now, as far as staying in shape? A lot of fans are concerned about your voice. How is it holding up?
To be honest, and this sounds lame–I gotta quit smokin'. I've been cutting back a lot and I hate to admit this, but it's easier to sing, and I have more control over the voice. I like smoking, and I need to quit. I could stay up every night and drink all the whiskey I want and scream for four hours a night. 
What brand do you smoke?
It's been Marlboro reds forever now. Now that I'm quitting, I kinda bum cigarettes. [Laughs.]

Do you work to write songs, or do you wait for the muse?
Some songs go one way and some songs go the other. It's funny. When it works the way it should, the music is what gets me through the lonely nights and moments. It's therapeutic. It's what keeps me sane. I need to write the song for myself. That's usually when I get the strongest stuff. But it's always fun to get the band together in the rehearsal studio and write songs…I like both sides. Sometimes, it can be when you get down in the details does seem like work, and you don't know how to  finish it, and it can kick my ass.

What kinda food do you grab out here?
I think there, it's got to be Mexican food. There'll be some fish tacos, something like that. When we're back home, there'll be plenty of time for barbecue.

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