MEMPHIS SOUND HITS ROAD
LUCERO KICKS OFF MAJOR LABEL TOUR WITH LEVITT SHELL CONCERT
FOR BEN NICHOLS, 1372 Overton Park has a special significance. Until about a week ago, it was the place he’d called home since the late -’90s, and for the past decade-plus it’s also served as the heart and headquarters for his band, Lucero.
“The whole band lived there at various times, we rehearsed there, did shows there — it was kind of a big part of who we were and what we became,” says Nichols.
It’s fitting then that Lucero’s latest album and major label debut is named in honor of the address. The group will mark the release of
with a free outdoor show at the Levitt Shell on Thursday. It might seem odd that a band with more than a decade under its belt would just now be arriving at its first major label record. But slow and steady has long been the nature of Lucero, whose story began with the arrival of Little Rock native Nichols — a veteran of Arkansas indie rock outfit Red 40 — in Memphis in 1996.
After a couple years of kicking around town, he found like -minded collaborators: guitarist Brian Venable, drummer Roy Berry and bassist John C. Stubblefield.
The band played its first show at a downtown warehouse in the spring of 1998, and the next 10 years would prove to be a blur of local gigs, national tours and albums (beginning with 2000’s The Attic Tapes up through 2006’s Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers). While musical trends came and went, Lucero stayed true to its raw, Southern-flecked roots-rock aesthetic and built a devoted national following in the process.
“Having a steady progression has been beneficial,” says Nichols of the band’s career. “It’s never been big leaps and bounds with us. We’ve just been able to go back to a city and have the crowd be a little bit bigger each time. That’s incentive to stay in the van and keep going. In the process, we accidentally became a real band.”
One major leap did come last year, when the group signed a deal with Universal Records/Republic Records. However, as Nichols notes, the offer itself was the byproduct of the band’s work; one of the group’s longtime “superfans” landed a job as an A&R executive with the company.
For Nichols, the move to Universal — at a time when major labels are an uncertain commodity — seems like a safe enough bet. “The contract with Universal is good because they don’t have anything to do with our back catalog, our merchandise or our publishing. We’d already established ourselves with that stuff,” he says.
For their major-label debut, the band decided to bring in a name producer in Ted Hutt, the British pop-punk studio guru behind last year’s acclaimed Gaslight Anthem album The ’59 Sound. Hutt’s hands-on involvement — in helping shape the songs and serving as a sound board — was a needed tonic. “After a long period of time together you can get locked into a certain way of working,” says Hutt of the band. “My objective was to provide a prod to them. Just to get them to go a little deeper with the songs.”
While cutting an early batch of demos, Lucero decided to have longtime Memphis R&B saxophonist Jim Spake add some color to the songs. “It was kind of an experiment,” says Nichols, “but it worked so well, it gave the record a definite direction.”
Lucero embraces the Memphis sound on their new album “1372 Overton Park.” The group has recently signed with major label Universal.