Brian Venable is part of one of the world's two favorite groups called Lucero. No, not the Mexican superstar pop singer - the crusty, punk-influenced Southern rock group out of Memphis. Lucero just released their six full-length album, Women & Work. He encourages readers not to let a music magazine tell them what's cool, but we implore you to listen to us just this once: Lucero is cool. They'll be at the Vogue this Thursday.
NUVO: Tell me about recording this album. Everyone's talking about your new Memphis soul sound.
Brian Venable: It was the same [as recording the last album] but better. On 1372 [Overton Park], that record was all demoed up without horns, and we [said], "Hey, let's see what happens if we put horns." I wanted to put horns on a song, kind of a Rocket from the Crypt - it wasn't, let's make a Memphis soul record. [Lynyrd] Skynyrd, Alice Cooper, they all had horns, you just didn't realize it. Once we started putting the horns on, we realized, "Whoa, this just went from a Lucero song to 'Dark End of the Street.'" We can take these sad little country songs and put a little horns on it, and it turns into Memphis soul.
We've been listening to a lot of older stuff. We're real remiss about not listening to newer stuff. And the newer stuff we do listen to kind of sounds like old stuff. But I think we've all, in the last few years, starting realizing and being more aware of our Memphis heritage. [We thought], "Wait a minute! We're a Memphis band playing Memphis music." We're not a Detroit band, we're not a California band. The last record, the horns were so apparent, but this record, we wrote all the songs with the horns, which I think gave [them] a more integral part.
NUVO: That's something I wanted to talk about. David Brooks just wrote a piece for the NY Times ["The Power of the Particular", June 25], where he discussed the absolute worship of Bruce Springsteen in Europe - something that strikes him as odd because Springsteen is so grounded in place, in New Jersey, in the US. He writes, "Don't try to be everyman. Don't pretend you're a member of every community you visit. Don't try to be citizens of some artificial globalized community. Go deeper into your own tradition. Call more upon the geography of your own past. Be distinct and credible. People will come."
Venable: You grow up young, doing that [pretending to be a member of other communities]. I'm from Memphis, Tenn., redneck. It's a city, but it's definitely a Southern city. I grew up wanting to be a punk rock kid. I wanted to New York, I wanted to be L.A. Guns N Roses. A lot of times you see other places and think that's the coolest place in the world. My dad grew up talking about it. He's all redneck from Mississippi, and he wanted to be a hippie. All you heard about was the records and what they saw in Time Magazine. That was the big goal, to get out there. But then you get bands like the Allman Brothers who say, "We're happy here."
At some point, you become comfortable with yourself. When you become comfortable with yourself, you become comfortable with your geography. When you're tired of getting out, when you don't want to leave no more, you can think, "Man, this is actually the awesomest place in the world."
NUVO: What can you tell us about local bands in Memphis we should keep our eyes open for that are embracing their geography?
Venable:There's a band Glossary from Murfreesboro, Tenn. There's a band here, who's actually gone on tour with us, called John Paul Keith and The One Four Fives. It's not rockabilly, it's like '60s Sun sound - the birth of the garage band. The Dirty Streets are kind of like the MC5, they're awesome.
That's the beauty and the bad about Memphis. A lot of places have it, but I think Memphis specializes in it somehow. We'll have a hundred amazing bands will play for two months to two years, maybe put out a CD or 7-inch, and then they break up. If half the bands stayed together and toured, Memphis would be bigger than New York and Austin and Seattle.
A lot of times bands come through here and have to open up for the local bands, because everyone will leave. We're real insulated, our music scene. When you're that insulated, I don't know what it is, you have a tendency to break up over girlfriends and guitar.
NUVO: You have a family, and your band is pretty consistently described as a family.
Venable: For better or for worse, we're not the most professional. We didn't expect this band to get famous, to play music in big clubs and get rich. We wanted to play pretty music in a situation where everybody's playing loud music. It's gotten to the point now, where, when you decide you want to be in, you're in. Nobody quits. If we had to kick somebody out, it be...I don't know what we'd do. We'd die.
And it's the same with crew and tour managers. People come and go like family come and goes. I don't want it to be a job, I want it to be a lifestyle. There's bands where we don't care what they sound like, but if we have to hang out with you for eight weeks, we wanted you to be nice. So, instead of picking the most popular bands, we picked bands we got along with the best. And this made for some amazing tours. Maybe if we had picked that hot band at the time, we'd be a little further along, but, I don't know.
