Punk. Country. Folk. Rock. Lucero has been making music since the late 1990s and has been called almost every kind of band. Polka hasn’t been assigned to their sound—yet. But with the recent additions of an accordion and a slew of feet-moving ragtime piano arrangements, the inevitability is high. The Memphis-based band has been on a tour-record-release cycle for several years, and guitarist Brian Venable took some time out from their latest studio session to talk with the IN about being afraid of dance music, endless touring, and the element of fun that used to thrive in rock and roll music.
IN: You guys are on tour constantly. At least 200 days out of the year. Is there still some romance left to life on the road?
BV: It’s like the romance of being newlyweds versus being married for 20 years. It’s still fun and there’s an element of romance to it, but it’s different. When we get done playing a show it’s like what you’d do when you get off work: shower, put on your PJs, watch some TV…and then of course some of us still go out drinking.
IN: You guys got a tour bus semi-recently. How does it compare to traveling in a van all those years?
BV: You’re still traveling around on wheels, but the quality of life is a little better. When we added the horns and steel pedals into the band, there really was no way we could travel with all those people and that equipment in a van. Sometimes my wife will come out on the weekend with us. It’s nice. You know, none of us are 22 anymore and saying, ‘Hey, can I bring my random girlfriend with me?’ It was worse when we had the van. Once, someone sent a photographer out with us for a few shows and we were all hoping he was going to be cool, since we’d be crammed up in a van with him for a week. It’s also like, man, I don’t know if I want some guy filming me while I’m in my underwear eating yogurt.
IN: You switched over to ATO Records for the last album. How are you liking it?
BV: Most labels are kind of hands off these days, which is how ATO is. And most of the people on their roster make a living touring. It’s cool though—they aren’t telling us we need a hit on the radio or anything. They’ll come see us play if they’re in town, but we don’t feel like we’re married to them or anything. There’s niceness in being left alone sometimes.
IN: Lucero has been making music for over 14 years. How has the sound evolved?
BV: We’ve made the addition of the horns and a few other instruments here and there. Sometimes we’ll have a sad country song, and we’ll throw a little horn on there, and then all of the sudden it’s a sad, soul song instead. Some people really love the horns and some people really hate them. But, the big secret in life—or art—is that you have to make stuff that you want to make. You can’t try to please everyone or you’ll just go crazy.
IN: Is there anything you guys have been a little apprehensive to try with the music over the years?
BV: We grew up punk rock and we used to think, ‘Man-dance music? We can’t play that shit. We’re too cool for that,’ which is just fucking stupid. You take Little Richard, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, playing stuff that you could dance to, that was still soulful. Rock and roll used to be fun, until all the serious people got a hold of it.
IN: You’ve got quite a few danceable songs on your latest album, so I see you guys are over that fear.
BV: It was just us being too cool for our own good. I’ll look out in the crowd when we’re playing a show and I’ll see a lot of girls dancing—I like it, you know. It’s nice to see people moving their feet at a show.
IN: You’ve played in Pensacola several times before. How was it?
BV: We played at the old Sluggo’s and The Daily Grind downtown with This Bike is a Pipe Bomb; we played a lot of shows with them, just small punk rock shows, but it was always fun. There’s a Sluggo’s in Chattanooga now, which is cool.
IN: What are you guys working on now?
BV: We just spent three days in Atlanta recording some tracks for a new live album we’re releasing this year. We wanted to just do it up, like old times. We played a few older songs, and then Ben [Nichols, Lucero’s front man] has a new love interest so he had all these songs that we played too. And then we’ll tour.
LUCERO WITH JONNY FRITZ
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19