Chris Denny in conversation with Ben Nichols of Lucero (both in town to play shows very soon!)
Ben Nichols (Lucero) @ Maxwell’s (more by Tim Griffin)
Seeing that Lucero is about to be in town with a big show at Webster Hall on Saturday night (10/17), and that Chris Denny (last seen on stage with Deer Tick in Prospect Park) is about to make another NYC appearance (including at the free BrooklynVegan day party at Pianos on Thursday, October 22nd), I thought it might be cool to get these two Arkansas musicians (who have met before) on the phone.
It turned out better than I could have imagined. Chris (who recently singed to Partisan Records making him Deer Tick’s label-mate) and Lucero front-man Ben Nichols ended up discussing Lucero’s decision to go with Universal Records for their new album (1372 Overton Park), drinking, horns, whiskey, marriage, The Pogues, whiskey, Tom Petty, drinking and much more. Check it out, along with all tour dates and some videos and stuff, below…
Denny: Hey Ben, how ya doin buddy?
Nichols: Hey Chris, i’m good, howya been man?
Denny: I’m great, just got back today from playing a bunch of crazy barn shows up there in Wisconsin…and Iowa. i tell you what, boy was it cold, but i had the time of my life.
Nichols: Barns, nice.
Denny: So anyways, i guess I’m callin to interview you. Now i’m gonna be honest, i don’t really know what the hell i’m suppose to be askin you right now. I just know that this is a public interview, so i’m gonna try to expose all your privates.
Nichols: (chuckling) I wouldnt expect you to do anything less, man.
Denny: Shit, i’m just kiddin. I’ve got some real interview questions. So you and the band just kicked off a pretty big tour. Where are you right now and where are you headin?
Nichols: Yep just kicked off a tour supporting our new album that just came out. We’re in DC right now and we’ll be out touring the country for the next six weeks. then take a break for the holidays and go back out in February and March and hit all the places we missed this time around.
Denny: Man, you never stop. And so this new album that you’re talkin about, which i love, it was your major label debut on Universal Records. how did u make that decision to go with a major label this time around? were there any apprehensions?
Nichols: Well basically, kinda like all things that happen with Lucero, we kinda just took the first opportunity we got. The offer from Universal sorta came outta nowhere. It was actually…an accident…i believe. One of our friends who has known and loved and followed the band forever ended up as the A & R rep over there at Universal, and i think she just made it her life goal to get Lucero signed on. If she hadn’t gotten that job, I don’t think we would’ve ever gotten an offer from Universal. And as far as the record deal went, she knew that we’ve been working our asses off for 10 years already, that we had already established ourselves to a certain extent, and that we were gonna want a fair amount of independence. So the deal they offered us was actually a great deal. It was very sensible. It didn’t invade what we already set up, we retained all our rights to everything, you know. There was very little intrusion into our world, so it was a really great offer. and that made it..less scary. so it wasn’t a difficult decision at all. And I guess our mentality is that hopefully, we can get a little more exposure on Universal, maybe a few doors will open for us that wouldn’t be open otherwise. So we figured we give it a shot.
Denny: Well that’s awesome, congratulations. I know that you guys, probably more than anyone out there, have really earned it. And the album is just great. And speaking of the album, well we all know Ben Nichols has his vices and ain’t afraid to write about them….whiskey, women, tattoos, women with tattoos, whiskey, women with tattoos drinkin on whiskey…but on this new album, i feel like I’m hearin’ a lot of gambling references too. Where did these come from, have you been hittin’ the Tunica casinos without me?
Nichols: Naw. Never been a gambler. ‘Hey Darlin do you Gamble’ is a quote from the Townes Documentary Be Here to Love Me. It was Townes’ pick up line to his third wife. Thought it was brilliant and I had to borrow it. Not sure what the other ones are … Sixes & Sevens? That’s about spending too much money at a strip club in New Orleans. Lipstixx specifically.
Denny: Oh nice, strippers. That was one i left off. Not gonna lie man, I’ve got into some trouble at those places too.
Nichols: I do not doubt that.
Denny: Alright, now that we’re back to your privates. So i kinda have this impression of you, Ben Nichols…
Nichols: (laughing) yeah, i think i know what you’re sayin’ man.
Denny: well, we haven’t known each other that intimately for very long, besides drinkin whiskey at White Water and playin’ a little bit of music, I know we’ve done that together.
Nichols: yessir, we have done that.
Denny: so what else do you like to do when you’re not touring and playing music 250 days a year? besides drink whiskey
Nichols: hang out at home, read comic books, listen to music. hell, im addicted to all these HBO series just like everyone else – i might watch a little True Blood, a little Generation Kill. They’re all pretty badass. And yeah, if I’m in Arkansas, as you know, i do hang out at White Water quite a bit.
Denny: And do you ever see yourself wanting to spend that time with someone else one day….you know, like with one woman? Ben Nichols with one woman. married. how do you feel about that, about marriage?
