Ben Nichols is a simple guy: He likes playing guitar, singing about girls, and drinking until he falls over—at least that’s the reputation. The Lucero frontman has spent much of the last decade in front of an audience, crooning about lost loves and nights spent with the bottle, and it was inevitable for that persona to follow him offstage. But he doesn’t deny any of it and his everyman temper hasn’t really hurt the Tennessee band, either. Lucero fans are loyal, if anything, and have watched (and let) it grow from its raw beginnings as a punk-tinged alt-country act into a working-class American rock ’n’ roll band. And now Lucero has expanded its sound even more—adding a full horn section—on its seventh full-length and major label debut, 1372 Overton Park. Just before the band’s two-month long outing, which makes a stop tonight at 9:30 Club, Nichols talked with The A.V. Club about some of his big plans for this tour, like staying sober.
The A.V. Club: You’re bringing the horn section out on tour with you this time around. That’s a bit more pressure, isn’t it? If you mess up, have a bad show, that’s a lot more people to let down.
Ben Nichols: It’s a bigger undertaking, that’s for sure. I can’t get drunk and play the same part for 20 minutes. But it’s going to be awesome. We’ve been rehearsing with them, and me and Brian [Veneble, guitarist] just giggle like little schoolgirls like, “Oh my god, that’s so cool!” [Laughs.] We forget our parts and stuff because the horns sound so great. I think I’ll still have a really good time sober.
AVC: Is that a guarantee for this tour?
BN: That is never a guarantee, but that’s the plan at least. Playing the horns may be a healthy thing for me. I’m feeling really good about it. The guy who has been doing most of the horn arrangements, Jim Spake, he’s an older guy, a really talented guy, been on a ton of records here in Memphis, and played with a ton of folks, and he’s really good at what he does. Everything’s been going a lot smoother than expected.
AVC: With the horns, this record seems much more optimistic than earlier efforts.
BN: Maybe so. The horns can be sad, but you put them on a fast song and the fast song just becomes a party and it makes you want to dance. Lucero’s not really a dancing-type band, but I’m kind of scared to say that there might be a couple of songs on this new record that you could actually dance to—which nobody ever needs to see us dance. It’s a strange territory for us. I was a little worried. I had no idea what folks would think about horns.
AVC: People tend to be down on horns, for some reason.
BN: They are. But if you do it the right way, if you use them correctly, they can be really cool. We’re going through some old songs and putting some horns on them as well. It’s really fun. You got to be a real cynical bastard to not have a good time with horns.
AVC: So the other big news, of course, is finally signing to a major.
BN: It’s been horribly anticlimactic, actually. It’s really just like being on any other label. They don’t give you any money. They don’t spend any money. But with Universal, we signed the deal because it was actually a pretty decent deal. They don’t own any of our publishing; they don’t own any of our back catalogue; they don’t mess with any of our day-to-day business. We have complete creative control. They were actually very uninvolved in the record, and that was appealing to us. But since it’s Universal, you can maybe get maybe get a little more satellite radio play, you can maybe get on Conan O’Brien. There might be a few more doors open to us that there wouldn’t be otherwise, and so that’s why we went for it. The workload is probably about equal for [our manager Thaddeus Rudd] and for us. Maybe the label’s doing something, but I’m not really sure what it is. It seems like we’re doing most of it for them. I don’t mean to talk too bad about Universal. Maybe I just don’t understand what any label does, to tell you the truth.
AVC: Do you all still live together in Memphis?
BN: Everybody moved in with their girlfriends. Except me, I’m still single. But with the economic downtown, it actually benefited us a bunch. Gas prices went down; home prices went down, especially in Memphis because nobody really wants to live in Memphis. So me and Brian bought houses. We’re growing up a little bit. It’s a strange feeling. Like, man, I got a backyard. I got to buy a lawnmower. I got central air-conditioning, and a washer and dryer. I’m living like a king.
AVC: Has domestication affected your approach to the band?
BN: It hasn’t changed what we do. The band is definitely our job, and we have to get out and play shows to make a living. I’m not saying the band comes first or anything necessarily, but out of necessity, it kind of does. We are becoming a little more domesticated, but we still love going out and playing, and that’s not going to change any time soon.
AVC: Conversely, has your onstage image affected your personal life?
BN: I’ve definitely run into a few girls that are like, “Oh God, no, I’m definitely smart enough to know not to date you.” [Laughs.] I don’t think I’m that bad, really. And I’m really not that good of a drinker. We have a reputation as a hard-drinking band, and we do drink a lot, but we’re not good drinkers, you know? You can drink me under the table. I’m going to get drunk and puke and cry like a baby probably. Reputations are a funny thing. I’ve heard that I might be a drunken womanizer. Is that the reputation that’s out there? Whatever reputation I have, I usually don’t deny it. I’ll let folks think whatever they want to think. I’ll run with it. It’s fine. Who knows? Maybe now that I got the house, maybe I’ll settle down. We’ll see.