Lucero singer, brother collaborate on short film for ‘Among the Ghosts’
Brothers Ben and Jeff Nichols spent the early 2000s learning how to make great art. Singer/songwriter Ben started Lucero, a band that remains equally comfortable with joyous Memphis soul and introspective, intense Southern Gothic rock ’n’ roll. Film student Jeff honed his craft at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, ahead of writing and directing such indie hits as “Mud” and “Midnight Special.”
Back then, when the two had the time, the Nichols would collaborate.
“Each year in school he had to make a short film and just for fun I would drive out to North Carolina and act in it or score it or help in some way,” Ben said.
Eventually, their careers took off.
Lucero became particularly busy recording a dozen albums and performing hundreds of shows — Ben and his band keep their life on the road going with a show at the Paradise tonight. But with the new album, “Among the Ghosts,” Ben wanted to do something different. He sent the LP to Jeff and asked him if any of the songs spoke to him as the topic of a short film.
“I did mention that the song ‘Long Way Back Home’ was inspired by his kind of storytelling, his kind of filmmaking,” Ben said. “So that might have put the seed in his brain. He also told me after listening to ‘Among the Ghosts’ that ‘Long Way Back Home’ was the most linear story, so he naturally graduated to it.”
The results of the brothers’ new collaboration lands squarely between music video and short film. Starring the always intense Michael Shannon (best known as bootlegger George Mueller in “Boardwalk Empire”), “Long Way Back Home” tells the story of three brothers whose greed pulls them toward a violent end as the Lucero song cuts in and out. It works as both as a standalone piece of art and a teaser for an album full of stories of family tension, love separated by distance and soldiers adrift in the world.
“With this record, I was trying to focus more on the craft of songwriting,” Ben said. “In the past, Lucero’s lyrics have been mainly autobiographical, maybe to a fault. Writing a song from a character’s point of view or about a situation I haven’t experienced personally, these are exercises I haven’t done much in the past. It was time to branch out and write songs that felt more like short stories.
“It was time to write stuff outside of complaining about women or whiskey or typical Lucero stuff,” he added.
Recent records have featured the band with lots of Stax-style horns and piano recalling the Sun Studio sound. This time out, the band changed their approach to match the new material.
“We’d done three records with a producer named Ted Hutt (who has worked with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Street Dogs), and those records are great. They helped us explore our Memphis roots and we had a lot of fun doing that,” Ben said. “But with this record, we wanted to simplify everything. We did it as a five piece, we did it live on the studio floor, and we kind of let the songs flow.”
Ben wants to continue his songwriting experiments. He hopes his brother can help out again down the road.
“If I could make video with him for every song, I’d love that,” Ben said. Then he laughed. “That is, if I had the time and the money.” Lucero, with Brent Cowles, at the Paradise, tonight. Tickets: $27.50, ticketmaster.com.
NEW DIRECTION: Lucero, whose new album is ‘Among the Ghosts,’ will perform tonight at the Paradise.