Nichols: hmmmm marriage. that is an interesting question. I guess I’ve always felt like my career choice and marriage didn’t fit good together…at all. so I’ve done a pretty damn good job at stayin’ single and unencumbered for most of my life. It is just a lot easier to go on the road if you don’t have anything at home that you miss or care about, but i guess, maybe sometime down the road in the future..I’m gettin older, I’m 35 now…
Denny: damn Ben, that is old dude
Nichols: yeah thanks. but yeah, I’m gettin older, so i guess now the future is gettin pretty fuckin close. so now I’m thinkin yeah, it might be nice someday. someone to go home to.
Denny: and if you were lookin for that special woman, whats a perfect 10 to Ben Nichols, so to speak….
Nichols: HAHAHA….that is a really really good question. i have no fuckin idea. and that might be another reason why i haven’t been the best fella relationship-wise.
Denny: maybe someone to put up with your drinkin? hey, just messin withya dude.
Nichols: Well yeah, maybe a little bit. I know one thing, it’d have to be a girl who has her own shit goin on, have her own goals and ambitions, her own life. something that she’s passionate about, no matter what it is. That’s an attractive quality for me. and also, as you mentioned, a girl that can drink whiskey, but will also keep me from drinkin’ too much whiskey. and that’s a tough one, because there’s a fine line there.
Denny: well hell, it seems like you got it all figured out on the woman front.
Nichols: shit, not at all.
Denny: And on the subject of impressions that other people have about you. how do you feel about all that press stuff? Good or bad, people talkin about you all the time.
Nichols: well, in terms of the band and our music, the good or the bad. the press thing is tricky, i guess there are a lot of people out there……
[conference accidentally cutoff. interview temporarily lost. oops]
BV: sorry guys, we got cut off.
Nichols: what kind of technology are y’all using on me?
Denny: i don’t know what the hell is goin on man…some voodoo shit.
Nichols: No worries, well as i was sayin – as i see it, you can’t really pay attention too much to the good press or the bad press. I’ve come to realize that everybody sorta brings their own set of baggage to what they’re hearin. like, I realize especially with this new record. you tell people you got horns on the record and people start freakin out on you. and then you start worrying. and i guess it’s because, when I’m thinking horns, I’m thinking of good horns, like The Band, The Last Waltz – they had a horn section on the Last Waltz and it was awesome. or of course, Bruce Springsteen or the Rolling Stones..there are horns all over Exile on Main Street. that’s what’s in my head, that’s what I’m thinking. but when you mention horns to someone else sometimes…I don’t know what theyre thinking. but whatever they think when they hear that we we’re gonna have some horns on this new album, I guess that freaks out a lot of people.
So yeah, everyone brings their own prejudices to the music you’re playin. but to me, music is such a personal thing. so i think it’s tough to make up rules. There is no right and wrong, hardly ever. so I never get too bent out of shape over it.
And as far as what people write about me personally…well shit, apparently i don’t have that great of a reputation. but that’s fine with me too. If someone wants to think im a drunken womanizer. that’s fine, I’ll be a drunken womanizer to them. I ain’t too worried about what gets said about me by people I don’t know…I think the folks that actually know me, really know me. and that’s what matters to me.
Denny: Amen to that. Alright, a few more questions…you write a hell of a lot of sad songs, which just makes me assume you’re sad all the time. So what musician (personally for me, it’s Willie Nelson) do you go to when you’re down and out and need to get out of your head, what album drags you outta your bed and makes you happy and love life again?
Nichols: let me think…whats one that always works? Tom Petty. always. and I think one of my favorite songs ever is Stop Draggin My Heart Around…just because i love Stevie Nick‘s voice. and I love the way Petty puts a song together. Ive got a real soft spot for that era, that’s the stuff i grew up on. and Petty is great because he makes you feel good and happy, but he makes you feel tough too.
Denny: Yeah, that’s how I feel about John Prine, I put on John Prine and i feel like i can walk on water. And on the other end of the spectrum, what album or artist do you go to when you just want to be depressed and sad?
Nichols: Of course youve got Townes Vans Zandt. If you really want to soak up and appreciate the rougher, tougher, just sad part of life. He hits that nail on the head, square on. and i know his name gets tossed around a whole lot these days, but that’s definitely for a reason. There aren’t any songwriters that have really touched me like him.
Denny: Absolutely. OK, here’s a fan question someone wanted me to ask you. How many times have you passed out, hugging a monitor on stage?
Nichols: Haha, well that is a tricky question to answer. you’d have to ask my band. but probably…a fair amount. but you know, we’ve been doin this for 11 years now, so I’ve had plenty of opportunities to fuck it up pretty good. and I think I succeeded in taking every damn one of those opportunities. but actually nowadays, we’ve really got our shit together. I think we’re playin better now than we ever have before. because we have these new guys playing with us, Rick Steff on keys, Todd Beene on pedal steel, and the new horns section – and they are just super talented, so they’re constantly making the rest of us step up our game. so of course, I’ve been tearin’ it up after the shows, but regulating myself during the shows. kind of a balancing act, but i think we’re at a really good spot. best we’ve ever been.
