MEM­PHIS SOUND HITS ROAD

LUCERO KICKS OFF MA­JOR LA­BEL TOUR WITH LE­VITT SHELL CON­CERT

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Music - By Bob Mehr

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.”

Alan Spear­man

Lucero em­braces the Mem­phis sound on their new al­bum “1372 Over­ton Park.” The group has re­cently signed with ma­jor la­bel Uni­ver­sal.

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