The second track on Lucero's new record pretty much sums up the last 10 years of Ben Nichols' life. In the last verse of the song “What are you willing to lose?” Nichols asks, ?as horns blare and guitars swell, “So what if all my heroes are the losing kind? Not a chance in hell but still they lay it on the line. Would you give it all away for what you want to do? Would you keep on going if you couldn't make it through? ?What are you willing to lose?”
Since the band formed in 1999, Nichols, 35, and his band mates, Brian Venable, John Stubblefield and Roy Berry, have been on the road. A lot. The foursome quickly became a local favorite in Memphis before deciding to cast their lot together, for better or worse, on the road. Since then the band has played close to 200 shows per year, building its fan base one smoke-filled bar at a time. For Nichols, ‘What are you willing to lose?” is a fitting anthem for guys that decided long ago they would make it as musicians, consequences be damned.
“I don't think there's any turning back,” Nichols says. “There hasn't been any turning back for us for a long time now, but it's only slowly dawning on me. It wasn't until recently that I said to myself, ‘We're actually getting away with this scam. We're getting away with this.' Now, so much time has passed that we can't really do anything else. I don't have any other skills, really. I have a feeling I'd have a tough time getting hired for any real job.”
Sitting on a black leather couch in the back of a well-equipped tour bus, Nichols is miles away — literally, figuratively and artistically — from the back of his dad's furniture store in Little Rock, where he would set up a guitar amp and a microphone and scream all night, teaching himself how to sing and getting comfortable with his voice. Nichols spent some time playing bass in a couple of Little Rock bands, including the punk outfit Red 40. After graduating from Hendrix College in Conway, he “followed a girl to Memphis” and started looking for a new band. That's when he met lead guitarist Brian Venable.
“Brian had never been in a band before and wanted to give it a shot. So one night he walked up — and he regrets it to this day — but he said he wanted to start a country-emo band. And I said yeah. I had never played guitar in a band and neither had he, so we kind of learned together. We just wanted to play punk rock shows, and play this kind of soft country music just to piss off the punk rockers.”
Stubblefield and Berry soon joined and now, 10 years and seven records later, all the touring, the long rides in the van and the late night shows seem to have paid off. Lucero's reputation as a hard-working, hard-living, country-influenced rock band has taken shape slowly but surely. Its catalogue has done the same, shifting from the softer, lilting drinking tunes of the first couple of records and progressing into straight-forward, raunchy country rock with the band's later albums. The band is currently touring in support of its new album, “1372 Overton Park,” and recently signed a major-label record deal with Universal/Republic.
“Things are going all right right at the moment,” Nichols says. “If it did stay at this level, I could do this for a long time. Selling a few more records wouldn't be a bad thing. But I think we've actually been really lucky getting this far and doing it for as long as we have. Hopefully we'll be able to continue doing it for a long, long time.”