Denny: If you could play a show with anybody, who would it be?
Nichols: The Pogues. I’ve been into them ever since I was 14. Shane McGowan was definitely an inspiration as a songwriter. And we actually got to play a few shows with them, one in New York, so that was definitely one of the highlights of my career. And besides that, I’d actually go back to Petty. I think with as good as we’re doin right now, it’d be a perfect match and where we’re at right now, i think we could actually open for Petty. and that feels great.
Denny: And yall are about to play another big show in New York City Saturday night. what are your thoughts on that place? because I’m headin up there [for CMJ] next week and that place just scares the hell out of me sometimes.
Nichols: I love passing through New York and we know a lot of great folks there, but if I’m there too long I get claustrophobic. Hate driving there. Hate parking there. It can be tough. We always have a blast in NYC but it’s always nice to head south again. But yeah, tomorrow night, we play Webster Hall. We’re doing all the shows on this tour with the full horns section for the first time and have just been blowin’ it up every night. So Webster Hall in NYC, shit yeah. it’s gonna be fun as hell, we can’t wait.
Denny: Well best of luck to you, Ben. Thanks for lettin me do this, you are always a real inspiration for me and I can’t wait to catch you back in Arkansas.
Nichols: Of course man, same to you.
Denny: Oh wait, i forgot i have one more question submitted by one of our mutual buddies up there in New York….If you were to ever land in jail – what crime would you have committed?
Nichols: Come on… It’s gotta be public intoxication. Which is pretty much what I do for a living.
Thanks Ben, Chris, and Katie!
Tickets for Lucero’s Webster Hall show are still on sale. First person to email BVCONTESTS@HOTMAIL.COM (subject: publicly intoxicated) wins a pair of tickets too. Make sure to include your first and last name.
Chris Denny & The Natives play two NYC shows on Thursday, October 22nd. During the day it’s the free BrooklynVegan day party at Pianos. Later that night it’s opening for Deer Tick and other Partisan Records artists at their official CMJ showcase at Bowery Ballroom. Tickets for the latter are still on sale.
All dates below these videos….
Chris Denny & Ben Nichols @ White Water Tavern in Arkansas
Partisan Records – 2009 Tour Dates
Mon-Oct-19 Chapel Hill, NC Local 506 ^
Tue-Oct-20 Washington, DC Black Cat Backstage ^
Wed-Oct-21 Baltimore, MD Sonar ^
Thu-Oct-22 New York, NY Bowery Ballroom ^ (Partisan Records CMJ Showcase)
Fri-Oct-23 Providence, RI Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel ^
Sat-Oct-24 Boston, MA Harper’s Ferry ^
^ = w/ Partisan Records Tour w/ Deer Tick, Chris Denny and the Natives, Holy Sons, and Dolorean
Lucero – 2009 Tour Dates
October 16 – Starlight Ballroom – Philadelphia, PA*
October 17 – Webster Hall – New York, NY*
October 18 – The Middle East – Cambridge, MA*
October 20 – Lee’s Palace – Toronto, ON*
October 21 – The Magic Stick – Detroit, MI*
October 22 – Turner Hall – Milwaukee, WI*
October 23 – Varsity Theater – Minneapolis, MN*
October 26 – Aggie Theatre – Ft. Collins, CO†
October 27 – Ogden Theatre – Denver, CO†
October 29 – The Crocodile – Seattle, WA†
October 30 – Hawthorne Theatre – Portland, OR†
November 1 – Mezzanine – San Francisco, CA†
November 4 – The Casbah – San Diego, CA†
November 5 – The Clubhouse – Tempe, AZ†
November 7 – Longhorn Saloon – Ft. Worth, TX††
November 8 – Fun Fun Fun Fest – Austin, TX††
November 9 – Meridian – Houston, TX††
November 10 – Alabama Music Box – Mobile, AL††
November 12 – Club Downunder @ FL State Univ. – Tallahassee, FL††
November 13 – Czar – Tampa, FL††
November 14 – Lizzie McCormick Stage – Orlando, FL††
November 15 – Café Eleven – St. Augustine, FL††
November 17 – Visulite Theatre – Charlotte, NC††
November 18 – 40 Watt Club – Athens, GA††
November 19 – Valarium – Knoxville, TN††
November 20 – Orange Peel – Asheville, NC††
November 21 – Headliners – Louisville, KY††
* with Amy LaVere and Cedric Burnside & Lightnin’ Malcolm
† with Jack Oblivian and John Paul Keith & the One Four Fives
†† with Cedric Burnside & Lightnin’ Malcolm and The City Champs