The [Lucero Family Picnic] came about - we modeled it after Willie Nelson's picnic, and Cross Canadian Ragweed. They did the Red Dirt Roundup. There's not a scene - there's a whole lot of bands out there like us that don't fit into some cool, "electro-trash" "indie-clash" bar or whatever. They're just out there playing rock and roll. Bands that people like Sub Pop [Records] don't want, or whatever. And we tour with a lot of them, and I thought it would be fun. If nobody is going to call it a scene, you make it a scene. The Family Picnic, which is bands that you're friends with, bands that you toured with, you draw them all to one place. If you look at the lineup, they're maybe not the most popular bands in the world, but they're awesome bands. It's just kind of neat. It would be nice to develop your own scene, like the old punk rock days. I'm not going to wait for somebody in a magazine to tell me that this is cool. I'm not belittling your profession -
Venable: I came of the age watching that grimy stuff, when I was a full-blown punk rocker. Knowing it wasn't cool, thinking, I know about Nirvana, I know about this, I know about that, but I don't necessarily know that it's a scene. But all of a sudden, Rolling Stone is telling me that Seattle is the greatest place in the world and they're the rebirth of rock and roll. And I always thought that big magazines like that might be a little too late. It's a big idea, it's slow to settle in [for the magazines]. We skipped a year or two.
We had Shooter Jennings last time [at the Picnic]. We toured with him, we played with him. We had Two Car Garage in the past, we had Glossary, all these different people. I just want it to be something. Whether people see it or not, I want them to have the opportunity. It's almost as much for the bands, cause it's family. If you need to crash at my house, or you need a hotel, or we're stuck in this town, or I'll put you on the bill. I want it to be something amazing. You don't get that being real calculated - I guess you can - but it's not real.
I'm 41 years old. I've seen a lot of crap musically, good and bad. I just want to contribute. That was really long and rambling -
NUVO: But it all made sense. It echoes a lot of struggles that I have trying to define a scene that definitely exists, but it's more of the sense of camaraderie [that defines it] than it the type of music. What did you think of Metallica's take on the family picnic - the Orion Music and More Fest [in Atlantic City in June]?
Venable: Regardless of what I think of Metallica musically - I saw them on the Ride the Lightning tour, but I did not necessarily grow with them - but I love the fact that they're rich enough, they've set enough landmarks and goals, that they can do whatever they want. They could go two years and not play. But I think in the end, they love music. Lars, he knows all about the European metal. Cliff Burton knew all about the punk rock and the different stuff. It's pretty awesome they've been doing it for as long as they have, and they still love music. Not just Static-X and Slayer, but all kinds of different stuff.
Our stage alone was Baroness, us, Gaslight Anthem, Modest Mouse and Metallica. That's a crazy lineup.
NUVO: I know. It was insane to see. You share a producer with Gaslight Anthem, am I correct?
Venable: I've listened to some of the Gaslight Anthem. They're young kids, they're having a blast. I enjoy it. What I think is funny is that Ted Hut (?) was on the list with us when we signed with Universal and they wanted us to have a "producer" producer, like a name producer. Ted had just finished the '59 Sound. The reason he was curious about us was when [The Gaslight Anthem came into the studio] they had said something about how they wanted to make a Lucero record, with organs. Once again, it's like when we want to make a soul record, it's still a Lucero record. Not saying Gaslight made a Lucero record, but our experience was awesome. The first one was a learning experience; this second one [Women & Work] was awesome because we all knew each other and were comfortable with each others work styles.
NUVO: It seems like you have some brother bands on your new label [ATO Records]: The Alabama Shakes, The Drive-by Truckers, My Morning Jacket. Alabama Shakes are just starting out, but The Drive-by Truckers and My Morning Jacket are road veterans [like you].
Venable: That is what's so amazing about ATO, what people like Universal and East West and other labels couldn't figure out. We're not a hit-making machine. If you get lucky and have one, that's one thing. We make our money touring. We are a touring band. My Morning Jacket - a touring band. Drive-by Truckers - a touring band. Dave Matthews [the label owner] - a touring band. We finally found a home where they know what to do with us, which is awesome.
NUVO: Something about being a touring band - once you hit the decade mark people start thinking they should describe you as grizzled road veterans. I feel like that embodies a lot about what people what to think about Southern rock, slinging all your gear in and out of venues, 200 dates a year -
Venable: We're also all old, fat, tattooed and bearded, for the most part, in some variation or form. It is. Ben has that voice. We are grizzled; it's aged us. We've been doing this 14 years. They romanticize it. I'd love to play less dates. I'd love to be home with my family more, but it's just what we do. Music always has a romantic, rogue element. Whatever you need it to be that you like. The whole pirates, us against the world, we're going to go out there and take what we want element.
The truth is, I'll hang out some, play the show, have a drink every once in a while, go back, put on my cozy shorts and a clean shirt and watch Law and Order on the bus.
NUVO: Are you an SVU fan or just straight Law and Order?
Venable: You know, I like them all. My Christopher Meloni ended up on True Blood for a little bit. I like how HBO is hiring all my Law and Order guys on their shows.
This interview has been condensed and edited.