Lucero's Brian Venable on Metallica Being Dead to Him, ATO Records, and Women & Work
Memphis rockers Lucero have a timeless quality, a lowdown, from-the-gut, blue-collar rock 'n' roll sound that could have been recorded any time since the late '60s (save for a few flashes of class of '77 punk strut).
Timeless, but not timely, according to guitarist Brian Venable. After nearly a decade of indie label toil and a largely self-released catalog, the band hopped on the major label train, signing to Universal/Republic for 2009's 1372 Overton Park.
"True to Lucero fashion, we had excellent timing," Venable says. "We finally got signed to a major label just seconds before the whole infrastructure crumbled and disappeared. [We were real late to that party."
The band was promptly dropped, but things turned around nicely for the band, who's back with a brand new record, Women & Work, out today on ATO Records, the label founded by Dave Matthews and current home to rootsy acts like My Morning Jacket, Dawes, Alabama Shakes, and Drive-By Truckers.
"ATO said 'You get out there and tour and sell records, and we'll back you.'"
The record, which advances the Muscle Shoals soul and gospel touches of 1372 Overton Park, finds the band primed to hit the road, including a stop at Metallica's Orion Music and More Festival in New Jersey. Venable was happy to discuss Metallica, the new record, and the band's new home.
Lucero is scheduled to perform Monday, March 19, at Crescent Ballroom.
Up on the Sun: You guys have a brand new record, Women and Work. Where do you think this one fits in the Lucero discography?
Brian Venable: It used to be, "We've got 12 songs, let's make a record." Now, we're trying to...not define our sound so much, but kind of refine it, I guess. I think this one is closer to perfect. But we've been listening to it for months, and kind of picking it apart. The last record, we added horns, and this one, we wrote with the horns. It's not quite as "I've got a new shiny toy" with the horn section. It's a little bit more cohesive. Just kind of mature, laid-back rock 'n' roll record.
There's a lot of soul stuff going on.
You always hate where you grow up, and you wanna leave. You think, "I can't wait to go to California, or New York or whatever." You sort of ignore the forest for the trees. At some point, we realized that if you take our country-rock drinking songs, as we think of them, and add some soul, all of the sudden you've got "Dark End of the Street." And that happens the same time you start discovering Stax records, or Hi Records, or discovering your musical history some more. It's kind of a like, "Man, we come by this honest." We're not a bunch of kids trying to do a Memphis sound, we're just from Memphis. It's pretty cool when you realize that.
Then you've got the full-on gospel choir with "Go Easy."
That's my dad'ss favorite song. He's like, 'Ya'll did it." [laughs]
This record marks a move to ATO Records. What facilitated that move?
Universal didn't want us anymore. True to Lucero fashion, we had excellent timing. We finally got signed to a major label just seconds before the whole infrastructure crumbled and disappeared. We were real late to that party. ATO has been really awesome so far -- I feel like they understand us more, because they have bands like My Morning Jacket, Drive-By Truckers, Alabama Shakes -- bands that tour for a living and make music, you know? Universal sounded good. You could tell people "Universal," and they know what you were talking about, but unless you're Rihanna or Taylor Swift -- who they know they're gonna sell a million singles [it's hard to get traction with the label]. ATO said "You get out there and tour and sell records, and we'll back you."
You guys are playing Orion Music and More Festival. Metallica says they handpicked the bands playing. Did you guys hear directly from them, or was it more a thing with their management reaching out to yours?
We've heard stories. I've got a friend in Austin, and his buddy works for 'em. And he went and hung out with his buddy, and he had a Lucero hat on, and James Hetfield was like, "Man, I love that hat. I love that band." That was way before this thing, and I thought that was kinda cool. To hear it was handpicked, I don't know if somebody put a list [in front of them] like these are bands that are available, and handpick from this group. I just don't see...I don't know. They might just sit around and listen to Modest Mouse a whole lot.
It's funny to imagine that.
I don't want them to do that. My Metallica still has long hair and drinks a whole lot. That kind of thing...but I don't know. Who knows?
But it's got to be exciting. You excited to be playing with anyone in particular, beside Metallica?
Probably Modest Mouse -- that's one name I read on the list. But I'm more excited [and hoping] we get the Ride the Lightning night. You know, nothing against the Black Album, but I'm a little older and that's the record for me.
Were you one of those guys who got mad when they cut their hair? Did you think they "sold out?"
I didn't think they sold out...I mean... I know -- you couldn't hear the bass on the records before that. I get it. I'm not mad at Metallica as much as I hate Bob Rock. [Laughs] They gotta make a living, I understand. We get called out [for changing the band's sound] all the time. You know, you can't make the same record your entire career. I don't think Ive listened to the last two [Metallica records] at all. I do exactly what I tell other people to do -- I have my favorite records, Kill 'Em All, Ride the Lighting, Master of Puppets [and that's what I stick to]. Cliff died Metallica died. Which is clearly not true -- but in my little world it is.
Well, I think people are excited to see you guys out here. I know a lot of Lucero fans.
I feel bad for the Southwest. In our formative years, the Southwest got cheated a lot. Either the band would break or someone would get sick and we'd have to go home. You guys have always been about two tours behind the rest of the country. We'd do the East Coast, end up in the Northwest, and all of the sudden one of the cylinders blows and we have to drive home 1000 miles doing 35 miles per hour.
But the van is doing okay now?
Oh yeah. Everybody is good. When we play in the Southwest, we're like, "Man, nobody here like us." And I say, "Well, we've missed it enough." We're trying to make up for it.
Lucero is scheduled to perform Monday, March 19, at Crescent Ballroom.
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